Each off-season the NFL offers a litany of players which are destined to find new homes for the upcoming season. The 2016 free agent pool is no different. This segment will dig into a handful of tight ends, which could find themselves dawning new uniforms for the 2016 season. Whether due to contract status or simply having worn out their welcome for their current teams, the one thing we can always count on happening is things always change.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and have some fun projecting just where they may land, the implications it could have on their current teams and which players may benefit from their departure.
Defining Free Agent Status:
UFA – Unrestricted free agents are players with expired contracts that have completed four or more accrued seasons of service. They are free to sign with any franchise.
RFA – A player who is no longer considered to be entry-level, but does not qualify as an unrestricted free agent, becomes a restricted free agent when his contract expires. A player may only declare himself to be an unrestricted free agent if he is over the age of 27 or has played in the league for a minimum of 7 years.
ERFA – An exclusive rights free agent is a player who is not under contract but has two years of NFL experience. A player in this category is not really a free agent. He cannot sign with any other team, if he does not sign the contract, the player has to quit.
TE Ladarius Green (UFA)
A uniquely gifted athlete drafted by the Chargers in 2012, Green has long been dubbed as the heir apparent to Antonio Gates. However, since his arrival in San Diego, Green’s production has boarder on non-existent. It is however understandable, due to playing behind one of the all-time great TEs in Antonio Gates. The 2015 season was his final opportunity to showcase why he should be viewed as the future TE in San Diego. It was a perfect storm of opportunity as Gates was often injured and missed 5 regular season games leaving the door wide open for Green to breakout. In the end, the breakout never happened. Although Green did reach career single season highs across the board with 37 catches for 429 yards and 4 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Green was unable to even finish the regular season as he was placed on IR prior to week 17. Thus, having not truly demonstrating the ability to remain healthy, while also never reaching the production heights many had speculated if given a proper chance, Green’s future in San Diego is a complete mystery heading into 2016.
The What If:
In the event Green did not impress the Charger brass enough to warrant bringing him back on a new deal, there will be plenty of suitors willing to sign the athletically gifted, albeit injury prone, tight end. Outside of a return to San Diego here are a few teams where his gifts could be put to great use; Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons & Green Bay Packers.
If the rumblings are to be believed, Gates will likely return in 2016. In fact, earlier this season he was already trying to persuade fellow veteran & free agent wide receiver Malcolm Floyd to consider a 2016 return. This would indicate his devout interest in a new deal himself. However, should Green depart and for this exercise, Gates depart, the tight end cupboard would be left bare in San Diego. There is not a player currently on the Charger roster that I can imagine would be considered the “next man up.” Thus, free agency or the 2016 NFL draft would be their only recourse. Ultimately, I simply can’t imagine a scenario where San Diego allows them both to walk.
TE Antonio Gates (UFA)
The immortal one. Antonio Gates has been one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history as he continues to defy age & injury. However, the 2015 season has proven even the great ones have their limits. Gates missed 5 games and finished the season with his worst season of production, in terms of yardage, since his 2003 rookie season and worst in receptions, since 2012. Father Time has sounded the warning bell on Gates and savvy Dynasty owners need to take the proper steps in planning for the future. Gates is an UFA in 2016, however, I have a tough time believing the Charger brass won’t bring him back on a team friendly deal allowing him to finish out his illustrious career in powder blue.
The What If:
In the event, however unlikely, Gates is allowed to test the market, there are sure to be teams with a piqued interest in the salty veteran. Although Gates hasn’t been the epitome of health over the past few seasons, it wasn’t until 2015 which saw him not only miss time, but miss the first four games to kick the season off. Should Gates move on from San Diego there are certainly a few teams where his talents could be put to good use; Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans & New Orleans Saints.
Much like the aforementioned Ladarius Green, the situation in San Diego will likely get fleshed out sooner than later. I believe the most logical scenario is for them to bring Gates back with a team friendly contract while potentially letting Green walk. Should the Charger brass bring both back I image similar output of production as we have seen in 2015 should be expected. If San Diego allows both men to walk they would be searching for a starting replacement most likely found in free agency.
TE Dwayne Allen (UFA)
Drafted with the 1st pick in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Dwayne Allen has had a definably inconsistent professional career up to this point. Allen set expectations high after a widely successful rookie season posting 45/521/3 line. However, since then his production has been anything but consistent. He did have an adequate 2014 season snaring 8 touchdowns, but as his time has been split with fellow 2012 draft classmate, Coby Fleener, Allen has never truly been handed the full-time reins. The stage was set as 2015 was his last chance to show the Colts front office he was worthy of a new deal, unfortunately, injuries to himself and Luck paired with inconsistent play derailed that journey as Allen finished the season on IR.
The What If:
The odds are surely against a return to Indianapolis in 2016, however, when one door closes another opens. In Allen’s case, a fresh start maybe just what the doctor ordered. Here are a few teams which could use a multi-purposed TE still only 26 years old; San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons & Denver Broncos.
It is my belief that Allen will not be dawning a Colts uniform in 2016, therefore, as it stands today, unless the Colts bring back (UFA) Coby Fleener, they will be on the hunt for Luck’s starting tight end next season. The current depth chart replacement, Jack Doyle, is best suited as a blocking TE and not a preferred option as the move-TE. Thus, free agency or bust.
TE Coby Fleener (UFA)
Much like his counterpart, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener is also an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Statistically speaking, Fleener faired much better than Allen, posting a 54/491/3 production line. Certainly a less than healthy Andrew Luck had its affects on the entire offense, but the tight end position has simply never truly carved out a definable role in the Colts offense. When Fleener was drafted with the 2nd pick in the 2nd round of 2012 coupled with the fact that he was also Luck’s starting tight end while at Stanford, many were left thinking this was set to be a fruitful relationship which would transition well into the NFL ranks. Unfortunately, that production relationship never transpired and Fleener is a dice roll on whether or not he will return in 2016. However, with decent hands, yet no discernable blocking skills, Fleener and Doyle could make a viable 1-2 punch for the Colts should they bring him back.
The What If:
Should Fleener flee the Colts stable for greener pastures he should have a few teams vying for his services. Not an exceptional talent, but a more than serviceable one, pending the offensive system and usage, Fleener could possess tangible value for another team. Here are a few teams were he could find a boost in fantasy value; San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys & St. Louis Rams.
Between Fleener and Allen, I would favor the Colts bringing back Luck’s college tight end. Much like the dilemma the San Diego Chargers are facing with both Gates and Green, I have a difficult time seeing the Colts letting both men walk. However, if they did, I see a high-profile tight end being brought in to provide more positional production stability.
TE Vernon Davis (UFA)
Vernon Davis was a SPARQ score freak before they even had it as a measuring system. Although age and injuries have made themselves noticeable, Davis is still a uniquely gifted athlete. The moment he made his way to Denver it instantly created a revived interest in the possibilities of premium production. Unfortunately, Manning proved once again he plays favorites. It also didn’t help matters that Manning hit the proverbial wall and was eventually removed from the starting line-up. However, all was not lost as Davis was able to establish a rapport with Osweiler, albeit a minor one. In the end, inconsistent usage was his downfall. It is hard to believe Davis will be brought back to Denver in 2016 unless some type of renaissance occurs during the playoffs. Therefore, the real speculation rests on whether or not Davis still has the desire to play and if so, where will be land next season.
The What If:
He will likely come cheap but make no mistake, Davis can still perform if given a fair shake. He is still one of the most gifted players in the NFL, but situation, system and opportunities have not been kind to him over the past few seasons. With that said, here are a few teams where he could make an impact in 2016; Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans & Green Bay Packers.
The 49ers weren’t afraid of moving on from Davis, I can’t imagine the Broncos will bat an eye either. In fact, Owen Daniels is still considered the TE1 in Denver so opting to not bring Davis back won’t really affect the plan in Denver. I am not endorsing Daniels as the 2016 starter in Denver, only to say I believe the position won’t likely be a battle between two aging veterans. I would look for the Elway to lead a search for a younger TE, unless of course they feel Virgil Green can ascend.
Honorable Mention:Demetrius Harris (RFA), Benjamin Watson (UFA), Zach Miller (UFA), Will Tye (ERFA), Robert Housler (UFA)
*Note: These are merely projections meant for fun. Much will occur, as it always does, in the NFL off-season, so take this segment with a grain of salt as NFL rosters are a fluid bunch. Stay vigilant in your quest for knowledge and always be building, especially in Dynasty formats.
Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter @DynastyFFactory.