Free Agent Preview: Tight End

The Bears are in need of more talent at tight end, but it could be difficult to find help through free agency. While the class is thin, it could get a boost in the coming weeks. We continue to go around the league and get the analysis from the beat writers covering some of the top tight ends slated for free agency.

The team currently has only one tight end under contract, starter Desmond Clark. Reserves John Gilmore and Gabe Reid are unrestricted and restricted free agents respectively. The trio combined for 28 receptions for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns with the vast majority of the production coming from Clark.

The position could have a Pro Bowler available if Jason Witten had has way. After three years in the league, he reached incentives that allowed him to void the final year of his deal with the Dallas Cowboys and test free agency. However, the Cowboys also had the right to buy back an option in the contract for that fourth year and did so.

  • The biggest potential get at tight end in free agency is Jeb Putzier. The Denver Broncos have an important decision to make by March 1. That is whether to pick up the $1.5 million option on Putzier's contract or let him become an unrestricted free agent. The team is trying to develop first-year tight end Wesley Duke, who they are sending to NFL Europe. They also have veteran tight end Stephen Alexander, who is under contract through 2007.

  • New York Jets TE Chris Baker is an unrestricted free agent. He wasn't heard from much after a seven-catch outburst on opening day, finishing with 18 receptions for 269 yards and one touchdown. His season ended prematurely when he suffered a broken leg against San Diego on Nov. 6. He has become a better blocker and receiver, although he still suffers from occasional drops and needs to be more consistent.

  • TE Dan Campbell is the Cowboys' primary blocking tight end. He is key to the running game while also bringing toughness and leadership. An unrestricted free agent, Campbell's return is a top off-season priority.

  • TE Terry Jones was released by the Ravens in the middle of the season, the 49ers claimed him, and he ended up as the team's starting tight end for the final six weeks of the season.

  • TE Chad Lewis re-signed with the Eagles at mid-season, but probably won't be back next season.

  • TE Aaron Shea caught only 18 passes. He is an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return.

  • TE Brandon Manumaleuna blocks well in tight quarters but poorly in space on the move. He's mostly forgotten in the passing game, catching just 13 passes for 129 yards. Manumaleuna's salary rises to over $1.3 million in 2006, and a decision will have to be made on his future.

  • TE Marcellus Rivers emerged as somewhat of a dual threat. He was a solid blocker and had a career-high 24 receptions for 168 yards. He still struggled to hold onto the ball at times, though, dropping a number of opportunities.

  • TE Sean Berton, a pickup from the Vikings in mid-season, might have a chance to stick in the long term.

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