Upon first glance, the free agent tight end class of 2012 appears to be a little lacking in both talent and depth. Who are we trying to kid here? Upon second glance, the free agent class of 2012 looks absolutely awful. There is always the chance that the list of free agent tight ends does not look very appetizing because of how it pales in comparison to the impressive list of free agent wide receivers that are available.The most appealing name on the list -- Jermichael Finley -- has already re-upped with the Packers on a new two year deal, so there really is no comparison to be made. Actually, the remaining list of free agent tight ends doesn't even stack up against the list of draft eligible tight ends, which is also considered weak this year. There are quite a few agents for this class of tight ends who definitely have their work cut out for themselves. If you have ever had a garage sale where you priced that purple lamp from the basement at one dollar, then felt happy with getting a quarter for it, you can empathize with their plight.
Fred Davis pit up some very impressive numbers in 2011, averaging nearly 6 catches a game and besting his career high in receptions by 11 while playing four fewer games. He was a shining star for a struggling Washington Redskins team before spraining an ankle and then still managed to be serviceable while battling through the injury. So there is at least one big name talent who can help a team get over the hump at the tight end position, all is not lost. Well, the latest rumors are that the Redskins are ready to place the franchise tag on Davis, so scratch that name off the shopping list. Oh, and just to keep everyone up to speed on Big Fred, he is coming off a four game suspension in 2011 for failing multiple drug tests and is one more failed test away from a year long suspension. So that is the skinny on the BEST free agent on the market in 2012. Impossible as it seems to believe, it only goes downhill from here. Next up is the veteran Carolina Panther tight end Jeremy Shockey. Shockey is a man of many tattoos and even more injury concerns. Should Shockey decide to continue his career, he will be heading into his 11th NFL season and remains in search of the first season in which he will have played all 16 games. In his prime Shockey was as tough as they come, and from 2004-2007 averaged over 60 receptions a season. That being said, Evander Holyfield knocked out Mike Tyson back in 1996 when he was in his prime as a heavyweight. Now, just as Holyfield trolls Europe looking for countries that will actually allow him to box, Shockey thinks he can sign on with a team as the number one tight end. The athlete is sometimes the last to recognize that the band has stopped playing and the dance is over. That brings us to the remaining names on the list of notable (and I am using that term very loosely) free agents. Joel Dreesen, Visanthe Shiancoe, Martellus Bennett, Daniel Fells and 2011 early season darling Scott Chandler. Take a moment to soak them in; these are the top names on the list of your 2012 class of free agent tight ends.
Having done my due diligence and taken a really hard look at all the players available to be signed at tight end from the lean list of names, I did manage to come up with two players that could be a pleasant surprise in 2011. Believe me when I say that it was not an easy task. Jacob Tamme was an excellent pick up back in 2010 when Dallas Clark was lost for the season as he put up 67 receptions and 4 touchdowns. His numbers regressed horribly last season as Clark returned and the Colts' sad quarterback situation unfolded throughout the season. Tamme remains a talented pass catching tight end that just needs the opportunity to play. The Colts would be wise to try and resign Tamme as Dallas Clark is beginning to resemble that 1998 Escort that you hope to get one more year out of. After being targeted only 31 times last season, Tamme will be well rested heading into 2012; if not the Colts then another team such as Kansas City could benefit from bringing him on board. The other tight end who I believe is poised to have a big season in 2012 is Kellen Davis . As a senior at Michigan State in 2007, Davis played on special teams, caught 6 touchdowns and added 2 sacks while playing part time as a defensive end. In his four seasons with the Chicago Bears he has seen only 50 targets and was used primarily as a blocking tight end. Had his best season to date in 2011 hauling in 5 touchdowns on only 18 receptions. Davis was targeted 7 times in the red zone for the Bears last year and converted those targets into 4 red zone touchdowns. The mad genius Mike Martz uses the tight end position about as often as Nicholas Cage picks good scripts. Despite being handcuffed for the last two seasons by a limited role, Davis has shown flashes that indicate he could become a very productive NFL tight end. At 6' 6" and over 260lbs Davis presents a mismatch for most defenses to cover. Jay Cutler will need all hands on deck for Chicago to stay competitive in the NFC North in 2012, and re-signing Davis should be a priority.
Whew. Finding something positive to say about this list of free agent tight ends is a lot like figuring out how the last two kids picked for kickball in gym class will help your team win. NFL teams would be well advised to look to the draft at such prospects as Dwayne Allen (Clemson), Coby Fleener (Stanford) or Orson Charles (Georgia) to help fill their tight end needs. Or better yet, sit tight and wait until next season when some of the possible free agent tight ends are Dustin Keller, Jared Cook , Heath Miller, Dennis Pitta or even Ed Dickson. As for what we should make of the 2012 group? I quote Homer Simpson "keep walking'."