BEREA—There was a lot of concern after the Browns lost Pro Bowl Jordan Cameron in free agency last off-season. Most experts felt the Browns had to select a tight end high in the draft or sign another free agent to take his place. The Browns answer was to sign free agent Rob Housler--who contributed with one reception for six yards before being waived-injured. When Gary Barnidge started to emerge with big game after big game early in the season, Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer frequently were asked about Barnidge and their standard answer was they knew all along that Barnidge could be the replacement for Cameron. Obviously, they weren’t that convinced or they wouldn’t have went so hard to try to re-sign Cameron or sign free agent Charles Clay to a mega-deal contract--but that's another story.
Barnidge caught 79 passes—the second-most receptions in Browns history for a tight end. Ironically, Barnidge made his first Pro Bowl after the recently departed Cameron had made his first Pro Bowl in 2014. The Browns were able to sign Barnidge to a contract extension and he should continue to be productive, but the Browns need to develop a young tight end behind him.
Who is on the Browns roster
Gary Barnidge— Barnidge’s breakout season resulted in 79 receptions for 1,043 yards with nine touchdowns. He finished third among NFL tight ends in receiving yards. Barnidge is 30 years old but should be just entering his prime after getting his first real experience as a pass receiver last season.
Jim Dray—Dray has been the blue-collar blocking tight end and assumed the role all the more while Barnidge became more of a pass receiving threat. Dray started 10 games and finished with just six receptions for 61 yards. He has 56 receptions for 605 yards, including three touchdowns in his career.
E.J. Bibbs—Bibbs made the Browns roster after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent, but really didn’t play much during the season. He caught just one pass for seven yards, but has some upside going forward. Bibbs was able to make the team because drafted tight end, Randall Telfer missed training camp with a foot injury.
Randall Telfer—Telfer spent the season on injured reserve with a foot injury after being drafted in the sixth-round from USC.
Connor Hamlett—Hamlett was on the practice squad at the end of the season.
Who Could the Browns Lose
With the extension of Barnidge, all of the tight ends listed above are under contract, so the only tight ends the Browns could lose are those that they decide aren’t in the plans going forward.
Is the Need: Low, Medium or High
Low to Medium—With the emergence of Barnidge as a Pro Bowl tight end, the need is not as great as it was thought to be. Dray is consistent and either Bibbs or Telfer could be developed for depth. Hue Jackson helped Tyler Eifert emerge as a big threat and the tight end is a big part of Jackson’s offense, so it is important to develop some depth behind Barnidge in the receiving department.
Top Free Agents in Position Group
Antonio Gates (San Diego)
Vernon Davis (Denver)
Zach Miller (Chicago)
Dwayne Allen (Indianapolis)
Coby Fleener (Indianapolis)
Top NFL Draft Prospects in Position Group
Hunter Henry (Arkansas)
Austin Hooper (Stanford)
Nick Vannett (Ohio State)
Tyler Higbee (Western Kentucky)
Bryce Williams (East Carolina)
The tight end has been a big part of Hue Jackson’s offensive system in Cincinnati as evidenced by the breakout performance of Tyler Eifert. Barnidge has shown he can be a top-end tight end, but the Browns will need to develop a young tight end, whether it be E.J. Bibbs or last year’s draft pick Randall Telfer. If the Browns determine that either of them is not the answer they could add another tight end in the draft.