Due to the instability of personnel at the Tight End position for the Denver Broncos and the need for a heavy draft towards the defensive side of the ball, it is likely that the Broncos will graze in the Free Agent meadows for the opportunity to strengthen this area of the team. To determine that future, we need to look at the present and assess the situation.
Current starter Daniel Graham has given us some good years, but he has shown the wear and tear of his 9 seasons. He is still a good blocker and a great leader with a strong work ethic, but as a receiver Graham hasn't converted on his targets this season. He is 31, has lost a step and his $4.2 million salary makes him a liability financially. Daniel is also due a $1 million roster bonus in March and that forces a decision on whether to keep him or not.
2nd year TE Richard Quinn hasn't fully developed yet, but at 23 years old, he will get one more Training Camp at the very least, to continue his progress. His salary will be $480,000 in 2011 and $565,000 in 2012, so his on-the-job training is not a burden on the team. In 2013, Richard will be a Free Agent.
4th year recent acquisition Daniel Coats, who is 6' 3", 264 lbs. and 26 years old, has been signed, cut and re signed in the last month and a half. His career numbers: 56 games, 30 Receptions for 291 yards, a 9.7 average, with 11 1st Downs and no touchdowns. Coats game is very similar to Graham's in that he’s been used primarily as a blocker, but he does have receiving skills. His $640,000 contract expired January 3rd, making him a Free Agent.
Now we can take measure on what is needed at the position for the 2011 Broncos Roster. Since the Head Coaching position for next season is unknown at this point, it will be up to the Front Office to decide exactly what the personnel needs are for our team. Normally when the season is over the Head Coach and his staff review what worked and what didn't and then decide what the vision is for the upcoming season. Then they can pursue the players that fit those needs.
The Tight End position for the Broncos in the past has had both good receivers and good blockers and with the exception of Shannon Sharpe, hasn't exactly had the best of both worlds. The Tight End for the future should have a balance of the two to fit the make up going forward.
Because the Wide Receiver corps for the Broncos is pretty talented and strong, targeting an elite pass catching Tight End would be an unnecessary expense. The fact is, Tight Ends on average are the least valued players salary-wise in the NFL. Guys like Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis get paid good money, but they are also a primary focus in their respective offenses. The Broncos don't necessarily need that type of personnel with the weapons they currently have, but a Tight End that can break loose over the middle seam would be a helpful asset.
I have assembled some names of Free Agent Tight Ends that are available, or will be when the playoffs end. It is by no means complete, but the relevant prospects are all listed. They are ranked by their receiving stats as taken from NFL.com.
#7) Zach Miller, Oakland – 6'5", 255 lbs, 25 years old, 4th year. His 2010 salary was $550,000 and he will command a serious raise as one of the league’s most complete tight ends. The Raiders had the #2 rushing offense in 2010. It would be nice to pull a coup from a division rival and get an upper tier Tight End, but I don't see the Broncos getting into a bidding war with Al Davis. The Cryptkeeper historically covets his Tight Ends. Zach is represented by David Dunn of Athletes First.
#10) Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville - 6' 6", 275 lbs, 26 years old, 5th year. In 2010, his salary was $902,500. Along with Zach Miller, Lewis will be highly sought after by teams looking for a premiere pass catching Tight End. The Jags were the #3 rushing offense in 2010. Marcedes has picked up his game just in time for the Free Agent market. Expect him to sit back and wait for the best opportunity. Bus Cook is Lewis' agent.
#24) Daniel Fells, St.Louis - 6' 4", 270 lbs, Age:27, 4th year. In March of 2010, Fells signed a one-year, $745,000 contract. The deal included an initial roster bonus of $50,000. Another $25,000 available through "likely to be earned" incentives and $730,000 more in "unlikely to be earned" incentives. He has shown improvement as his targets increased, but I don't see him as being in very high demand. Daniel is stuck behind Billy Bajema and just ahead of rookie Michael Hoomanawanui, who will likely pass him on the Rams depth chart. Fells would be a cheap upgrade for the Broncos depth if they pursue him. He is represented by the Morgan Advisory Group.
#26) Bo Scaife, Tennessee - 6' 3", 249 lbs, Age: 29, 6th year. Bo was the Titans Franchise Player in 2010 with a salary of $4.46 million. Oliver Edward "Bo" Scaife was born and raised in Denver. He has the distinction pf being the only Tight End in NFL history to rush for a touchdown, catch a touchdown, return a kickoff, and record a tackle in the same season. 3rd year Craig Stevens and 2nd year Jared Cook are pushing him for playing time on the Titans. He is also represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus.
#29) Kevin Boss, NY Giants – 6' 6", 253 lbs, Age: 26, 4th year. His 2010 salary was approximately $466,110. The Giants had the 6th ranked rushing unit in 2010. Boss has started 30 games over the last 2 seasons with nearly 1000 yards and 11 touchdowns over the span. He’s also a well-rounded Tight End in line with the Giants emphasis on the running game. It’s not often that younger players with few holes in their game are allowed to see free agency. Boss would be an ideal fit for the Broncos as both a Red zone target and an appealing third down option. Kevin uses X-A-M Sports as his representation.
#29) Owen Daniels, Houston – 6' 3", 242 lbs, 28 years old, 5th year. Owen played for $3.168 million in 2010. He was on a sizzling pace before a hamstring injury shortened his season. Still, he turned in a respectable year even though he missed 5 games.The thing that makes Daniels alluring, is his average yards per catch and the 1st Down percentage. His touches are productive. It should be noted that Owen was a part of the league's 7th ranked rushing offense and leading rusher Arian Foster. Daniels has competition in Joel Dreessen, who had a pretty good campaign in 2010. James Casey and rookie Garrett Graham have given the Texans enough depth to let him walk. It is my belief that the Broncos should target Owen as one of their Free Agent options. They need to improve on their 3rd down conversions and this guy provides an inviting solution to that.
#31) Dante Rosario, Carolina - 6' 4", 250 lbs, Age: 26, 4th year. Dante's 2010 salary was $1.101 million. The Panthers had the 13th best rushing attack in 2010. He was used as the pass catching Tight End even though stuck behind Jeff King and Gary Barnidge on the Panthers depth chart. Dante also played fullback and H-back at the University of Oregon. A bit undersized for the Broncos somatype for a Tight End, I don't see him attaining any higher than a 2nd stringer, but he could do double duty as the back up to Spencer Larsen if the Broncos went in that direction.
#41) Jeff King, Carolina - 6' 3", 260 lbs, Age: 27, 5th year. In 2010, King played a for $1.759 million. King is the Panthers' starting tight end, but he is mostly in the lineup for his blocking presence. While Jeff would upgrade the Broncos Tight End position, there are better options available.
#47) Ben Patrick, Arizona - 6' 3", 264 lbs, 26 years old, 4th year. Ben's 2010 salary was $1.684 million. Ben got most of the targets ahead of 5th year Stephen Spach and rookie Jim Dray on the Cardinals. as you can see by the numbers, Arizona doesn't use their Tight Ends much in their Air attack. Patrick caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLIII, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not an enticing choice statistically, but he is still one of 32 starting Tight Ends on an NFL Team. Ben is represented by National Sports Agency.
#60) Matt Spaeth, Pittsburgh - 6' 7", 270 lbs, Age: 26, 4th year. Matt had a salary of $1.101 million in 2010. He is stuck playing behind Heath Miller, but his numbers are pretty good considering his limited targets. His youth and the fact that he has a Super Bowl Ring make him an attractive player to target. Spaeth also won the John Mackey Award as college football's best tight end in 2006. This would be another good player for the Broncos to take a look at. A big Red Zone target as you can see by his touchdown percentage, Matt is a hardy blocker for the Steelers.
Here are some of the better known pass catching Tight Ends and their career "effectiveness" numbers. The percentage of passes that went for 1st Downs and touchdowns. I included their age and experience. The Ranking number is where they ended up at the end of the 2010 regular season.
I just happen to have the salary numbers for the most recent Tight End signings to give you an idea of the economic commitment involved with this position. Per Rotoworld.
Vernon Davis, SF –In September of 2010, Vernon signed a six-year, $42.705 million contract. The deal contains $23 million guaranteed, including a $10 million signing bonus, Davis' first- and
second-year salaries, and $4.148 million of his third-year salary. Davis is eligible for $200,000 annual workout bonuses in years two through six, as well as annual $400,000 roster bonuses. 2010: $3.874 million, 2011: $4.708 million, 2012: $5.751 million, 2013: $6.072 million, 2014: $4.7 million, 2015: $4.35 million, 2016: Free Agent
Antonio Gates, SD – 7/28/2010: Signed a six-year, $39.8 million contract. The deal contains $20.4 million guaranteed, including a $4.575 million signing bonus, $3.47 million first-year "option" bonus, and Gates' first two years' base salaries. His 2012 salary and $2.4 million of his 2013 salary are guaranteed for injury (not skill). 2010: $755,000, 2011: $5.2 million, 2012: $4 million (+ $6.4 million option bonus), 2013: $4.5 million, 2014: $5 million, 2015: $5.9 million, 2016: Free Agent
Tony Scheffler, DET - 10/16/2010: Signed a four-year contract. The deal included a $2 million signing bonus. 2010: $1.176 million, 2011-2013: Under Contract, 2014: Free Agent
Anthony Fasano, MIA - 11/16/2010: Signed a three-year, $8.776 million contract. The deal included a $2.1 million signing bonus. Another $150,000 is available through workout bonuses and incentives. 2011: $1.9 million, 2012: $3.6 million, 2013: Free Agent
The Franchise Tag number for Tight Ends in 2011 will be $5.9 million/$5.2 million and Dallas Clark is the highest paid Tight End at $6.8 million. I expect Zach Miller to re sign with the Raiders. If not, he would likely be Franchise Tagged. Marcedes Lewis should command the high dollars as well. Bo Scaife will be a costly addition and at 29, doesn't have the upside that some of the other choices have. Age and price tag should be reckoned in along with productivity. Jeff King and Ben Patrick could be affordable alternatives. They come from run-first teams. Dante Rosario and Daniel Fells would be lower tier alternatives.
The Broncos need an upgrade at Tight End and they have too many voids to fill on the defensive side to even ponder drafting one. That leaves the Free Agent market as the better option to fill this need. My solution for the Broncos to target are Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels and Matt Spaeth. That would put them near the mark and if they could snag one of these players up it will be a bull's-eye.