The free agent tight end market looked impressive prior to this week. And then Tuesday happened. Three prime candidates in Dalton Schultz, Mike Gesicki and David Njoku got the franchise tag, meaning they aren't leaving their current teams.
Now, the best tight ends available are Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and Gerald Everett, among others. It's a solid group, but the free agent options aren't as sexy as they were prior to the franchise tag deadline.
We'll discuss the free agent options below, but first let's talk about the guys getting the franchise tag. I love this move for Schultz, who has the chance to once again be a standout Fantasy option for the Cowboys, especially if they part ways with Amari Cooper.
Schultz is now my No. 6 Fantasy tight end this season behind Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller and George Kittle. Schultz should be the No. 2 target for Dak Prescott behind CeeDee Lamb, and Schultz just had 78 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021 on 104 targets. He's worth drafting as early as Round 6 or 7 in all formats.
It was surprising to see Gesicki and Njoku get the franchise tag, and both remain No. 2 Fantasy tight ends at best. Gesicki is worth a late-round flier, and hopefully, new Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel can unlock his potential. The key will be what Miami does to fill out its receiving corps, but McDaniel could help Gesicki emerge as a consistent weapon for Tua Tagovailoa. Last season, Gesicki had 73 catches for 780 yards and two touchdowns on 112 targets, and he is someone to draft with a late-round pick in all leagues.
Njoku could be more of a receiving threat for the Browns if they move on from Jarvis Landry, but Njoku is still stuck in a three-headed tight end rotation in Cleveland with Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant. I was hoping Njoku had the chance to find a new team, but the Browns had other ideas by keeping him around. Hopefully that works out for Njoku and Fantasy managers in 2022. In 2021, Njoku only had 36 catches for 475 yards and four touchdowns on 53 targets, so he has a lot of work to do before Fantasy managers can trust him.
The Cowboys, Dolphins and Browns solved their tight end situation, but several other teams still have holes at the position. The teams that could be in the market for a tight end include the Cardinals, Bengals, Chargers, Jets, Colts, Giants, Packers, Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers.
Let's find out if any of the remaining tight end free agents on the market make sense for any of those teams.
Ertz, 31, was great when he got to Arizona following a trade with Philadelphia prior to Week 7. Over 11 games, Ertz had 56 catches for 574 yards and three touchdowns on 81 targets, and he scored at least 11 PPR points six times, averaging 11.5 PPR points over that span. If you project that over 17 games, Ertz would have finished with 86 catches for 887 yards and five touchdowns. The Cardinals have a need for Ertz, especially if Christian Kirk and A.J. Green leave as free agents. Ertz has expressed an interest in returning to the Cardinals, and staying with Kyler Murray would be great for Ertz's Fantasy value.
Ideal landing spot: Cardinals
This is a tricky one because Gronkowski could opt to retire again now that Tom Brady has ended his Hall of Fame career. Gronkowski, 32, ended his one-year retirement in 2020 to play with Brady in Tampa Bay, and it's unclear if Gronkowski wants to return with a new quarterback and potentially a new team. Now, he did express interest in playing with Joe Burrow, and the Bengals have a need at tight end with C.J. Uzomah an impending free agent. "I kinda like this young buck quarterback. He's in the Super Bowl now: It's Joe Burrow, man," Gronkowski told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I watched him in college. I just love the way he presents himself out on the football field. In the pocket, he's just so calm and he just slings it out on the field. ... I just love his swag, too." A pairing with Burrow in Cincinnati would keep Gronkowski as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end, and we hope Gronkowski decides to keep playing. The NFL is better with Gronkowski on the field.
Ideal landing spot: Bengals
Howard could decide to stay in Tampa Bay if Gronkowski leaves, but I'd like to see Howard leave for a new opportunity. And let's aim high by putting him on the Chargers with Justin Herbert. Jared Cook is an impending free agent, and Howard could slide in as the No. 4 target in the passing game behind Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler. Howard has struggled with injuries and being a consistent producer since Tampa Bay made him a first-round pick in 2017. But he has 24 games over the past five seasons with at least four targets, and he scored at least 11 PPR points in 17 of them. Hopefully, wherever Howard ends up, he gets consistent targets, and I'd love to see him paired with Herbert for 2022 and beyond.
Ideal landing spot: Chargers
The NFL Network reports teams have been inquiring about Engram as a slot receiver as much as a tight end, and hopefully wherever he signs he can finally deliver on the promise he showed as a first-round rookie out of Mississippi in 2017. That season, Engram had 64 catches for 772 yards and six touchdowns on 115 targets with the Giants, but those stats all remain career highs. We know drops and injuries have been a problem for Engram, and he needs a fresh start away from the Giants. Plenty of teams could offer that opportunity, but I put the Colts here as an ideal landing spot because Indianapolis has a big need for pass catchers. Jack Doyle retired, and T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal are impending free agents. Engram could emerge as the No. 2 receiving option behind Michael Pittman, but we don't know who the Colts quarterback is yet after they traded Carson Wentz to Washington. Still, it's a great opportunity for any tight end, and Engram could see enough targets to make him a viable Fantasy option again.
Ideal landing spot: Colts
I was torn on the fifth tight end to use here with Everett, Uzomah and Robert Tonyan, but I settled on Everett based on upside. He started to show promise toward the end of last season in Seattle with at least 10 PPR points in five of his final five games, and he scored three touchdowns over that span. It's doubtful he's going to a situation where he's going to get featured in the passing game, but Tennessee could make some sense since Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim and Mycole Pruitt are all impending free agents. That trio combined for 79 catches, 646 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 targets, so there's an opportunity there for any tight end. Everett could be a surprise Fantasy option in a situation like this.
Ideal landing spot: Titans
Others to watch: C.J. Uzomah, Robert Tonyan, Jared Cook, Eric Ebron and Jimmy Graham