2021 Free Agency: Tight Ends


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2021 Free Agency: Tight Ends

The official start to the 2021 NFL season is quickly approaching with the league year and free agency opening at 4 p.m. on March 17. Teams will be able to begin signing free agents and trades like the Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz deals will become official starting on that date. There are a couple of other key dates to remember before the league year officially kicks off. Teams can use their franchise and transition tags on individual players from Feb. 23 through March 9. The NFL also has a legal negotiating window from March 15-17 when teams can start contacting and negotiating with the agents of unrestricted free agents.

With that said, it’s time to start breaking down the 2021 free agency class, which includes top tight ends like Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Gerald Everett among others. Be sure to follow Fantasy Points throughout free agency for in-depth breakdowns of every major (and minor) move. We’ll be tracking every off-season transaction from a fantasy perspective through our “Off-season Tracker” articles and Graham Barfield’s “Fantasy Fallout” pieces. We’ll also be constantly updating our Best Ball rankings if you’re looking to get an early start to draft season.

NOTE: Players are loosely ranked based on talent, age, plus previous and expected future fantasy relevance.

Notable Players Removed since the Original Posting

Jonnu Smith (NE, 26) — Signed by the Patriots to a four-year, $50 million deal on March 15.

Hunter Henry (NE, 27) — Signed by the Patriots to a three-year, $37.5 million deal on March 16.

Jared Cook (LAC, 34) — The Chargers and Cook agreed to terms on a one-year contract on March 18.

Gerald Everett (Sea, 27) — Signed by the Seahawks to a one-year, $6 million on March 17.

Rob Gronkowski (TB, 32) — Signed by the Buccaneers to a one-year, $10 million deal on March 15.

Dan Arnold (Car, 26) — Signed by the Panthers to a two-year, $6 million contract on March 19.

Anthony Firkser (Ten, 26) — Signed by the Titans to a one-year contract on March 17.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Free Agency information courtesy of OverTheCap.com

Previously Fantasy Relevant

Trey Burton (Ind, 30) — Burton’s season got off to an ominous start after picking up another calf injury during training camp, which came after he missed the final seven games of 2019 because of a calf injury. He missed the first three games of the season but he stayed in the lineup the rest of the way, operating as #1 receiving TE in Indianapolis’ offense. Burton finished with 28/250/3 receiving on 47 targets for 83.3 FP in 13 games with Philip Rivers distributed the ball evenly to his TEs. Mo Alie-Cox finished slightly behind him with 81.4 FP in 15 games and Jack Doyle ended with 65.1 FP in 14 games. He had three weekly finishes inside the top-12 and one performance as a top-five TE last season.

Potential landing spot: Burton is a candidate to return to Indianapolis to play under Frank Reich for a fourth season in six years. He’s unlikely to be fantasy relevant unless he gets a chance to be a primary receiving TE in an offense.

Tyler Eifert (Jax, 30) — The Jaguars declined Eifert’s team option for the 2021 season, which would’ve had him earning just less than $5 million next season. It’s not a surprising move since the Jaguars are looking to get younger across the board and they have draft capital and cap space to do it. Eifert has managed to stay healthy the last two seasons with just one missed game between Cincinnati and Jacksonville in 2019-20. He previously played in just 14-of-48 games (29.2%) with the Bengals in 2016-18. Eifert posted 36/349/2 receiving on 60 targets for 82.9 FPG in 15 games, and he finished inside the top-12 at the position in just two contests last season. He averaged just 9.7 YPR, which was the first time he failed to average more than 10+ YPR in eight seasons. Eifert has also scored just five times in 31 games the last two seasons after scoring 21 times in his first 44 games. It hasn’t helped that he’s played in two of the league’s worst offenses the last two seasons, but he could change that by latching on with a contender this off-season.

Potential landing spot: I could see the Seahawks be interested in Eifert after Greg Olsen retired this off-season, but I’m looking at another (AFC) West team as a potential landing spot. Jay Gruden played a big part in Eifert’s decision to go to Jacksonville last off-season after previously playing under him in Cincinnati. I could see his older, Jon Gruden, having some interest in Eifert as a replacement for the retired Jason Witten as the team’s #2 TE.

Jordan Reed (SF, 31) — It was great to see Reed back on the field and to see him stay concussion-free last season after he missed the entire 2019 season with his seventh documented concussion as a pro. He still struggled to stay completely healthy, which has been an issue for him his entire career, as he missed six games because of a knee injury. Reed still had moments with a pair of top-five weekly finishes and three top-12 performances in 10 games, which was helped by George Kittle missing eight games with a broken foot. Reed finished with 26/231/4 receiving on 46 targets for 73.1 FP in 10 games. Reed’s best days are behind him, but he still showed he has some gas left in the tank as a secondary receiving option after being out of football for an entire season.

Potential landing spot: It wouldn’t be surprising if another old Washington coach, Sean McVay, makes a play for Reed if the Rams can’t afford to keep Gerald Everett on the roster. Reed chose to play under Kyle Shanahan when he was a free agent last off-season but the Rams also showed interest.

Delanie Walker (FA, 37) — Do you remember this former fantasy stud? Walker reeled off four straight seasons with 800+ receiving in 2014-17 before absolutely falling off the planet starting in the last three years. He dislocated and fractured his ankle on an atrocious playing surface in Miami in Tennessee’s 2018 season opener before playing just seven games in 2019 after he aggravated his ankle injury. Walker didn’t have much of a market last off-season before he decided to sit the season because of COVID-19 concerns. He can’t be taken seriously for fantasy entering the year considering he’s played in just eight games over the last three years and because of his advanced football age. Still, he could get a chance to latch onto a roster where he could potentially be a fantasy thorn in the side for the starting TE.

Potential landing spot: The Patriots showed some interest in Walker last summer before he decided to sit out last year, but I’m leaning toward Walker staying in the south with his former position coach in Atlanta. New Falcons HC Arthur Smith cut his teeth as an offensive coach as Walker’s TE coach in Tennessee, and the Falcons could use some toughness behind starter Hayden Hurst. Walker is anything but a lock to make a roster this summer but he should get a chance to prove he can still play since he was one of the game’s best TEs until his ankle injury in 2018.

Richard Rodgers (Phi, 29) — You weren’t the only one who was surprised to see Rodgers was still in the league when he popped for 10+ FP four times in a five-game stretch for the Eagles last season. He was a surprisingly viable fantasy option thanks to injuries to Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert as Rodgers finished inside the top 12 at the position in each of the four games when he posted 10+ FP. He ended the year with 24/345/2 receiving on 31 targets in 14 games after catching just a seven-yard pass in eight games between 2018-19. He’s a long way from his eight-TD campaign back in his second season with the Packers in 2015, but Rodgers showed he still has some life left in 2020 after knee and back injuries prematurely ended his last two seasons.

Ricky Seals-Jones (KC, 26) — RSJ saw action in just two regular season games and he didn’t register a single catch as he was stuck behind Travis Kelce, Nick Keizer, and Deon Yelder on the Chiefs depth chart. Seals-Jones will turn just 26 years old in March and there are worse options than spending a season learning from Kelce in an Andy Reid offense. RSJ is a former five-star WR recruit at Texas A&M and he possesses an intriguing skill set for fantasy, but his career is trending in the wrong direction as he heads into his fifth since after flashing early in his career in Arizona.

Other UFAs

Jesse James (Det, 27)

Jeremy Sprinkle (Was, 27)

Marcedes Lewis (GB, 37)

Demetrius Harris (Chi, 30)

Virgil Green (LAC, 33)

MyCole Pruitt (Ten 29)

Seth DeValve (Ari, 28)

Nick O'Leary (LV, 29)

Antony Auclair (TB, 28)

Luke Stocker (Atl, 33)

Luke Willson (Sea, 31)

Daniel Brown (NYJ, 29)

Ross Travis (NYJ, 28)

Darrell Daniels (Ari, 27)

Restricted Free Agents

Free Agency information courtesy of OverTheCap.com

Previously Fantasy Relevant

Robert Tonyan (GB, 27) — I bet on a Packers tight end to emerge as a key piece for the Packers passing attack late in drafts last spring and summer, but it turns out I bet on the wrong guy. I loaded up on shares of 2019 third-round pick Jace Sternberger but it was 2017 UDFA Tonyan who busted out in a massive way after collecting just 14 catches in his first three seasons. He emerged as a distant #2 option for 2020 MVP Aaron Rodgers, posting 52/586/11 receiving on 59 targets to finish as the TE5 with 11.0 FPG in 16 games. Tonyan had five different performances as a top-five option at the position and he had nine finishes inside the top-12 last season. He led all TEs with an incredible 88.1% catch rate and he finished behind only Austin Ekeler (90.0%) among all skill players. Tonyan also tied Travis Kelce for a TE-best 11 TDs on red-zone targets, and he scored on seven of his eight end-zone targets. It’s going to be near impossible for Tonyan (and Rodgers, for that matter) to replicate his hyper-efficient 2020 campaign. It also doesn’t help that the Packers are candidates to add some target competition at WR this off-season, although they actively passed on doing it last off-season.

Mo Alie-Cox (Ind, 28) — Alie-Cox, a former basketball star at VCU, came into his own in his fourth season on the gridiron. He never previously reached 10+ catches in a season before posting 31/394/2 receiving on 39 targets for 81.4 FP in 15 games. MAC operated as the #3 TE in Indianapolis’ offense, but Philip Rivers distributed the ball evenly to his TEs. Trey Burton finished slightly ahead of him with 83.3 FP in 13 games and Jack Doyle ended with 65.1 FP in 14 games. Alie-Cox actually had a pair of top-12 fantasy finishes in the first three weeks of the season when Burton was out of the lineup before failing to reach 8+ FP in each of his final 12 contests. MAC needs some help to reach fantasy relevance, which could happen if it’s down to just Doyle and MAC at the position in Indy with Burton hitting free agency.

Other RFAs

Jake Butt (Den, 26)

Johnny Mundt (LAR, 27)

Eric Saubert (Jax, 27)

Deon Yelder (KC, 26)

Josh Perkins (Phi, 28)

Troy Fumagalli (Den, 26)

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 64.3% clip last season and he owned the last undefeated team out of 3000 entries in Scott Fish Bowl 12.