Tight ends aren't as valuable as quarterbacks, but it's quickly becoming one of the most valuable positions in football. Finding a top-tier tight end capable of serving as a quarterback's top weapon and a steady blocker can be difficult, but doing exactly that can change the outlook of a team. It's no coincidence that the two teams who met in the Super Bowl -- the Patriots and Eagles --  featured two top-five tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz. Sure enough, the duo combined for three touchdowns in the big game with Ertz securing the game-winning score.

Not only are tight ends important, but the disparity between the game's best tight-end starters and game's worst tight-end starters is arguably just as large as the disparity between top-tier quarterbacks and fringy starting quarterbacks. 

Take it from Bill Belichick.

"The tight end position is, probably after quarterback, the hardest position to play in our offense," he once said, per Sports Illustrated. That's the guy who does all the formationing. The running back is usually in the backfield. The receivers are receivers. But the tight ends could be in their tight end location, they could be in the backfield, they could be flexed. They could be in the wide position. To formation the defense, those are the guys you're going to move. It's moving the tight ends that changes the defensive deployment."

With that in mind, it's time to take a look at the tight ends who are scheduled to become available in free agency this year. Before we get started, let's thank Spotrac for compiling all of the data in one easy to find place. A few names might be omitted, but we've included all of the names that matter.

You can also check out our breakdown of the markets at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Read on for everything you need to know about the 2018 tight end free agent class. 

The headliner

Jimmy Graham

It's rare a tight end of Graham's caliber becomes available in free agency. But that's expected to happen this year. Jimmy Graham, the former basketball player himself, is scheduled to become a free agent.

Graham began his career with the Saints, where he established himself as one of the game's premier pass-catching tight ends. From 2010-14, Graham averaged roughly 77 catches, 950 yards, and 10 touchdowns per season. After getting shockingly traded to Seattle, Graham endured a bit of a rough patch. He finished strong, though. From 2016-17, Graham caught 122 passes for 1,443 yards and 16 touchdowns, becoming Russell Wilson's primary red-zone target. Since entering the league, only two players (Gronk and Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant) have caught more touchdowns than Graham (69).

The 6-foot-7, 265-pound machine isn't much of a blocker, but that's OK. He has a very specific skill set: He's really good at doing stuff like this ...

"Jimmy's one of my best friends in the world," Wilson said in January, via ESPN. "He's like a unicorn. There's only so many of those guys you can find that can do what he can do. He's pretty special at catching the football and making plays."

Wilson wants Graham to return, but given the tight end's age (31), nobody would blame the Seahawks for not wanting to throw a massive contract at him, and nobody would blame Graham for prioritizing money over winning. Nobody should rule out a return to the Seahawks, but there are a few teams that should be targeting him. 

The Seahawks' NFC West rivals, the Rams and 49ers, should both try to lure Graham away from Seattle. According to Spotrac, the 49ers lead the league in available cap space. Their top tight end in 2017? George Kittle. The 49ers should absolutely try to pair Graham with Jimmy Garoppolo. The Rams, meanwhile, rank 10th in available cap space. They have two young tight ends in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, but the two of them combined for three touchdowns in 2017. Graham could put them over the top. The Texans -- with Deshaun Watson, a dearth of quality tight ends, and the sixth-most cap space -- could be another intriguing destination.

The bottom line: Graham will have suitors. 

Restricted free agent

Cameron Brate

Brate would be the top target in free agency given his age (26) and production (105 catches, 1,251 yards, and 14 touchdowns since 2016, and PFF's sixth-highest graded tight end in 2017), but he's a restricted free agent, which makes it more likely for the Buccaneers to hang onto him. He's one of the most underappreciated tight ends in football. Even though they drafted O.J. Howard in the first round, the Buccaneers aren't really in a position to be letting one of Jameis Winston's favorite targets escape in free agency. 

Then again, the Buccaneers might need to prioritize other players. Mike Evans needs an extension. Keeping two starting-caliber tight ends on the roster might not be a luxury they can afford. The Buccaneers will have a chance to match an offer from another team, but if someone is willing to pay him like a top-10 tight end, the Buccaneers might have to let him go. The Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman speculated in December that the Buccaneers might hit him with a second-round tender.

Brate might get paid this offseason by a tight end-needy team. And he might want to leave so he gets to be a TE1 instead of splitting time with Howard.

Young potential 

Trey Burton 

Burton's been buried behind Ertz on the Eagles' depth chart, which hasn't led to many opportunities. You might remember him for his touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl. But when given opportunities as a pass-catching tight end, he's shined. In the past two seasons, he's appeared in 30 games, started five games, caught 60 passes for 575 yards, and six touchdowns. He was actually Pro Football Focus' 13th-highest graded tight end in 2017. 

"Trey is a great route runner. He's a very instinctive player and he's got that mix of size and just enough speed," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said in August, per Eagles Wire. "He's not huge, but he's big enough. He's not lightning fast, but he's pretty fast, and he's very instinctive and a good route runner."

Burton is 26 and while the Eagles might try to keep him, he'll probably be searching for a team that can offer him a more substantial role on offense. 

Austin Seferian-Jenkins

It wasn't too long ago that Seferian-Jenkins was regarded as a top tight end prospect. It took a while for him to round into form, but after a disastrous start to his career in Tampa Bay, Seferian-Jenkins finally developed into a decent player in New York. In 2017, he caught 50 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Those might not be great numbers, but consider he was playing on a bad Jets offense, appeared in 13 games, and lost two touchdowns on reviews. 

He also improved his life away from the field. In January, he celebrated one year of sobriety.

Seferian-Jenkins is still only 25. He's 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds. Someone should take a chance on him and hope he continues his development.

Old reliable

Antonio Gates

Gates, 37, is a future Hall of Famer. He ranks 20th all-time in catches (927), 30th all-time in receiving yards (11,508), and sixth all-time in touchdown catches (114). But over the past couple seasons, he's been phased out of the offense, ceding the TE1 role to Hunter Henry. In 2017, he caught 30 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. But he's not ready to retire.

"Sometimes when you're in backup role, you're not sure what you can do because you're not put in a position to do it," he said after the final game of the season, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I had an opportunity these last two weeks to see what I could do physically, and I felt good."

Gates said he'd want to return to the Chargers, but didn't rule out a move to a contender like, say, the Patriots so that he can finish his career with a championship.

"As a guy with mixed feelings about returning, you want to make sure you have an opportunity to win a Super Bowl," Gates said, adding that if Patriots coach Bill Belichick called and offered him a spot, "I would talk it over with my family and try to make the best decision possible."

"But I really feel like the pieces are in place here to get it done. … This team is traveling north very fast. When you're with this team and in this locker room, you can sense something special is about to happen. I want to win a championship here, for the L.A. Chargers."

The question is, would a contender like the Patriots want him? I think they would. Gates might not be able to handle a large workload anymore, but he still finished as PFF's 17th-highest graded tight end in 2017. A contender should snatch him up on a one-year, cheap contract that gives him a chance to finally win a Super Bowl.

With that being said, the Chargers are a dark-horse Super Bowl contender. So, it probably makes sense for the sides to get together and work out a deal.

Benjamin Watson

At the age of 37 and coming of season wrecked by a torn Achilles, Watson actually turned in a decent 2017 season in the Ravens' meh offense, catching 61 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns. In his career, which began way back in 2004, he's totaled 5,485 yards and 42 touchdowns.

There's no doubt he can be a contributor somewhere, but he might decide to retire instead. During an interview with NFL Network, he acknowledged that he's not sure what'll come next.

"Coming into this year, really coming to Baltimore and signing a two-year deal, we knew that we were closer to the end than the beginning obviously," Watson said, via the Baltimore Sun. "Don't know exactly what's going to happen next year but it's been an incredible ride, an incredible career, and God has been good. I think right now it's just a matter of me and my family thinking about what's next, seeing what doors God opens or what he closes, and then walking through that."

Ed Dickson

Nobody is going to confuse Dickerson for a TE1, but like Watson, he can be used. Dickson, 30, caught 30 passes for 437 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers in 2017. He was, however, the highest-graded pass-blocking tight end in football, according to PFF. Dickerson earned roughly $2.7 million last season. It'd be shocking to see him get much more than that in free agency. But if a team wants a tight end who can stay in to pass block, Dickerson's their guy.

Injury risks

Tyler Eifert

Not too long ago, Eifert was one of the game's best tight ends in terms of his touchdown count. In 2015, Eifert hauled in 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. But injuries (back and ankle issues) have wrecked his past couple seasons. He's appeared in 10 of 32 possible games since the beginning of 2016. He's never played in a full 16-game season for the Bengals, appearing in 39 of 80 possible games.

This is a situation where a team will likely give him a short prove-it type of contract with incentives. The Bengals very well might decide to bring him back.

Zach Miller 

The early portion of Miller's career was marred by injuries, but he began to salvage his career with the Bears in recent years. From 2015-17, Miller caught 101 passes for 1,161 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2017, PFF graded him as the 12th-best tight end. Unfortunately, Miller's career could be over due to a tragic injury he suffered this past season that nearly resulted in the amputation of his leg. It'll be a long road back for Miller, so it seems unlikely he'll sign a contract this offseason. But he is available.

10 replacement level options

Virgil Green

  • Age: 29
  • 2017 team: Broncos
  • 2017 stats: 14 catches, 191 yards, one touchdown, PFF's second-best pass-blocking tight end
  • 2017 pay: $3.3 million 

Anthony Fasano

Niles Paul

  • Age: 28 
  • 2017 team: Redskins
  • 2017 stats: 13 catches, 94 yards, no touchdowns
  • 2017 pay: $2,208,334

Luke Willson

  • Age: 28
  • 2017 team: Seahawks
  • 2017 stats: 15 catches, 153 yards, four touchdowns
  • 2017 pay: $1.8 million 

Richard Rodgers

  • Age: 26
  • 2017 team: Packers
  • 2017 stats: 12 catches, 160 yards, one touchdown
  • 2017 pay: $1,923,504

Lee Smith

  • Age: 30
  • 2017 team: Raiders
  • 2017 stats: eight catches, 76 yards, no touchdowns
  • 2017 pay: $1.5 million

Troy Niklas

  • Age: 25
  • 2017 team: Cardinals
  • 2017 stats: 11 catches, 132 yards, one touchdown
  • 2017 pay: $1,280,141

Darren Fells

  • Age: 31
  • 2017 team: Lions
  • 2017 stats: 17 catches, 177 yards, three touchdowns
  • 2017 pay: $975,000

Crockett Gillmore

  • Age: 26
  • 2017 team: Ravens/waived
  • 2017 stats: N/A (injured)
  • 2017 pay: $816,504

Derek Carrier

  • Age: 27
  • 2017 team: Rams 
  • 2017 stats: eight catches, 71 yards
  • 2017 pay: $1 million 

You can view the entire list of free agent tight ends here via Spotrac.