Season in Review: Tight Ends

The Colts have great depth at tight end, but it's decision season for the team when it comes to the future of Dallas Clark, Ben Uctect and Bryan Fletcher. Brad Keller breaks down the 2007 season and looks to the future in this feature.

Starter: Dallas Clark. Backups: Ben Utecht, Bryan Fletcher, Gijon Robinson, Mike Seidman, Zac Herold.

Season in Review:

Clark had his best year as an NFL player in 2007. He finished second on the team with 58 receptions and 11 touchdowns, which led the team. Those are all career-high numbers for Clark, who saw work lining up at tight end, as a slot receiver and on the outside on occasion.

Utecht and Fletcher give the Colts a lot of depth at the position. Utecht can line up as an H-back or tight end while Fletcher can be put in the slot along with his work at tight end.

Indianapolis coaches like Robinson, who was a rookie in 2007, and kept him around on the practice squad. Seidman missed the entire season due to a knee injury and was on injured reserve. Herold was signed to a free-agent deal after the season was over.


Ben Utecht
Getty Images

With numerous injuries to wide receivers throughout the season, Indianapolis often went to two tight end formations and Utecht was one of the primary beneficiaries, finishing with 31 receptions.

Clark was Peyton Manning's security blanket on third downs and inside the red zone.  The experience and versatility this unit showed last season will help the passing game in 2008 when Marvin Harrison and company return fully healthy.

Fletcher saw only spot duty, filling in for Utecht or Clark in the event of injury, but is a serviceable third tight end.

Strengths:

Depth is certainly a strength at the position, but it is unrealistic to think that either Utecht or Fletcher would be able to fill Clark's shoes if he were injured for a prolonged period of time or placed on injured reserve.

Both of Clark's backups are capable players, but they are not in his class.  However, as backup tight ends go, the Colts are very well set at the position.

It all starts with Clark, though, as he is one of the premier players at his position.  If Anthony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne, and Marvin Harrison can all stay healthy next season, there will not be the need to go to two tight end formations.

Additionally, Clark's and Wayne's ability to line up on various parts of the formation will enable Indianapolis to create favorable matchups all over the field.

Needs Improvement:

If anything happens to Clark, the passing game will surely suffer.  It recovered well given the absence of Harrison in 2007, but the Colts also had a player the caliber of Reggie Wayne to pick up the slack from a production standpoint.  Though they are talented for their role, neither Utecht nor Fletcher is in Wayne's class, either.

The biggest issue facing this unit is the fact that Clark is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and Fletcher and Utecht are restricted free agents.  While it's not likely that the Indianapolis will let all three of these men walk — Clark in particular — the loss of more than one of them could be disastrous.


Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What's Next?:

It is decision time for Bill Polian and his staff as to which of these men to keep and which of them to let test the free agent market.

The lowest tender that can be offered to a restricted free agent is $927,000.  This gives the Colts the right of first refusal on any offer that either Utecht or Fletcher receives.  If they choose to match an offer by another team, they will receive no compensation in terms of draft choices, since Utecht was an undrafted free agent and Fletcher was originally drafted by the Bears.

The Colts' best course of action would be to tender both and allow the best man to separate himself from the other during the season.  If they are looking to tender one and not the other, then Fletcher is on the outside looking in. He has never quite capitalized on his enormous potential and Indianapolis may be losing patience with him.

Clark, on the other hand, is a different story.  If the Colts are unable to negotiate a long term with him before the deadline to designate him as their franchise player on Feb. 21st, they will be forced to franchise him and resume negotiations.

Polian has stated that Clark will be with the team next season, even if he needs to play out 2008 under the terms of the franchise tag.  He has certainly earned a long-term contract, given his past performance, and the feeling here is that he and Indianapolis will be able to reach an accord.

Regardless of what happens with the three men currently on the depth chart, the Colts will need to think about the future of the position and will certainly need to do something about it in the upcoming draft.

While it's unlikely that they will use their second-round pick on a tight end — although they may choose Missouri's Martin Rucker — but they will address the position before the final selection is made.  The Colts will most likely go for a second-day prospect with upside, such as Tennessee's Brad Cottam or Kentucky's Jacob Tamme, but only time will tell.


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