With Noah Fant gone, which free agent tight ends should Broncos be targeting?

Nov 12, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) looks for a touchdown signal from the officials in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The trade for Russell Wilson has been the talk of the week throughout the NFL. George Paton created a masterful package of assets in order to bring the elite quarterback to Denver. But in that bundle the Broncos lost some impactful players, namely tight end Noah Fant.

With the quarterback position solidified and NFL free agency beginning on March 16, there is more work to be done. Losing Fant creates a vacancy that needs to be filled, and there is an abundance of options on the market.

Familiar faces

When bringing in a new signal caller, a familiar face can go a long way to creating ease and chemistry. Two such tight ends that Wilson has familiarity with are Jimmy Graham and Gerald Everett.

Jimmy Graham

If the Broncos are looking for veteran leadership and a red zone threat, Graham might be a solid option. Having notably reduced production over the last two seasons with the Chicago Bears, there is still an appeal for a fairly young Broncos offense. At age 35, it’s fair to say the Graham has lost a step, but if you are looking for an above average blocker, he is not your man.

Graham has, however, made his hay catching touchdowns and has a total of 85 TD receptions over the span of his 12-year career. He even recorded eight touchdowns as recently as the 2020 NFL season. He has the potential to bring savvy and leadership to a green pass-catching group.

Gerald Everett

Additionally, Gerald Everett is an available tight end that Wilson also knows, having played with him just last season. Consistency has been an issue with the young receiving threat thus far in his career but occasionally, when he gets the ball in his hands, he flashes.

His blocking was nothing to write home about, but he gave good effort in passing downs, despite his slender frame.

Signing Everett, in contrast to Jimmy Graham, would be more about upside and potential than anything else. He hasn’t seemed to unlock his next-level potential but perhaps with a more aggressive offense in Denver and another year with Wilson at the controls, he can put up career numbers.

Top-tier options

If Paton and company decide that the tight end position is a top priority and want to invest some capitol in that room, a few individuals stand out as top options.

C.J. Uzomah

First and foremost, the most exciting player in the group is C.J. Uzomah. The verdict is out on whether the Bengals plan on investing in this young talent. Having just made it to the Super Bowl, they likely have the inside track on re-signing him this off-season. But if for some reason they cannot meet his demands, the Broncos should at least entertain an offer.

A good blocker and a dangerous pass-catcher, he has a duplicity in his game that could compliment what Denver is looking to do on the field. His skillset doesn’t exactly replace what was lost with Fant’s departure, but it would be pretty darn close. The playmaking ceiling would move down a peg or two, but the blocking and toughness would improve noticeably.

Denver would be taking a risk though on a player who has some significant injury history in his short career. He missed the majority of the 2020 season with an achilles tear and battled and sprained MCL in the playoffs last season.

Zach Ertz

A veteran entering his 10th season, Zach Ertz has been a picture of consistency. A solid player with great hands, he has made a living getting the sticks and keeping drives alive. Ertz has 30 receptions for first downs last season with Cardinals in only 11 games played. Denver could badly use a player who can consistently move the chains and keep the clock running. He also tallied five touchdowns on the year, tied for second-most in this free agent group.

Ertz has never been known as a great blocking tight end but has made strides in his career to get to an average level. He won’t likely be out there in on obvious blocking downs, but Albert Okwuegbunam can more than make up for that.

At the end of the day the price tag might be too rich, but if they could add him to the tight end room for the right price, Denver would have a potent duo in Okwuegbunam and Ertz.

Rob Gronkowski

Anyone who has watched NFL football in the past decade knows Gronk and knows the level of playmaker he is.

Having spent his entire career with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski is looking at his future in the league having to catch passes from a different full-time quarterback for the first time ever. Though he hasn’t made any sure decision on his future yet, the future Hall of Famer did entertain the thought of playing elsewhere in a recent interview when he said he would be interested in playing with Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow.

The biggest question with acquiring Gronkowski would be the price tag. Believe it or not, he is only 32 years old and, though he has been dinged up throughout his career, still has some gas in the tank. Of this free agent class, he had the most receiving touchdowns (six) and yards (802) in 2021.

Say what you will about his antics, but Rob Gronkowski is still a playmaker and could add real value to Denver’s offense if given the opportunity.

The best of the rest

With an exciting 1-2-3 punch of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick there is always the chance Paton is willing to go get a low-cost option to fill a need. There are always diamonds in the rough to be found late in free agency and there are a few players available fit that description.

Mo Alie-Cox

If you are looking for a guy to root for, Mo Alie-Cox might just be that guy. A former basketball player on a very fun VCU team, the hooper decided to try his hand at football and has made an impact.

The young free agent is mountain of a man at 6’5” and 267 pounds, with a wingspan of 85 inches and the largest hands ever recorded at the NFL Combine, measuring 11.75”. He has flashed on the field but is still green as a football player, so a young coaching staff with hope of developing him could be an amazing fit.

Let Wilson throw him a jump ball and let him go get it in the end zone. Oh, and he can block. What’s not to like?

Evan Engram

If the Broncos are looking for a “boom-or-bust” guy, Evan Engram is the one they should pursue. Drafted in 2017 by the New York Giants with the 23rd overall pick, it’s safe to say expectations were high. Engram flashed and put together some very impressive games with his former team, but injuries and overall execution have derailed his career.

Having suffered multiple concussions, he may be too high a risk to consider, but at his best he has wide receiver ability in a tight end’s body. He’s also an improved blocker and can hold his own in that facet of the game. It’s up to Paton and crew to determine if the lemon is worth the squeeze

Ricky Seals-Jones

Another young guy that hasn’t found a home, Ricky Seals-Jones always does just enough to remind us how dynamic he can be.

At 6’5″ and 225 pounds, Seals-Jones looks the part of NFL tight end and has made some dynamite plays over is short career but has lacked consistency. Having played on four teams in five years, the young playmaker could highly benefit from the opportunity to play in and learn an offensive system.

Nathaniel Hackett and his style and offensive scheme could be enough to unlock Seals-Jones potential giving the Broncos a fun playmaker behind Okwuegbunam and at a fraction of the cost of many of the others waiting to be courted this free agency period.

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