BUCS’ TIGHT ENDS FREE AGENCY PREVIEW
With free agency scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 11,
PewterReport.com brings you its annual free agency preview by position.
Starting Monday, PewterReport.com will take a look at what Bucs will become free
agents at each position, who the Bucs have under contract at the
previewed position, then take a look at five players that could fit into
Tampa Bay's plans, known as the Bucs' Best Bets. Today it's Tampa Bay's tight ends, followed by offensive line tomorrow.BUCS’ PENDING FREE AGENTS
Nate Byham and Kyle Adams are the only free agents at the tight end position in Tampa Bay. Byham has been a backup for the Buccaneers over the past two years, but saw his 2013 season end early due to injury. After catching three passes for 18 yards and one touchdown in 11 games in 2012, Byham caught three passes for 38 yards, including a 34-yarder, in 2013.
Adams was signed late last year due to injuries but he hasn’t caught a pass since 2012 when he played for Lovie Smith in Chicago. With four catches for 40 yards in his career, Adams hasn’t shown he’s anything more than a backup. WHAT THE BUCS HAVE
Tight end is one of the least experienced and productive positions on the Buccaneers roster. Injuries ravaged the position as three of the team’s top tight ends – Tom Crabtree, Luke Stocker and Byham – on the depth chart saw their season end on injured reserve. That led to the surprise emergence of rookie Tim Wright, an undrafted free agent who converted from the wide receiver position.
Wright came out of nowhere to catch 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns and was one of the most productive rookie tight ends in the NFL in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wright his in-line blocking in 2014.
Crabtree was signed last offseason to compete for the starting position, but a high ankle sprain in the preseason sidelined him for the first four weeks of the season before a triceps injury ended his 2013 campaign in December. Crabtree caught just four passes for 21 yards and one touchdown and performed better as a blocker than a receiver.
The injury-prone Stocker has been a disappointment since his rookie season despite managing to stay healthy in 2012 and catch 16 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown. He’s entering a contract year and will likely get the 2014 training camp to show he can make the roster and contribute as a backup.
During the offseason, the Bucs added 6-foot-7, 280-pound Steve Maneri, who last played for Kansas City and has six catches for 52 yards in his three-year NFL career.WHAT THE BUCS NEED
The Bucs will likely three keep tight ends this year and Wright and Crabtree are the safest bets to make the roster. That leaves an open spot that could be filled through free agency or the draft.
Although Wright had a productive rookie season catching the ball, he is not a complete tight end and blocking is not his strong suit. Unless he develops that skill set, Wright will likely be an ideal No. 2 tight end in Tampa Bay 2014.
The Bucs really need a starting-caliber tight end that can be a three-down player and be effective as both a receiver and as a blocker. That’s especially true if Tampa Bay ends up starting second-year quarterback Mike Glennon as he could use a safety blanket on third downs and in the red zone.BUCS’ BEST BETS
1. Arizona TE Jake Ballard
Ballard is two years away from a 38-catch, 604-yard season with the New York Giants in which he also caught a career-high four touchdowns. What was impressive was the fact Ballard averaged 15.9 yards per catch that season before tearing his ACL. In 2012 Ballad was claimed off waivers by New England and spent the entire season on injured reserve. Last year, his first in Arizona, Ballard caught seven passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the final eight games of the season. At age 26, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ballard, who played for Jason Licht last year with the Cardinals, might be a restricted free agent steal as he appears to be completely recovered from his ACL surgery in 2011.2. Buffalo TE Scott Chandler
Chandler, who is entering his eighth season in the NFL, is an experienced veteran who toiled on practice squads for four years in San Diego, Dallas and with the New York Giants until getting a chance to start for Buffalo in 2011. Over the past three years Chandler has emerged as one of the NFL’s better receiving tight ends. Chandler has used his 6-foot-7, 260-pound frame to catch 135 passes for 1,623 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s coming off a 2013 season in which he caught a career-high 53 passes for 655 yards and two touchdowns and would be an immediate upgrade as a blocker and a receiver in Tampa Bay.3. Detroit TE Brandon Pettigrew
Pettigrew, a former first-round pick of the Lions five years ago, has caught 284 passes for 2,828 yards in his NFL career with 16 touchdowns. After a pair of seasons in 2011-12 when he had over 700 yards receiving, inconsistency has crept into Pettigrew’s game and his production has fallen. He caught 59 passes for 567 yards and three scores in 2012, and only 41 passes for 416 yards and two TDs last year with one of those touchdowns coming against the Bucs. Pettigrew is a versatile tight end that is adept at both blocking and receiving.4. Arizona TE Jim Dray
As Arizona’s starting tight end last year, Dray caught a career-high 26 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Dray was a seventh-round pick out of Stanford four years ago, but it took him a full three years as a special teams player to develop into a more prominent role on offense in Arizona. Dray is a good blocker with decent hands, but adding him may not be a significant upgrade over the likes of Tim Wright and Tom Crabtree. Still, Dray might be a player Licht would like to bring with him from Arizona.5. Arizona TE Kory Sperry
Sperry has spent the past two seasons in Arizona after bouncing around the league with stops in San Diego, Denver and Miami, which is where he caught his first and only NFL touchdown, which came against the Buccaneers in 2009. The athletic Sperry was a former college basketball player and has a nice, 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame. It took awhile for Chandler to emerge into an NFL player and Sperry has some skills that still need to be honed. TOP 5 TIGHT ENDS IN 2014 FREE AGENCY
1. Houston TE Garrett Graham
Graham caught 49 passes for 545 yards and five touchdowns in Houston last season and is said to have many suitors lined up in free agency. Graham surpassed Owen Daniels on the Texans’ depth chart last year.2. Detroit TE Brandon Pettigrew
Pettigrew has emerged as a better blocker over the years, but has failed to become a consistent receiver. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Lion has the ability to become a very good tight end, but needs to become a more reliable route runner and pass catcher.3. Buffalo TE Scott Chandler
Chandler has been one of the more consistent pass-catching tight ends, and QBs love his 6-foot-7, 260-pound frame, which makes him an easy target. But Chandler is 29 years old and might have already peaked athletically.4. Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley
There are serious health concerns about Finley, who suffered a bruised spinal cord last year and had two vertebrae in his neck fused together. Prior to his injury he was a talented pass catching tight end with above average speed and athleticism.5. New York Giants TE Brandon Myers
After a couple of productive seasons in Oakland, Myers latched on with the Giants during the 2013 season, which turned out to be a debacle. Myers’ stats suffered through an inconsistent year by Eli Manning, and that may hurt his 2014 free agent stock.Up Next: Offensive Line
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.