2021 Free Agents: Tight Ends
In the next of our series looking at the 2021 Free Agents, today we are going to focus on the 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends. The Tight End position can be the most challenging when viewing it through a free agency lens. The position is incredibly scheme reliant and a player can go from hugely productive in one setting to bench fodder in the next. See Austin Hooper. Now who are the guys who could be changing teams this year:
Age: 26 years
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
The 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends headliner is Hunter Henry. From a fantasy perspective, Hunter Henry is roster purgatory. He is good enough that you feel comfortable with him as your starting TE and don’t need to go searching for a replacement. However, he is not good enough to actually win you games. In 2020 Henry finished as the TE12 but was the TE10 in points per game averaging 10.4. Henry is the epitome of someone that didn’t kill you but you don’t have an advantage on a given week.
Hunter Henry is slated to be an unrestricted free agent against in 2021 after being franchise-tagged for the 2020 season. He is unlikely to be tagged again as it will be 120% of his 2020 which is £12.75m, the only player slated to earn more next year is Travis Kelce. So it comes down to will the Chargers sign Henry long term or will he likely walk out the door to pastures news.
Will the chargers resign him?
So can the Chargers pay up to resign him long term? They are currently projected to have $22m in cap space but also have a few free agents including Melvin Ingram, Mike Pouncey, Denzel Perryman and Forest Lamp amongst others. Those aren’t the greatest list of players but they’re all potential starters and could potentially be resigned. It is difficult to see the Chargers paying the likely $8-10m per year it would take to sign Henry but they do have the potential space to do it.
Landing spots if he leaves
So if the chargers don’t resign Henry where could he land? The number one spot on any pass-catchers list this offseason is Green Bay but he could also end up in plenty of spots like Buffalo, Dallas, Arizona or the Patriots. However, history shows that if Henry does move in free agency he will likely see a downtick in production. Tight End is such a scheme reliant position that most free agents take at least a year to get back to their current level of production. Just look at Jimmy Graham when he moved to Seattle or Austin Hooper this year.
Given the current situation, Henry is a must hold. If the chargers resign him he will be a solid starting Tight End in an ascending offence. That being said if someone is willing to part with a 1st this year I’m snapping their handoff. If he signs elsewhere in free agency he immediately becomes a sell and I’d be comfortable taking an early to mid 2nd round pick.
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
The bridesmaid of the 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends is Jonnu Smith. He is a player who has flashed incredible potential, through 5 weeks he was the TE3 in points per game, behind only Kittle and Kelce. He posted fantasy points of 13.6, 24.4, 11.1 and 21 which is truly incredible. However, this didn’t continue through the rest of the season Smith posted under 5 points in 6 of the 11 remaining games. Given the nature of the TE position, you almost had to start him but he didn’t reward you for doing so most of the time. Everything already stated about TE’s moving spots with Henry can be repeated here. It is a difficult proposition to project if Smith does leave.
Will the Titans keep him?
The Titans are currently projected to be $4m over the cap in 2021. They do have a couple of obvious cut candidates including Adam Humphries, Malcolm Butler and a few others so they’re not in a terrible spot financially. Smith is likely to command in the $5-8m per year range on the open market. It’s possible the Titans do bring Smith back but I wonder if they look to resign someone like Anthony Firkser who is a restricted free agent and likely to be cheaper than Smith.
Landing spots if he leaves
If Smith does end up leaving Tennesse he may be one of the few TE’s that could see an uptick in performance and value. He is in a tough situation where the Titans are one of the most run-heavy offences in the league. Smith saw a 16% target share which equates to only 63 targets all year despite playing in 15 games that is tied for 18th at the TE position. If Smith was to command a similar target share in a pass-heavy offence he could easily see 80-100 targets which could enable him to produce mid TE1 numbers next year.
His current cost is around a late 2nd and if he lands in an improved spot you could see a decent return on that investment as soon as 2021.
Status: Restricted Free Agent
A year ago most people didn’t know who Tonyan was and now he’s on a list of notable 2021 Free Agent Tight Ends. He literally blew up out of nowhere, largely led but a very impressive TD rate of 20%, to finish as the overall TE4 (TE6 in PPG). Coming into the season people were hoping Jace Sternberger broke out and became fantasy relevant. However, it was Tonyan that established a strong connection with Aaron Rodgers.
As an undrafted Free Agent Tonyan is a restricted free agent which makes his market easier to predict. The likelihood is that Tonyan is back on a below-market deal with the Packers. Most teams are unlikely to make a significant effort in trying to woo Tonyan when the Pakcers hold all the leverage.
If Tonyan re-signs with the Packers he is likely to be a fantasy-relevant option. However, I can’t foresee him being anything more than a TD reliant option. This makes Tonyan a sell in my opinion because despite the impressive end of season numbers it’s difficult to project what weeks he can start. If I could get a late 2nd for Tonyan now I would be delighted taking that price and moving on.
Some potential cut candidates:
Status: Eagles save $4.7m if they release Ertz ahead of the deadline
I’ve been on record as saying that Ertz will not be an Eagle next year. The Eagles are in such a dire cap situation that they will need to make savings across the entire roster. At Tight End they already have a great option in Dallas Goedert who has performed whilst Ertz was out injured.
If Ertz is released, he will be a sought after free agent but at age 30 he is unlikely to command a top of the market deal. Also following an injury-riddled season you may not get 16 games from Ertz. However, when you take into account the price likely a late 2nd or 3rd round pick. Ertz could well be worth a dart throw prior to free agency as he could see a big value boost if he lands in a positive situation.
Thats all for the 2021 Free Agents Tight Ends category. The @5YardDynasty team will be releasing other positional breakdowns on a weekly basis to cover the four main fantasy positions. Come back next week for the next 2021 Free Agents.