We’ll be continuing our offseason target candidate series today with the tight end position. On Thursday, we discussed the wide receiver position. Yesterday, the left guard spot.
What more can be said about Jason Witten? Entering his 16th professional season in 2018, Witten will go down as one of the best and most dependable players at the tight end position. Missing just one game in his NFL career, that game coming in his rookie year, the idea of Witten not playing football for the Cowboys will definitely be a weird feeling. However, his production has slowly declined since 2012 when he amassed 1,000 receiving yards.
Despite being 35-years-old, Witten still has four years left on his contract. And if he plays out those four years, he will be owed just over $18 million. Given the productivity and impact, that number isn’t quite cutting it.
Dallas has to figure out the future of the tight end position at some point in the offseason. There is a thinking that Rico Gathers could take on a bigger role going forward. But if he does not, the Cowboys could be in the market for a tight end this offseason.
Let’s take a look at some options in free agency and in the draft. Keep in mind that we are not necessarily looking for a Witten replacement here. Instead, we are merely discussing some options that could provide another weapon to the offense at this position.
There probably was not a more under-the-radar player on the Eagles’ offense than Burton. Behind one of the better tight ends in football in Zach Ertz, Burton was often forgotten about. But that did not stop him from being a contributor in the Philly offense in 2017.
He caught 23 passes for just under 250 yards and five touchdowns. To me, those numbers scream efficiency and an expanded role could do wonders for him. Now entering the market, Burton is a guy that many people want their teams to target:
It will obviously depend on how the market plays out, but it would not come as a surprise for an NFC East team to poach a player from a rival. It has happened to the Cowboys in the past and it could happen with the Cowboys this offseason too.
At age 26, Gillmore’s career has not started off like many thought it would. He was not as involved in the offense in his rookie year, but Gillmore had a breakout season in his own right in his second year in the league, catching 33 passes for just over 400 yards and four touchdowns.
In the 2016 season, Gillmore played in seven games before a thigh injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. In 2017 while undergoing surgery for a meniscus tear, there was damage found to Gillmore’s MCL. That injury forced him to sit out for the 2017 season.
Now a free agent coming off two season-ending injuries and just over a year and a half of NFL experience under his belt, there is likely going to be a small market on Gillmore. With the Cowboys scraping free agency for cheaper alternatives, Gillmore could make sense as he is a guy that can do all things asked out of tight end. He has always been a good blocking tight end and he has stealthy athleticism for a bigger tight end.
Four years into the league and he is already at the age of 31. What gives? Well, Fells is one of the basketball-converted football players. He played professional basketball overseas before realizing that maybe his best potential is in the sport of football.
Playing behind Eric Ebron with the Detroit Lions and three years prior with the Arizona Cardinals, Fells has been a nice commodity in the NFL. By no means will he put up huge numbers, but he is a target that is dangerous in the red-zone given his catch-radius and his rebounding skills. It would be pretty cool if the Cowboys had crazy athletes like Fells and Gathers on the field at the same time in the red-zone.
Penn State had quite the year in college football. A couple of bounces there and a rain-less game at Michigan State and maybe this team would have made noise in the College Football Playoffs. The reason why this team was so spectacular was because of their vaunted offense.
We discussed DaeSean Hamilton in the receivers article last week, but this offense goes beyond just him and Saquon Barkley as the main contributors in this offense. Gesicki had quite the illustrious college career himself in Happy Valley.
At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, Gesicki has the size and sneaky athleticism to be the prototypical every-down tight end in today’s league. Gesicki has an awesome catch-radius and he has the makings of a tight end who can line up anywhere.
The kiss of death for Gesicki will be his ability to adapt to blocking for an NFL offense. He has the frame to do it, he just needs to pack on more muscle and be more consistent at it. But in the offense he was in at Penn State, he was not asked to do that much so it is a bit unfair to criticize him entirely in this department.
If the Cowboys decide to draft depth at the tight end spot behind longtime starter Jason Witten, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki has the type of pass-catching ability teams covet.— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) February 12, 2018
In-depth analysis ➡️ https://t.co/asbLPmdyxN pic.twitter.com/bQNMnhzuPp
As the draft nears, Smythe is a guy the Cowboys could key in on. A Texas native, Smythe was a spectacular blocker at Notre Dame. The problem there is that he is not as versed in the passing game.
Smythe is a slower tight end who does not offer the same type of explosiveness factor as, say, Gesicki. NFL defensive backs will not have problems with Smythe, as he does not offer that combination of speed and versatility as many tight ends in the league do.
However, Witten’s speed is far from spectacular and he has made a living at beating defensive backs with precise movements to pick up first downs. Smythe is a bit like Witten in that regard.
A few years ago, the Cowboys had somewhat of an interest for A.J. Williams. You may have never heard of him, but he was strictly a blocking tight end at Michigan. Dallas loves their blocking tight ends. Just take a look at Geoff Swaim. The Cowboys fell so in love with him that they trading up late in Day 3 of the draft to select him. Just because he is not the most explosive receiver does not mean the Cowboys will not have interest in Smythe.
Whereas both Gesicki and Smythe might be able to contribute to an NFL offense from the get-go, Thomas may struggle at first to adjust to a playbook. He has unreal potential given his measurables, but he is still extremely raw. Thomas is the quickest tight end in this draft class, but that may just be because he is a tweener.
It will be interesting to see how an NFL team develops and uses him. Thomas will likely be an early Day 3 pick. If the Cowboys are still looking to address the tight end position at this point in the draft, Thomas is a name that makes sense. Many NFL teams are drafting tight ends that provide for a matchup nightmares. With some tutelage and NFL seasoning, Thomas could become just that.
P.S. - I left Troy Fumagalli on this list. I have already expressed my interest in him as a Cowboy. However, the purpose of these articles is to give the readers of BTB new names of players who fit the bill. Just because a name is not on this list does not mean he would not be a good fit. In Fumagalli’s case, he would be an excellent fit.
I definitely have a few "my guys" in this draft class. Here are five of them:— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 6, 2018
WR DJ Moore, Maryland
TE Ian Thomas, Indiana
OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
DT Deadrin Senat, USF
CB/S Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee https://t.co/Z3QNi5YfJO
Which tight ends do you want to see on the Cowboys in 2018?