Free agency is right around the corner, which means players will be moving teams and fantasy footballers will need to adjust their rankings.
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There might not be a position more prone to producing newfound busts than tight end, as 13 tight ends have signed a contract worth $18 million or more from a new team over the last five free agency cycles dating back to 2016:
- Jonnu Smith NE, $50M
- Austin Hooper CLE, $42M
- Hunter Henry NE, $38M
- Coby Fleener NO, $36M
- Trey Burton CHI, $32M
- Jimmy Graham GB, $30M
- Jesse James DET, $28.5M
- Martellus Bennett GB, $20M
- Ladarius Green PIT, $20M
- Tyler Kroft BUF, $19M
- Rhett Ellison, Dion Sims, Graham NYG//CHI/CHI $18M
This isn’t to suggest that these players were bad on their new team, but at a minimum, their production lagged far behind what was expected from them as fantasy football assets.
There are more than a few viable tight ends who are primed to be available on the open market— today’s goal is to try and pinpoint where the best homes might be for them.
The primary factor: volume.
The following eight offenses have at least 250 available targets ahead of 2022 based on their current free agents. Note that many of the players included in the pool can and will be re-signed while players not scheduled to be free agents will be cap casualties against their will — this is just a starting point for the offseason:
- Arizona Cardinals (446 available targets)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (378)
- Green Bay Packers (322)
- Los Angeles Chargers (318)
- Atlanta Falcons (300)
- Miami Dolphins (278)
- Dallas Cowboys (269)
- Tennessee Titans (252)
This isn’t to suggest that these are the only offenses that can foster a fantasy-friendly home for an incoming free agent receiver, as the New York Jets (239 available targets), Washington Commanders (223), Houston Texans (217), Chicago Bears (214) and Kansas City Chiefs (207) weren’t too far behind. Additional depth charts, such as the New Orleans Saints (196), New England Patriots (191), Detroit Lions (187) and Jacksonville Jaguars (177), carry a mix of solid-enough opportunity and a lack of proven high-end options. It’d make sense if an elite talent could come to town and eat into the target share of the offense’s incumbent options.
Of course, quarterback performance and scheme are also massive factors while an incumbent alpha No. 1 receiver's presence could make it difficult for incoming free agents to see the sort of volume they’re used to.
All of this was considered for the following list of teams that would make the most fantasy-friendly destinations for this offseason’s tight end class. The landing spots are ranked in no particular order and “Notable Free Agents” only include pass-catchers. Notable free agents are all unrestricted free agents unless specified by ERFA (exclusive rights free agent) or RFA (restricted free agent).
Notable Free Agents: CHRISTIAN KIRK (101 targets in 2021), A.J. Green (90), Zach Ertz (79), Chase Edmonds (51), James Conner (39), Antoine Wesley (30, ERFA), Maxx Williams (17), Demetrius Harris (4), DARRELL DANIELS (3), Jonathan Ward (3, ERFA)
Williams peeled off PPR TE4 and TE6 finishes in two of his four starts before tearing an ACL while Ertz was the overall TE4 upon joining the Cardinals in Week 7. Throw in the potential losses of Kirk, Green as well as the running backs, and it’s clear that whoever winds up winning this starting tight end job has a real chance of also working as Kyler Murray’s No. 2 passing-game option behind only Deandre Hopkins.
Notable Free Agents: Mike Williams (122 targets in 2021), Jared Cook (79), Jalen Guyton (46, ERFA), Donald Parham (26, ERFA), Justin Jackson (24), Stephen Anderson (19)
It seems more likely than not that Parham will be back — all NFL teams have to do to keep an exclusive right free agent is extend a qualifying offer (one-year, league-minimum contract) and that player will not be allowed to negotiate with another team. Still, the Chargers seem wary of trusting Parham as an every-down option given the fact that he didn't play more than 53% of the snaps in a single game last season. Failure to bring back Williams, Cook and Anderson would give this squad’s 2022 starter the opportunity to potentially work as Justin Herbert’s No. 3 passing-game option behind only Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. Last season, Chargers tight ends collectively scored the ninth most fantasy points in the league, but their even playing time produced just a mediocre TE20 finish for Cook.