NFL free agency begins on March 7 when teams are allowed to talk to agents prior to March 10 when players can actually be signed to contracts. PewterReport.com examines the Buccaneers’ 2015 free agency plans and previews some of the positions that are the biggest area of need in Tampa Bay.
BUCS’ PENDING FREE AGENT TEs
Tight end Luke Stocker, a 2011 fourth-round pick by the Buccaneers, is an unrestricted free agent after spending four years with the Tampa Bay organization.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT TE
The Buccaneers selected Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round of last year’s draft, and the big tight end is expected to make a big leap as he heads into his second season as a pro. The 6-foot-5, 262 pound Washington product caught just 21 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, but he battled through injuries throughout the season and managed to play just nine games. The team is expecting big things from Seferian-Jenkins this season and moving forward.
Veteran Brandon Myers restructured his contract earlier this year and is expected to be Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ primary backup heading into the 2015 season. Myers doesn’t put up huge numbers and isn’t a flashy player but he’s a solid tight end that provides quality depth for the Buccaneers moving forward.
The Buccaneers also have tight ends Cameron Brate, Evan Rodriguez and Taylor Sloat on the roster. Brate has the most upside of the group and is the best receiver of the trio. All three are expected to fight for roster spots this off-season.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT TE
The Buccaneers have a promising young talent in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and a solid veteran to back him up in Brandon Myers, so tight end isn’t the biggest of needs for Tampa Bay. With Luke Stocker slated for free agency, the team will lack a true blocking tight end heading into 2015, so there’s a chance they look to free agency for a big tight end who specializes in blocking.
BUCS’ BEST BETS 1. Tampa Bay TE Luke Stocker
Stocker didn’t pan out as planned for the Buccaneers as an all-around tight end, but he improved greatly as a blocker during his four years with Tampa Bay. Stocker managed just 35 catches for 298 yards and one touchdown over the course of his four-year career in Tampa. He’s never been a threat as a receiver but his blocking ability gives him some value as he heads into unrestricted free agency. The team could bring Stocker back on a cheap contract to have him serve as a blocking specialist in 2015.
2. Buffalo TE Lee Smith
Like Stocker, Smith is a blocking specialist with limited production as a receiver. The massive 6-foot-6, 265 pound tight end caught just 20 passes for the Bills over the course of his four year stint in Buffalo. Smith essentially acts as another offensive lineman, which could be what the Buccaneers are looking for to add some punch to their running game.
3. St. Louis TE Lance Kendricks
Kendricks, a former second-round pick of the Rams in 2011, never quite lived up to the hype during his tenure in St. Louis. Kendricks’ best season came in 2012, where he managed 42 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns. The Wisconsin product is an above average blocker with some receiving skills and athleticism, but he never seemed to put it all together. Perhaps he could pick up the pieces in a new environment, potentially in Tampa Bay.
4. Kansas City TE Anthony Fasano
Fasano started most of the Chiefs’ games ahead of emerging star Travis Kelce in 2014, which speaks volumes about his knowledge of the offense and leadership. The Chiefs will let Kelce take the reigns as their starter, leaving Fasano a free agent. Fasano is limited athletically but he does a good job of catching the ball and is a reliable target. The veteran is also a solid blocker in the run game, so his complete but mediocre game should allow him to find another team in free agency. If the cost isn’t too high, the Buccaneers could bring Fasano in to compete with Myers as a backup to Seferian-Jenkins.
5. Denver TE Virgil Green
Green is as good as an athlete as fellow free agent teammate Julius Thomas, but he was relegated to a blocking role during his stint with the Broncos. The Nevada product never caught more than 9 passes in a single season and has just one career touchdown. His lack of production is a concern, but Green has the tools to put up much bigger numbers. If a team thinks he can take the reigns as a three-down tight end, Green could be breakout performer in 2015.
TOP 5 TIGHT ENDS AVAILABLE IN 2015 FREE AGENCY Denver TE Julius Thomas
Thomas was one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets over the last two seasons, especially in the redzone. The former basketball player caught 12 touchdowns in 2013 and followed that up with another 12 touchdown performance in 2014. Thomas doesn’t look like he’ll re-sign with the Broncos, which makes him one of the top free agent targets of the 2015 offseason. Teams needing a receiving threat at the tight end position will take a long hard look at Thomas.
Cleveland TE Jordan Cameron
Cameron was one of the top tight ends in 2013, a season where he posted 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdown. The USC product followed that performance up with a much less impressive 2014 season, where he caught just 24 passes for 424 yards and two touchdowns. Cameron has had issues with concussions, which could turns some teams off. But Cameron’s athletic talent is undeniable, so he could still receive a hefty contract as a free agent.
Cincinnati TE Jermaine Greshem
Greshem never lived up to the first round hype during his career in Cincinnati, but the former Oklahoma Sooner is still a solid all-around tight that has some upside. Over the course of his five-year stint with the Bengals, Greshem caught 280 passes for 2,722 yards and 24 touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Greshem also offers redzone and run-blocking potential to a team that is interested in signing him.
Baltimore TE Owen Daniels
At 32 years old, Daniels isn’t quite the same player as he used to be, but the 6-foot-3, 245 tight end has been one of the most consistent players at the position in recent years. The Wisconsin product has amassed 5,144 receiving yards over the course of his 8-year NFL career and is a surprisingly effective blocker for his size. His veteran presence and past production will surely put him on the radars of teams as he enters free agency.
Washington TE Niles Paul
Paul did a nice job of filling in for the often-injured Jordan Reed as a receiving tight end for the Redskins. While Paul is a good receiver, he’s an awful blocker that can’t be relied on as an in-line tight end. However, he could be an interesting option for teams that are looking for a move tight end.