Best of the bunch – TE's's Todd Korth begins a series by focusing on the top players who will soon become unrestricted or restricted free agents in positions where the Green Bay Packers need the most help. Today, Korth focuses on veteran tight ends who could step in and give Green Bay's offense more punch.

Perhaps the Green Bay Packers' biggest area of need this off-season is at tight end. The Packers did not get as much production as they had hoped to receive from the position, especially in the red zone, and now are expected by many to do something about it.

Veterans David Martin and Donald Lee are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Pro Bowler Bubba Franks has shown over the past two seasons that he is on the downhill side of his career.

With the start of free agency just ahead, general manager Ted Thompson and Co. will either pursue re-signing some of their own players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, or try to sign an unrestricted free agent, or restricted free agent, from another team.

The Packers are also expected to select a tight end in the April 28-29 NFL draft, but before that happens, look for Green Bay to pursue a few players in free agency, which begins on March 2. Here are the top three scheduled UFA's that the Packers may strongly consider signing:

Jerramy Stevens, Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are said to be on the fence over Stevens. Do they slap the franchise tag on Stevens, who is entering his sixth season, and commit to paying him at least $4.28 million for 2007? Or do they allow him to enter the free agent market? If Stevens becomes a free agent, the Packers will likely consider signing the 6-foot-7, 265 pound tight end, though, he could be expensive.

Stevens will be a seeking a multi-year deal that could be more than the seven-year, $27 million contract extension that the Packers gave to Franks prior to the 2005 season.

However, Stevens, who was drafted in the first round by Seattle in 2002 when Thompson was in Seattle's front office, might be worth the money, though, he has been inconsistent. Stevens' biggest asset is his ability to stretch the field, which would give Brett Favre a big target in the red zone.

The knock on Stevens is that he drops passes and occasionally lacks focus, but at this point that would be nothing new for the Packers. Though he missed the first four games of this season with a knee injury, he played in every game between 2003-05.

Stevens caught a career-high 45 passes and scored five touchdowns in 2005, but finished with just 22 receptions and four touchdowns last season, which might keep his price tag down.

Eric Johnson, San Francisco 49ers: He has been hampered by injuries for most of his six-year NFL career. Johnson, including knee, foot, ribs and collarbone injuries.

Johnson caught 82 passes, a team record for a tight end, and scored two touchdowns in 2004 when he was named to the NFC squad in the Pro Bowl. But he missed most of the 2005 season with a foot injury, then was bothered by a knee injury late in 2006.

The 49ers are not expected to pursue re-signing Johnson, who had 34 catches and two touchdowns in 13 games in 2006. The team gave Vernon Davis, the sixth overall pick of the NFL draft last year, the richest deal in NFL history for a tight end, so the 49ers probably won't sink millions more into the position.

"He's a very good receiving tight end who really improved his blocking last year," said Craig Massei of San Francisco Illustrated. "Johnson catches the ball well and can get open underneath but is not a stretch-the-field TE. He's one of the best players this team has had on offense in recent seasons (which isn't saying much at all), but he wasn't much of a factor last year (averaging a career-low 8.6 yards per catch), even when he was starting with Davis out with a broken leg. He has zero chance to be a starter again in SF because of Davis, who is a real stud."

Dan Graham, New England Patriots: There has been talk that the Patriots may put the franchise tag (deadline is Feb. 22) on Graham, who completed his fifth season in New England, but don't count on it.

Graham has had a total of 37 catches and five touchdowns in the last two seasons. He was bothered by an ankle injury for most of last season, missing four games, and finishing with 21 catches and two touchdowns. He has fallen out of favor with the Pats to Ben Watson, who finished with a career-high 49 catches and three touchdowns in his third NFL season. Watson was New England's first-round draft pick in 2004. Graham was the Pats' top pick in 2002.

Other soon-to-be unrestricted or restricted NFL free agents:
Dwayne Blakley - RFA/ATL
Gabe Reid - RFA/CHI
Michael Gaines - RFA/CAR
Mike Seidman - UFA/CAR
Kyle Brady - UFA/JAC
Brian Jones - RFA/JAC
Richard Owens - RFA/MIN
Sean Ryan - RFA/NYJ
Ryan Krause - RFA/SD
Aaron Walker - RFA/STL
Derrick Rackley - UFA/SEA
Will Heller - UFA/SEA
Mark Bruener - UFA/HOU
Billy Miller - UFA/NO
Visanthe Shiancoe - UFA/NYG
Trent Smith - UFA/SF
Tony Stewart - UFA/CIN
Dave Moore - UFA/TB
Brian Kozlowski - UFA/WAS
Todd Yoder - UFA/WAS

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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