It's a good offseason to need a tight end, and maybe a not so good offseason to be a tight end. There are several legitimate starters hitting the market in 2022 looking for new deals, and not everyone is going to get top-dollar offers. Whether you're looking to find a versatile playmaker who can hurt defenses down the field, or for a reliable security blanket who will help a developing quarterback, there are options out there.
The tight end position is still one that's underrated when it comes to its role in the NFL. A good one can facilitate long runs with skilled blocking on first down, and then catch a 20-yard pass on third down. You've seen how players like George Kittle and Travis Kelce can impact an offense. Is there a player up for grabs who can do something similar? Let's break down the tight end market in free agency.
1. Mike Gesicki, 26 (Miami Dolphins)
Gesicki might be the best tight end hitting free agency. He had a career year in 2021, with 73 receptions for 780 yards and two touchdowns. His 73 receptions ranked fifth-most among tight ends this season. Gesicki is athletic, effective catching passes downfield and also can make those tough receptions. He's certainly shown that ability playing with the up-and-down Tua Tagovailoa, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jacoby Brissett.
Gesicki may be better off to ditch the Dolphins and find a more comfortable situation with an established quarterback, but new head coach Mike McDaniel showed what he could do with George Kittle, so that may be enticing. Also, the Dolphins are set to enter free agency with the most cap space in the NFL, per Over The Cap, so they can absolutely afford to retain Gesicki.
Projected AAV: $11 million (via Spotrac)
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2. Dalton Schultz, 25 (Dallas Cowboys)
Not only did Schultz have a career year in 2021, he had one of the best seasons of any tight end. His 78 catches ranked third, 808 receiving yards ranked sixth and the eight touchdowns he scored ranked fifth. The Stanford product was given a bigger role in Dak Prescott's offense, and he found success working the middle of the field while CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper held down the outside. Schultz is undoubtedly a top tier free agent tight end, and he could receive the biggest contract of anyone at the position this offseason.
Projected AAV: $12.6 million (via Spotrac)
3. Zach Ertz, 31 (Arizona Cardinals)
If there was any doubt, Ertz proved he still has plenty of tread left on the tires in 2021. Even though he was traded midseason, he ranked in the top 10 of all tight ends in catches (74), receiving yards (763) and touchdowns (5). The bulk of his production came after he joined the Cardinals, as he caught 56 passes for 574 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games played. Ertz shined bright in some moments, like in Week 11 vs. the Seattle Seahawks, when he caught eight passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns from Colt McCoy.
It's possible Ertz could re-up with Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals. Back in December, Ertz told CBS Sports that Kyler Murray is one of the most talented players he's ever played with, and that he believes the Cardinals have been "built the right way." Another potential landing spot that's hard to ignore is the Jacksonville Jaguars, as Ertz's former head coach Doug Pederson is now in charge.
Projected AAV: $7.6 million (via Spotrac)
4. Evan Engram, 27 (New York Giants)
The 2020 Pro Bowler had a down year in 2021, as he caught 46 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games played. The 408 receiving yards marked a career low, and this season was also the first time Engram's yards per reception fell below double digits (8.9 yards). Still, anyone who has watched Engram knows he possesses the kind of versatility that could take an offense to the next level. The Ole Miss product burst onto the scene in 2017, catching 64 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns, but hasn't seen those kinds of numbers since.
It's likely teams will be divided on what Engram could potentially bring to a franchise. Some will see him as an injury prone talent who never panned out while others will see him as a player who needs a change of scenery for a career year.
Projected AAV: $6.7 million (via Spotrac)
5. Robert Tonyan, 27 (Green Bay Packers)
Tonyan is one of the more interesting free agents at the tight end position. He's recorded just one good season in four years played, as he caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020. Tonyan caught 18 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns in eight games played this past season, but tore his ACL in Week 8.
The Packers have several notable free agents to take care of on both sides of the ball this offseason, and it's possible Tonyan could find more money on the open market. Green Bay is more focused on Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams at this point, so it will be interesting to see where Tonyan falls on the Packers' list of priorities.
Projected AAV: $10.8 million (via Spotrac)