Maybe it's a good thing the Vikings aren't desperate for a tight end. There aren't a lot of attractive mid-level options out on the market and a couple of the top dogs at the position – Jimmy Graham and Dennis Pitta – are effectively off the market.
In Graham's case, he received the franchise tag from the Saints. While there could be some interest in teams still pursuing him, he would come at a hefty price, both financially and in draft-pick compensation to the Saints. Pitta was simply re-signed by the Baltimore Ravens before he had a chance to hit the open market.
If the Vikings want to stay where they are, they wouldn't have to add a tight end to the stable. They have Kyle Rudolph, a Pro Bowl player in 2012, returning for his fourth NFL season, and various options behind him.
John Carlson, if kept on board with his $3.9 million base salary, proved he could find the soft spot in zones last year when Rudolph was sidelined with injury, but Carlson also suffered another concussion, at least the third of his NFL career. He told the Star Tribune he wants to return for the 2014 season, but the Vikings could still attempt to restructure or simply wait until they see how he progresses through the preseason before making a decision.
Behind him is tight end/H-back Rhett Ellison, who is a blocker first that gets limited use in the passing game. His opposite is Chase Ford, who at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, is developing into a viable pass-catcher that could still use more bulk in the blocking game.
In short, the Vikings have four tight ends under contract (as well as fullbacks Jerome Felton and Zach Line) that bring varying levels of blocking and pass-catching skills. They wouldn't have to make any moves at tight end in free agency, and they might not.
The Vikings don't have any free agents at the tight end position.
TOP OUTSIDE OPTIONS
Garrett Graham: He fits the Vikings way in a couple of aspects – he is entering his first year of unrestricted free agency (and therefore a long-term option) and is versatile enough to help the Vikings in the run or pass game. Last year he started 11 games for the Houston Texans, catching 49 passes for 545 yards and five touchdowns.
Ben Hartsock: With 10 NFL seasons under his belt, Hartsock doesn't necessarily fit the Vikings' methodology in signing younger free agents, but if they did decide to part ways with John Carlson and were looking for another run blocker to complement Rhett Ellison's abilities, Hartsock would make some sense for depth. Rudolph and Ford could handle the pass-catching roles and Ellison and Hartsock would act as the down-and-dirty blocking tight ends. Hartsock graded out as Pro Football Focus' top blocking tight end in 2013.
Bear Pascoe: While Graham's forte is pass-catching and Hartsock's is blocking, Pascoe might be the most well-rounded of the three unrestricted free agents, although run blocking is where his bread has been buttered. He's never been a big pass-catcher, never having more than 12 catches in a season, but at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he's a formidable target. He is young enough for the Vikings to contemplate, entering just his sixth NFL season.
THE FREE AGENTS
Jimmy Graham (franchised)
Vikings free-agent focus: Tight ends
Viking Update Top Stories
Cowboys blitzed and bruised BradfordThe Minnesota Vikings wanted to take their shots deep and did. But Sam Bradford also took his shots to the body from a blitz-heavy Cowboys defense. The numbers and reaction inside.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 1:15 PM
Vikings-Cowboys most-watched TNF game everThe Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys game was the most-watched Thursday Night Football game ever.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 12:49 PM
Counting snaps: DL rotation against big OLThe Minnesota Vikings used a healthy rotation of defensive linemen Thursday night in an attempt to beat what is widely considered the best offensive line in the NFL.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:13 AM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Cowboys highlightsHighlights and lowlights from the Minnesota Vikings' 17-15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 12:33 AM