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Ranking the best TEs and sleeper values in free agency

After missing out on free agency last offseason due to the franchise tag, Hunter Henry will finally have the chance to cash in with a long-term deal.

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) celebrates his touchdowns scored against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The franchise tag limited the tight end market a year ago, but that didn’t happen again in 2021. Indeed, arguably the top free agent at the position last offseason will finally reach the open market on March 17. At the same time, the drop-off after the No. 1 tight end appears considerable.

Top 3

Hunter Henry

The Los Angeles Chargers decided not to franchise Henry for a second straight year, allowing the veteran tight end to reach the open market. Henry might never match Travis Kelce or George Kittle in receiving production, but he still contributes well in that department, averaging approximately 58 catches for 633 receiving yards and five touchdowns over the past two seasons. Henry also rates as one of the NFL’s most reliable blocking tight ends, giving him added utility in the growing number of wide-zone, play-action-focused offenses around the league.

Jonnu Smith

While not as consistent as Henry, Smith has demonstrated solid receiving skills over the past two seasons while playing in Arthur Smith’s offense. That scheme has become increasingly popular, and several teams in need of a tight end will have little trouble projecting Smith into their offenses.

Robert Tonyan

Tonyan’s production in 2020 provides plenty of reasons for optimism as well as concern. His 11 touchdowns led all tight ends and his 52 catches for 586 yards ranks well at the position. However, the vast majority of his scores came near the goal line and his catch rate (88.1%) appears highly unsustainable. In all likelihood, Tonyan’s rate metrics will regress to the mean in 2021. The Green Bay Packers and any other team interested in Tonyan’s services will have to determine how much regression to expect. Tonyan’s status as a restricted free agent further complicates his market.

Sleepers

Gerald Everett

Serving primarily in a backup role during his four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, Everett has provided decent production and solid all-around play. Some team could view Everett as capable of handling an expanded role. In the right circumstances, he could become a solidly second-tier tight end.

Full list of free-agent tight ends

2021 Free Agents: Tight Ends

Pos. First Last 2020 Team 2021 Team
Pos. First Last 2020 Team 2021 Team
TE Dan Arnold Cardinals
TE Darrell Daniels Cardinals
TE Seth DeValve Cardinals
TE Luke Stocker Falcons
TE Eric Tomlinson Ravens
TE Tyler Kroft Bills
TE Demetrius Harris Bears
TE Cethan Carter Bengals
TE Blake Bell Cowboys
TE Troy Fumagalli* Broncos
TE Jake Butt* Broncos
TE Robert Tonyan* Packers
TE Marcedes Lewis Packers
TE Pharaoh Brown* Texans
TE Mo Alie-Cox* Colts
TE Trey Burton Colts
TE Eric Saubert* Jaguars
TE James O'Shaughnessy Jaguars
TE Deon Yelder* Chiefs
TE Ricky Seals-Jones Chiefs
TE Jason Witten Raiders
TE Derek Carrier Raiders
TE Nick O'Leary Raiders
TE Stephen Anderson* Chargers
TE Hunter Henry Chargers
TE Virgil Green Chargers
TE Gerald Everett Rams
TE Johnny Mundt* Rams
TE Daniel Brown Jets
TE Ross Travis Jets
TE Richard Rodgers Eagles
TE Josh Perkins* Eagles
TE Ross Dwelley* 49ers
TE Jordan Reed 49ers
TE Greg Olsen Seahawks
TE Jacob Hollister Seahawks
TE Luke Willson Seahawks
TE Rob Gronkowski Buccaneers
TE Antony Auclair Buccaneers
TE Jonnu Smith Titans
TE Geoff Swaim Titans
TE Anthony Firkser* Titans
TE MyCole Pruitt Titans
TE Jeremy Sprinkle Washington