As the next significant period of the NFL off season will be free agency, it's an appropriate time to look around the league at who will be available and whether or not the Bears should fill some of their needs with free agents vs. the draft. Today we explore tight ends.
With a new regime in place it will make the timing just right to let Kellen Davis drop the ball and fall down on his way out of Halas Hall. The Bears will be in the market to replace Davis and find a true starting-caliber TE who can stretch the middle of the field and put pressure on the defense.
New coach Marc Trestman doesn't have a huge history of getting TEs the ball, but there is no reason he shouldn't, provided he has a weapon at the position.
Martellus Bennett, Giants - Bennett signed a one-year "prove it" deal with the Giants and prove it he did. PFF ranks him as the best available FA TE and graded him at +12.5 for his 945 snaps. He is a well-rounded TE who can run block and make plays through the air. PFF also mentions he allowed only two hurries in pass protection as well. Bennett would remind a lot of Bears fans of Desmond Clark; he'll never be a league leader but he's a solid contributor.
Another multi-talented tight end who is coming off a down year. He went through a rough patch midseason with six straight single-catch games. However, he has been incredibly consistent with just three dropped passes over the past three years. From 2008-2011, he ranked in the Top 6 each year in terms of run blocking. He wasn’t as dominant in 2012, but that is more likely an exception rather than a new trend.
Dustin Keller, Jets - Keller has been a favorite target of Mark Sanchez since they've been playing together. Last season was an injury-filled one for Keller as he appeared in only seven games. Keller is one of the Jets' most consistent targets, likely making him a top priority for them to re-sign. PFF graded him at -0.6 for 2012.
Brandon Myers, Raiders - Myers broke out in 2012, possibly raising concerns that it was a fluke but that could make him settle for a one-year prove-it deal. The Bears could benefit if he backs up his 2012 season. That said though, PFF ranked him dead last among FA TEs with a -14.6.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons - I only mention him because there have been reports that he will not retire after all. However, it seems unlikely that he would go anywhere but Atlanta where he would have as good a shot at Super Bowl as any. PFF gave him a +6.1 grade for 2012.
Delanie Walker, 49ers - Yes, Walker is not a stretch-the-field TE. In fact, PFF says he had the third-most drops in the league. So while you roll your eyes and think "why do we need Davis 2.0?" consider that he is the top run-blocking TE available. From PFF:
He is one of just three tight ends to maintain above a run block rating above +5.0 in each of the past three years, and his +10.7 run block rating was second in the league in 2012.
Fred Davis, Redskins - Davis would be the receiving threat at TE Bears fans want to see. He has a lot of injury concerns and is coming off a torn Achille's tendon. PFF ranks him as the third-best FA TE and gave him a +2.0 grade. In his last 19 games he has 83 rec. for 1,121 yards.
So who would you like to see the Bears chase in free agency?