The tight end position at times is a barren landscape. It can often be a haves and have-nots situation. Below are three winners and losers so far in free agency. Guys whose situations have either gotten better or worse after the moves their teams have made.
Hayden Hurst: Carolina Panthers
There were plenty of tight ends available via free agency and Hayden Hurst was not widely considered at the top of the list. He ended up being one of the first ones to sign sealing a deal with the Carolina Panthers. He gets on a team that is void of any real passing threat. He can easily walk into the room and be the top dog for targets. Hurst was a top receiving option back in 2020 with the Atlanta Falcons. He saw 88 targets that year and hauled in 6 touchdowns. He has yet to reproduce those numbers again. He left the Falcons and signed on with the Bengals last year. He could not find his way up the target pecking order behind the Bengals’ talented trio of wide receivers, but he was a larger part of the offense last year seeing 70 targets in 14 games. He now joins a Panthers team that looks to have a rookie quarterback and not much else. Hurst is in the best situation to get back to his 2020 production.
Jake Ferguson: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys let tight end Dalton Schultz go in free agency. Last year Schultz had 89 targets and caught 57 of them for 577 yards and 5 touchdowns. His departure and the lack of a free agent signing have opened up the door for second-year tight end Jake Ferguson. While he struggled to find a solid role last season he did show flashes of brilliance. In week 6 with Cooper Rush at quarterback, he had six targets catching four of them for 40 yards and a touchdown. That was against the Eagles’ defense which was one of the best in the league. It was Ferguson’s rookie year after a 4-year career at the University of Wisconsin. He now gets the opportunity to take the next step in his development on a solid offense that has a proven track record of producing consistent tight-end production. He will have to beat out fellow sophomore Peyton Hendershot but he outplayed him last year by almost 200 more snaps. He can easily slide into second or third on the team in targets behind Ceedee Lamb and Michael Gallup. With Ezekiel Elliot being released the running game will flow through Tony Pollard who is also very good at catching the ball. The Cowboys could end up being in the top 10 in total passing attempts in 2023.
Cade Otton: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do you know what’s great for a former first-round pick who is trying to find his way on his fourth team or a third-year player who only has 9 NFL passing attempts? A good tight end. Cade Otton is that tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Otton had a good rookie season. He played on 66% of the teams’ snaps and saw 65 targets. He was sharing time with veteran Cameron Brate. Brate is now off the team after being released. It opens the door for Otton to find more playing time which will create more opportunities. He will have to contend with wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Otton showed lots of potential and as he develops his skill and chemistry with the new starting quarterback he will shine. Not having competition around him allows him to be in that role from Week 1 and build on his first-year success.
Daniel Bellinger: New York Giants
One of the bright spots in the New York Giants’ passing game last year was rookie Daniel Bellinger. He was playing on most of the team’s snaps when healthy and despite not having the best stats, he had three games out of twelve where he saw five targets. Tighe ends usually take a few years to develop and Bellinger looked like he was poised to take that next step. He got his quarterback back so it was all systems go for Bellinger. That was until the Giants made the shocking trade to acquire Darren Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders. Waller has dealt with injuries the past two seasons but before that, he had two years of being a top 5 tight end for fantasy. The hope is that Waller can return to that form and help the Giants’ offense to the next level. It’s a massive blow to Bellinger’s stock and opportunity. The Giants were middle of the road in the amount they ran two tight end sets. Bellinger will have to vastly improve and hope for some good luck in order to return to the hype that fantasy managers had at the end of the season. The Giants have brought back and added to the wide receiver room so there are even fewer targets to go around.
Mark Andrews: Baltimore Ravens
Mark Andrews has been one of the best tight ends for the past four years. He has averaged 113 targets over that span. It’s probably not a coincidence that his rise to stardom comes as quarterback Lamar Jackson has taken over the offense. Now heading into 2023 the situation with Lamar has collateral damage that starts at Mark Andrews. If Lamar comes back to the Ravens at best they have a new offensive coordinator who might use Andrews differently. At worst Lamar could be on a new team or could choose to sit out. That would leave Andrews as a talented player with a huge question mark at who will be throwing him the ball. It’s a shame to see Andrews possibly have a massive dip after so many years of being a star in the league. He and his fantasy managers have to hope that Lamar and the Ravens can mend their fractured relationship.
Evan Engram: Jacksonville Jaguars
After his rookie season, Evan Engram was poised to be the next great thing at tight end. He failed to live up to that for the rest of his tenure with the New York Giants. Last offseason he signed a 1-year prove-it type deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars and their new head coach Doug Pederson and young quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Engram had an amazing year compiling 73 receptions, 766 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He finished the season as the fantasy TE5. It looked like he had proven it and was ready to cash in on the free agent market. Instead, the Jaguars placed the franchise tag on him keeping him in Duval County for at least one more year. While he had a resurgence last season this year the Jaguars get Calvin Ridley back and another year of all the other receivers in the offense that Doug Pederson and Press Taylor have installed. The addition of Ridley should significantly take away from Engram’s targets. They will also utilize the running backs more including Travis Ettienne who is a skilled pass catcher. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Engram choose his landing spot and possibly go to a team where he could continue to shine.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)