Most people know that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took down the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV, but here's something you may not have known: the leading receivers for both teams were the tight ends. Travis Kelce caught a game-high 10 passes for 133 yards while Rob Gronkowski turned back the clock and caught six passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. It seems like every Super Bowl features at least one elite tight end, and that's not a coincidence.
The tight end is truly a dynamic position in the game of football because the athletes who play tight end are typically unique. The best of the best can block like linemen and then run routes and catch passes like wide receivers. Both Gronk and Kelce have shown the league how a star tight end can elevate an offense and team as a whole, and they have opened the door for other tight ends to make money on the open market.
This offseason, several notable tight ends will be looking for new deals in free agency. Let's take a look at a few of the best who could be playing for new teams in 2021 (H/T Spotrac).
Henry is the best tight end who will be looking for a new deal in the coming months. He and the Los Angeles Chargers failed to agree to terms on an extension last offseason, so he spent 2020 on the franchise tag. According to the market projections at Spotrac, Henry could be looking at a contract that pays him an average annual salary of $10.9 million, which is just above Austin Hooper and below the likes of George Kittle and Kelce. Henry is a perfect security blanket for young quarterback Justin Herbert, but he is also a deep threat with soft hands. As for if he will be back in L.A. next season, Henry says he's open to anything.
"I've really enjoyed my time here, so I'm not going to ever rule that out, you know, with a young quarterback, me and Justin [Herbert] have formed a relationship," Henry told SiriusXM NFL Radio. "But I think I'm open to whatever, and I think I kind of have to, in a way, but I really enjoyed my time and if that continues, I'll be excited. If that doesn't, then that would be a new step and a new place to kind of start again."
Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends in NFL history. He came out of retirement last offseason to play with his old friend Tom Brady, and while he wasn't the No. 1 option on offense, he was effective in several games this season -- especially in the Super Bowl with six catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, in 16 games played this year, Gronk caught 45 passes for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. If he wants to give it another go with the Bucs, you have to imagine the two sides will be able to get another one-year deal done. Don't expect him to sign with another team.
Smith may not be a household name, but those who have watched him play know how special this 25-year-old pass-catcher could be. Smith was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but wasn't a major part of the offense until Ryan Tannehill took over. In 2020, Smith put up career numbers all across the board, including eight receiving touchdowns. He's an effort player with solid hands, and an athlete capable of highlight-reel catches. Smith also showed off his versatility by playing some running back for the Titans.
Can we get a thread going of some our favorite NFL concepts of the year? Can just be something interesting or funny, a cool blitz, coverage, formation, RPO, whatever.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) February 5, 2020
Here's one of my favorites, the #Titans getting into 02 personnel and running a toss play to TE Jonnu Smith. pic.twitter.com/tEa89JGC3X
Tennessee would like to keep Smith, but he is sure to garner interest on the open market.
Tonyan is a restricted free agent, which is a player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. According to NFL.com, RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers ("tenders") that come with the Right of First Refusal and/or draft-pick compensation.
Tonyan found his way to the Green Bay Packers late in 2017 after a practice squad stint with the Detroit Lions, and then exploded in 2020. After recording a total of two touchdowns in his first two seasons in Green Bay, he caught 11 touchdowns in 2020 and turned into a legitimate part of the Packers' explosive offensive attack. Tonyan's six catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 was something that everyone took note of. With Marcedes Lewis also on an expiring contract, expect Tonyan to be back in Green Bay in 2021.
Cook turns 34 in April, but he has been solid for the New Orleans Saints. He has caught 80 passes for 1,209 yards and 16 touchdowns in 29 games for New Orleans, and has been a reliable target for Drew Brees. Cook's 2019 campaign was better than his 2020 season, and the Saints are facing significant cap challenges which casts doubt on all the futures of their unrestricted free agents. It's very possible Cook will be playing for his sixth different team in 2021, and there will be interest in him come free agency.
Rest of the bunch:
Tyler Kroft (Buffalo Bills)
Tyler Eifert (Jacksonville Jaguars, CO)
Jacob Hollister (Seattle Seahawks)
Virgil Green (Los Angeles Chargers)
MyCole Pruitt (Tennessee Titans)
Marcedes Lewis (Green Bay Packers)
Cethan Carter (Cincinnati Bengals)
Derek Carrier (Las Vegas Raiders)
Blake Bell (Dallas Cowboys)
Demetrius Harris (Chicago Bears)
Gerald Everett (Los Angeles Rams)
Antony Auclair (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Chris Manhertz (Carolina Panthers)
James O'Shaughnessy (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Jordan Reed (San Francisco 49ers)
Luke Stocker (Atlanta Falcons)
Trey Burton (Indianapolis Colts)
Geoff Swaim (Tennessee Titans)
Richard Rodgers (Philadelphia Eagles)
Daniel Brown (New York Jets)
Ross Travis (New York Jets)
Eric Saubert (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Seth Devalve (Carolina Panthers)
Johnny Mundt (Los Angeles Rams, RFA)
Stephen Anderson (Los Angeles Chargers, RFA)
Ross Dwelley (San Francisco 49ers, RFA)
Pharaoh Brown (Houston Texans, ERFA)
Darrell Daniels (Arizona Cardinals)
Jake Butt (Denver Broncos)
J.P. Holtz (Chicago Bears, ERFA)
Tanner Hudson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ERFA)
Matt Sokol (Los Angeles Chargers, ERFA)
Jeremy Sprinkle (Washington Football Team)
Dan Arnold (Arizona Cardinals)
Nick Keizer (Kansas City Chiefs, ERFA)
Colin Thompson (Carolina Panthers, ERFA)
Mitchell Wilcox (Cincinnati Bengals, ERFA)
Joshua Perkins (Philadelphia Eagles)
Jaeden Graham (Atlanta Falcons, ERFA)
Stephen Carlson (Cleveland Browns, ERFA)
Mo Alie-Cox (Indianapolis Colts, ERFA)
Deon Yelder (Kansas City Chiefs, RFA)
Cole Wick (New Orleans Saints)
Jason Vander Laan (New Orleans Saints)
Jordan Leggett (Denver Broncos)