Future Free Agents: Tight Ends

The San Diego Chargers have the two best tight ends in football. Pro Bowler Antonio Gates is the best receiving tight end and Brandon Manumaleuna is the best blocker - but no third option has emerged. Will that force them to look to free agency to acquire another receiving option?

Antonio Gates has caught over 70 passes in each of the last three seasons, topping the 900-yard plateau in each year and snaring at least nine touchdown receptions per. And his rapport with quarterback Philip Rivers progressed as the season wore on, making the pair a deadly combination.

Brandon Manumaleuna may have been the biggest acquisition the Chargers made last year - literally and figuratively. He was a terror in the run blocking scheme, acting as a sixth offensive lineman and just as adept in pass blocking. He also flashed solid hands with 14 catches and three touchdowns, placing him in a tie for third-most receiving touchdown on the team.

But the Bolts lack a third tight end, right?

Ryan Krause is a restricted free agent and has battled injuries throughout his career in San Diego. He would seem to be a longshot to return.

Aaron Shea signed a three-year deal but has year to suit up in a Chargers uniform, going inactive in the first two weeks of the year with a back injury and ending up on injured reserve. Shea has caught 97 passes over a six-year career with his highest total, 30, coming during his rookie season.

There are some enticing options on the free agent front that could spark the Chargers interest:

Daniel Graham, New England Patriots – Talks haven't heated up between Graham and the Patriots, according to reports out of Boston, and a franchise value of $4.31 million has been established for tight ends. That might be overpaying for a tight end who has 120 catches in five years and has missed nine games in the last two seasons.

Eric Johnson, San Francisco 49ers – Johnson has missed two full seasons to injury, but in the 16-game season he did play in 2004, he produced 82 catches for 825 yards, showing his potential when healthy and on the field. However, he also missed three games last year and produced only 34 catches for 292 yards. Any team, including the Chargers, would be paying on potential and rolling the dice that he could stay healthy.

Jerramy Stevens, Seattle Seahawks – With a knee that bothered him much of the season following surgery to repair cartilage, Stevens only managed 22 catches for 231 yards in 2006. The previous season, playing in all 16 games, Stevens caught 45 passes for 554 during Seattle's NFC Championship season. The speed is definitely there to create matchup problems, but he needs to catch the ball more consistently.

Ben Utecht, Indianapolis Colts – With the Colts reportedly in one of the worst cap situations in the league and needing to dish out the dough to defensive end Dwight Freeney, Utecht will be restricted, but he is a tight end that teams might look at hard. He had a breakout season in 2006, catching 37 passes for 377 yards in his third NFL season.

OTHER FREE AGENT TIGHT ENDS

Richard Angulo, Chicago Bears
Kyle Brady, Jacksonville Jaguars
Dwayne Blakley, Atlanta Falcons (restricted)
Mark Bruener, Houston Texans
Michael Gaines, Carolina (restricted)
Kendall Gammon, Kansas City Chiefs
Ben Hartsock, Indianapolis Colts (restricted)
Will Heller, Seattle Seahawks
Zach Hilton, New York Jets
Robert Johnson, New Orleans Saints (restricted)
Doug Jolley, Tampa Bay (could opt out)
Brian Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars (restricted)
Bennie Joppru, Seattle Seahawks (restricted)
Reggie Kelly, Cincinnati Bengals
Brian Kozlowski, Washington Redskins
Ryan Krause, San Diego Chargers (restricted)
Donald Lee, Green Bay Packers
David Martin, Green Bay Packers
Billy Miller, New Orleans Saints
Dave Moore, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Richard Owens, Minnesota Vikings (restricted)
Brett Pierce, Dallas Cowboys (restricted)
Gabriel Reid, Chicago Bears (restricted)
Sean Ryan, New York Jets (restricted)
Blaine Saipaia, Detroit Lions (restricted)
Mike Seidman, Carolina Panthers
Visanthe Shiancoe, New York Giants
Trent Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Ben Steele, Houston Texans (restricted)
Jerramy Stevens, Seattle Seahawks (could opt out)
Tony Stewart, Cincinnati Bengals
Fred Wakefield, Arizona Cardinals
Aaron Walker, St. Louis Rams (restricted)
Randal Williams, Oakland Raiders
Todd Yoder, Washington Redskins


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