Future Free Agents: Tight Ends

The Vikings were look at drafting a stretch-the-field tight end last year, and this year they have options in the free-agent market. Get analysis on the top ones available and a listing of the rest of the free-agent tight ends this year.

Last year, the Vikings were interested in finding a tight end that would fit the traditional needs of the position in the West Coast offense, someone who could stretch the field vertically. They missed out on their opportunity to draft one in 2006 and, with a relatively poor crop in the free-agent market, they might have to rely on the draft to remedy that this year.

Many expected Jermaine Wiggins to have a big season when the West Coast offense was being installed last year, but his numbers dwindled from his previous two seasons in purple. After averaging 70 catches in his first two seasons with the Vikings, he had only 45 last year but still finished as the second-leading receiver on the anemic offense.

Jim Kleinsasser has always been more of a blocking tight end and fullback than a pass-catcher, but his receiving stats plummeted to seven receptions for 47 yards in 2006.

The need for a tight end is pronounced, but the free-agent market isn't very enabling, especially since Tony Gonzalez signed a rich (read: five-year, $31 million) extension last month with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are the tight ends scheduled for free agency on March 2:

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 Vikings, 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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