NFL training camps are just around the corner! Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to break down which offseason moves were the best at each position. We’ve already looked at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, so we’re moving on to the fellas who catch the passes. Well, the other fellas.
But first things first: Who’s still available for a team looking to fortify this area?
Who’s Still Out There?
The biggest name still on the loose these days is former Cleveland Browns’ Pro Bowler Gary Barnidge. He became expendable when the club used a first-round pick on David Njoku. Barnidge comes off a season in which he totaled 55 catches, good for 612 yards and a pair of scores. Also available are the likes of Ladarius Green, cut loose by the Pittsburgh Steelers after one year with the club, as well as Tim Wright, Jim Dray and Larry Donnell.
5. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
Was it the pass of the year or the catch of the season? Try a lot of both. It was that 34-31 win by the Green Bay Packers over the Dallas Cowboys in which Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook combined for that memorable sideline play. It set up the game-winning field goal for Mike McCarthy’s team. But the Packers made other plans this offseason and opted not to bring Cook backa��signing Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks instead.
Cook gives star quarterback Derek Carr another option on an Oakland Raiders’ team loaded on offense. With Mychal Rivera moving on in free agency, Cook and Clive Walford (33 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns in ’16) will make for a nice 1-2 punch.
4. Darren Fells, Detroit Lions
How excited should one be about a player that caught just 14 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown in 14 games this past season? If you’re the Detroit Lions, then the answer is a lot. That’s because Darren Fells, recently of the Arizona Cardinals, is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. When it comes to the run, he will be a valuable asset to a Detroit team that has ranked 28th, 32nd and 30th, respectively, in the NFL in rushing offense the past three seasons. When it comes to pass protection, there are only four players at his position that grade out higher by the staff at Pro Football Focus.
The addition of Fells by Jim Caldwell’s club didn’t get a lot of attention. But a revival by the Lions’ ground attack would serve notice to the rest of the NFC North.
3. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Thanks to six wins in their final eight games this past season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 9-7 and in second place behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. Dirk Koetter’s club plans on making noise this season as they seek their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Tampa’s passing game had already gotten this offseason when the team inked wideout DeSean Jackson to a three-year contract. But things got even better in late April when the franchise used their 19th overall selection to grab University of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. His four-year resume with the Crimson Tide saw him catch more passes each year. The 6’6″, 250-pound prospect finished with 114 receptions, good for an impressive 1,726 yards (15.1 average) and seven touchdowns. Pairing him with up-and-comer Cameron Brate will be fun to watch.
2. Julius Thomas, Miami Dolphins
The Jacksonville Jaguars were looking for help on their offensive line and got left tackle Branden Albert. The Miami Dolphins, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2008, sought more help for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Both Florida teams got what they needed in a trade that should benefit both parties.
In two seasons with the Jaguars (following four years in Denver), Thomas totaled 76 catches for 736 yards and nine touchdowns. In his last four NFL campaigns, the two-time Pro Bowler has racked up 184 grabs for 2,018 and 33 scores. Concussion issues limited the effectiveness of Jordan Cameron during his short stint with the Dolphins, and he ultimately opted for retirement. For good measure, Miami also brought back Anthony Fasanoa��an exceptional blocker for his position.
1. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
Guess who led the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in touchdown receptions this past season? Martellus Bennett spent the first four years of his NFL with the Dallas Cowboys in the distant shadow of all-time great Jason Witten. He’s now on his fourth team in six years after a one-season stint in Foxborough. With Dallas, there was a combined 85 catches in 60 games. Only four of those went for touchdowns.
Since then, he’s amassed 208 receptions for 2,114 yards and 14 scores with the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Patriots. The Packers signed both he and former Los Angeles Rams’ tight end Lance Kendricks as well. Plus, they still have Richard Rodgers. But the combination of Bennett and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is going to frustrate a lot of defenses this season.
Which TE acquisitions did you think were among the best? Sound off below! In our finale, we’ve got the offensive line.