The Tight End Conundrum of the New York Jets

Cole Patterson on the New York Jets issues at tight end and what free agent options are still out there

Ahhhh the rebuilding year. Another failed campaign means an eager fan base calling for heads and demanding a quick and timely rebuild. There are many pillars to a successful rebuild: management, coaching, and the all important on field talent (to name a few). It is the talent that most fans tend to harp on and at no position on the New York Jets’ roster is there less of it than at tight end. New general manager John Idzik has deftly filled many perceived holes on the roster including: quarterback, running back, and offensive line. He’s brought in depth players at linebacker and fostered competition with talented defenders early in the draft. However, tight end is one of the spots that he seems to have neglected.

Idzik’s failure to add talent at the tight end position was not a result of a weak free agent class. Some tight ends of note that got new contracts this offseason include: Delanie Walker (SF – TN), Fred Davis (WAS), Jared Cook (TN-STL), Ben Watson (CLE – NO), Brandon Meyers (OAK – NYG), Anthony Fasano (MIA – KC), Kellen Davis (CHI-CLE), Martellus Bennet (NYG- CHI), Dennis Pitta (BAL), Tony Gonzalez (ATL), and our very own Dustin Keller (NYJ-MIA). These names only highlight the massive exodus of free agent tight ends this offseason. The Jets did not necessarily have the opportunity to sign all of these players but some must have been options. While most of these players have flaws, from one dimensionality to inconsistency, they have all had relatively successful careers, a trait that the Jets tight end group lacks.

The Jets currently sit with a tight end depth chart of Jeff Cumberland, Hayden Smith, Konrad Reuland, and UDFAs Mike Shanahan and Chris Pantale. The Jets also hope to get H-Back like production from 7th Round draft pick Tommy Bohanon and his dependable hands. The potential and faults of these players have been discussed ad nauseum at Turn on the Jets. If this group inspires confidence in you, I praise your optimism. However, some insurance for this unproven and pedestrian group of tight ends might make even the most optimistic fan sleep easier.

There is still talent available to the Jets if they decide to go in that direction:

Kevin Boss: Had reasonable success with the Giants but has been hampered by a string of 4 concussions. He is a natural receiver who uses his size (6’6″ – 255 lbs) to produce over the middle of the field and is tough to bring down. However, he has inconsistent hands and average speed. His run blocking is very good and he does not often miss his assignment. Boss suffered his fourth concussion in Week 2 of 2012 with the Chiefs and was lost for the year. He was released in late February for being unable to pass a physical. His best year came in 2009 when he had 42 receptions for 567 yards and 5 TDs.

Dallas Clark: A consistent receiving threat with Peyton Manning but had an off year with Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is reportedly interested in resigning him. However, Luke Stocker (the talented 2011 4th round pick from Tennessee) is chomping at the bit to start. Clark had 47 catches for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns with the Bucs, a level of production the Jets sorely need from their skill position players on offense. Clark is not overly athletic but is an effort player that opens holes as a run blocker and has consistent hands. The biggest knock on him is his age, 33.

Chris Cooley: Fell out of the Redskins graces mostly due rise of Fred Davis (a player the Jets had a chance to sign earlier this offseason). Cooley played fullback in college and his run blocking ability translated well to the professional level. He had success at the H-Back position early in his career, under Joe Gibbs, and showed above average hands. He, like Clark, is over 30 and on the wrong end of his career. The main reason Cooley’s market is small is he has stated a lack of interest in playing for teams other than the Redskins.

Visanthe Shiancoe: Another plus 30 tight end. He had success with the Vikings but found himself buried under superior talent as part of a loaded tight end group in New England. Shiancoe’s best year came in 2009 when he led NFC tight ends with 11 touchdowns, good for 3rd best in the league. He broke 500 yards 3 of 5 years with Minnesota breaking 300 and 400 yards in the other two. This shows consistency before his falling off a cliff with the Seahawks and Patriots in 2012. Shiancoe has had more success catching the ball than with run blocking but Adrian Peterson never had cause to complain.

Kellen Winslow: Winslow is a talented but troubled option. He managed to put up over 700 yards 5 times. He only missed the mark his rookie year, during an injury plagued 2008, and in 2012 in limited time in New England. His best year was in 2007 when he caught 82 passes for 1106 yards and 5 tds. The biggest issue with Winslow, besides lingering knee issues, is a bad attitude that helped to push him out of Tampa Bay. He is generally not regarded as a team player and is a poor run blocker. UPDATE – The Jets are bringing Winslow in to try out at mini-camp this week.

As I have hopefully made clear, Idzik is not yet scraping the bottom of the barrel, but neither does he have the pick of the free agent, tight end litter. Adding to the potential talent pool will be camp cuts and trades from teams loaded at the position (New England anybody?).

Now, Idzik is not necessarily bound to make a move for a tight end. The Jets staff have high hopes for rugby convert Hayden Smith and their UDFA tight ends. However, to rely on them and the ever inconsistent Jeff Cumberland, would be folly.

The move that I believe best fits with Idzik’s philosophy would be to sign Kevin Boss to a one year, incentivized contract. The youngest of the bunch (29), Boss fits the profile of a low risk, high reward player that is looking for a “show me” deal. Boss’ concussion history may force an early retirement but if he can stay healthy, he has a chance to produce with the Jets and provide insurance should their project players not pan out. If Chris Cooley were to consider other team’s offers, he would be my first choice as he is a similar player to Boss with more consistent hands and refined run blocking ability. Both of these players would fit well in Mornhinweg’s scheme that requires the tight end to both block and catch effectively, as to not tip the offense’s hand.

Watch for a new tight end to join the team by Week 2 of the preseason. You can refer back to this article when that happens.