It’s clear that tight end is among the very biggest needs for the Green Bay Packers heading into the 2016 offseason. Unfortunately, the 2016 draft class is considered fairly weak at the position, making it unlikely that the Packers will be able to draft an instant receiving threat. While Richard Rodgers has been a nice red zone target, the Packers are lacking a more vertically-oriented, receiving tight end. Historically, General Manager Ted Thompson has not often utilized free agency, but he’s not completely adverse to picking up moderately priced veterans that can instantly contribute (see Letroy Guion and Julius Peppers). It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that Thompson could look to free agency to help fill a void now, drafting at the position to develop a young tight end for later. Below are some unrestricted free agent tight ends who may hit the open market. If they do, Thompson should at least give them a look.
The former Bengal signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. While he’s never quite lived up to his draft position (21st pick overall in 2010), Gresham is undoubtedly a highly talented athlete. With great size and speed, Gresham is a receiving threat who has improved considerably as a run-blocker. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that there are a lot of similarities between Gresham and former Packer Jermichael Finley.
On the plus side, Gresham is still relatively young at 27 and didn’t break the bank when signing with the Cardinals last year for around $3 mil. He’s also been relatively healthy throughout his career. Gresham didn’t do a lot in the receiving game this last year, but he’s undeniably talented. The Cardinals may very well wish to keep Gresham, but the allure of playing with Aaron Rodgers could be enticing.
The Colts’ tight end is perhaps more likely to hit free agency given the reports of his frustration in essentially being used exclusively as a blocking tight end by Indianapolis last year. Just one year removed from hauling in 8 receiving TDs, Allen finished with only 16 receptions in 2016. Allen and teammate Coby Fleener both completed their rookie contracts, and the word out of Indianapolis is that the Colts are likely to only resign Fleener.
Allen is not as tall and fast as Gresham. He’s not necessarily a prototypical deep threat tight end, but he has explosive quickness that would certainly complement Richard Rodgers well. He’s also developed into an above average run blocker. Allen is a 3 down tight end that is only 25 years old. In many ways, he could be the most attractive free agent on the market, but that might also mean that he’ll garner more interest and higher offers than Ted Thompson is willing to make.
Simply put, Davis is one of the most physically gifted tight ends that the league has ever seen. Davis is the Platonic form of up-the-seam, vertical threat tight ends. But after being traded from the 49ers to the Denver Broncos in 2015, Davis was completely innocuous for the rest of the season. He did not score a single TD, and his best game saw him accumulate 74 receiving yards. He didn’t make a single catch in the Bronco’s championship winning postseason run.
Davis is 32 years old. If he could still contribute with any team, it might be the Packers, but it’s unclear how much he has left in the tank. It’s highly unlikely that the Broncos will attempt to resign him. If nothing else, he will probably come cheap, but is it even worth it at this point?
Green is a highly intriguing talent. At 6’6″, Green is huge and blazingly fast with great hands. Athletically, he’s on par with a younger Vernon Davis. For this reason, the 4th round draft pick (2012) has been a break-out candidate for the last few seasons in San Diego, but he’s never quite transcended sleeper status. If he makes it to free agency, he’ll certainly be an interesting follow. Will the market pay him for his skill set or his actual, relatively modest accomplishments? At only 25, Green will definitely attract some measure of interest. The prospect of Green catching balls from Rodgers in the Packers’ offense is the kind of thing that makes you salivate.
Still, the young player has had trouble with more physical cornerbacks or tight ends, struggling to separate from contact at the line of scrimmage. He’s also not going to be winning any blocking awards in the future. The sky is the limit for Green, but will Thompson spend money on his upside alone?
The Jacksonville Jaguars have two unrestricted free agent tight ends set to hit the open market, Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor. The Jags will likely elect to sign the younger, cheaper Harbor, but if they don’t, Ted Thompson should at least kick the tires on Harbor. While not the big and fast specimen that Green is, Harbor still has the skill set to be a receiving threat in the Green Bay offense. Harbor has never really put up more than about 300 yards and 2 TDs in any given season of his 6 year career, but he’s also never really been a featured receiver, nor has he played with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. His ceiling is lower than some other players on this list, but so is his price tag.
These are, by no means, the only players available that could immediately step in and make some impact with the Packers. The New Orleans Saints’ Josh Hill or the Detroit Lions’ Tim Wright are two more examples of young, quick receiving tight ends that could be acquired relatively cheaply, as well. The fact remains, however, that at least some of these players will be resigned, leaving the depth of talent in free agency thinner than it now appears. Still, if the Packers want to add a tight end that can immediately step in and be a significant weapon for Aaron Rodgers, they’ll likely have to acquire a free agent. I don’t expect it, but stranger things have happened.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.