Outside of attaching the franchise tag to outside linebacker Chandler Jones, the Arizona Cardinals weren't certain of which free agents-to-be from their 2016 roster they would be able to afford to bring back for the 2017 season.
On Tuesday, however, the Cardinals completed an important negotiation, as the team locked up Jermaine Gresham with a four-year contract that will keep the veteran tight end in Arizona through the 2020 season.
When most fans look at Gresham's career statistics, they see an immense drop off in production over the last two seasons, as the former Cincinnati Bengals' tight end has failed to carry over his production as a receiving threat during his tenure in Arizona.
While Gresham caught at least 46 passes and added more than 450 receiving yards in each of the first five seasons of his NFL career in Cincinnati, the Cardinals' starting tight end of the last two seasons has amassed just 55 total receptions and only three touchdowns over the last two years.
If Gresham's production has slipped, why would Arizona commit to the former first round draft pick for the long haul, ponying up a contract that keeps Gresham in red and white for four more seasons?
Though Gresham's production as a receiving threat has declined since his arrival in Arizona prior to the 2015 seasons, his value to the franchise is as strong as it has ever been.
In each of the last two seasons, Gresham has played on one-year deals with opportunities to prove himself in a Bruce Arians-led offense, and in each of the last two campaigns, Gresham has proved he's up for the challenge.
A tight end in an Arians offense fills a completely different role than a tight end in most offenses, which is why the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Gresham is a natural fit in Arizona.
Gresham is one of the league's top blocking tight ends, and over the past two seasons, he's demonstrated a consistent ability to set the edge in the run game with strong fundamental blocking skills on the perimeter. While he's led the way for plenty of David Johnson's biggest runs, Gresham has also been a key component in Arizona's pass protection schemes, protecting against blitzes and aiding tackles against top edge rushers.
Though those skills often go unnoticed by fans and aren't quantified statistically, the Cardinals have been high on Gresham's capabilities over the last two seasons and view him as an important asset to Arizona's offense moving forward.
When the Cardinals want him to be, Gresham is still a valuable and talented pass-catcher, but over the next four seasons, Gresham knows his primary assignments will come as a blocker, and he's accepting of that.
Re-signing Gresham to a four-year deal solidifies the Cardinals' future at the tight end position, and gives the team a true No. 1 for the next few seasons. What it also does, though, is offer a clearer picture of how the organization views Gresham's 2016 backups, Darren Fells and Troy Niklas.
Though they each came to the Cardinals under different circumstances, Arizona had high hopes for both Fells and Niklas to eventually develop into the team's primary tight end. After re-signing Gresham, it appears as though the Cardinals no longer believe either player has the capacity to do so, and that both players will compete for a backup role as long as they're back with Arizona in 2017.
Niklas, in particular, may have seen the writing on the wall after three consecutive sub-par seasons, but it doesn't make the fact the Cardinals have embraced Gresham any easier for him. A former second round draft pick who entered the league with lofty expectations, Niklas has been injury prone and hasn't adapted as well to Arians' offensive scheme as the team has hoped.
Now, though, Arizona can focus on building depth behind Gresham, with the goal of diversifying the unit with players of different skill sets who can complement the attributes Gresham brings to the team's offense.