Buccaneers free agency preview: Tight end

Al Messerschmidt

Our Buccaneers free agency preview continues with the tight end position.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must upgrade their tight end position this offseason. But how can they do it, and how are the Bucs likely to view the players already on the roster?

Currently on the roster: Tom Crabtree, Tim Wright, Luke Stocker, Steve Maneri

Free agents: Kyle Adams (exclusive rights), Nate Byham (exclusive rights)

What happened in 2013

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been struggling at the tight end position for years. Despite a brief period where Kellen Winslow provided a valuable receiving option (but did nothing as a blocker), the Bucs have not been able to find any tight end worth keeping. Not 'even' 2011 fourth-round pick Luke Stocker has managed to do anything.

In 2013, that didn't really change. Injuries worsened the situation, with Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree playing a combined nine games due to injury, catching a whopping total of four passes between them. That's not exactly solid production.

Tim Wright was the lone bright spot last year. The undrafted rookie receiver was converted to tight end, and proved to be very hard to contain for safeties and linebackers. He managed 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns, despite seeing his playing time limited as his blocking was limited. Wright struggled with physically tough defenders at times, as they managed to disrupt his routes, but he showed a lot of promise for a pass-catching tight end.

2014 outlook

The importance of the tight end position in Jeff Tedford's offense is a bit of a mystery. Tedford doesn't have a history of producing quality tight ends at California, but he did generally emphasize the running game, which means tight ends are important. At the same time, he moved to more of a spread offense over the past few years, which de-emphasizes the position.

Still, I'd expect the Bucs to try to upgrade the tight end position. Luke Stocker has been a massive disappointment, while Tom Crabtree isn't a reliable, proven veteran either. Tim Wright shows promise for the future, but he's a poor blocker and it remains to be seen whether the new coaching staff sees him as a move tight end, or as a receiver.

Free agency

The most intriguing player on the market may be Jermichael Finley, who spent the past year out of football due to a neck injury. It seems he's recovered from that injury and wants to re-enter the NFL. Before his injury, he was a very dangerous receiving weapon who at times struggled with drops.

Finley's the only top-end receiver available, and he's not a slam-dunk, either. Behind Finley we get to decent blockers/mediocre receivers like Brandon Pettigrew and Brandon Myers -- solid starters, but nothing special. Dustin Keller would be an intriguing option, but he managed to play just eight games the past two seasons. He was once a dangerous weapon, and he could be an intriguing discount option due to his injury.

One other option may be Zach Miller. He's still with the Seattle Seahawks, but they're widely expected to release him (or at least ask him to take a pay cut) due to his $7 million cap number. The Seahawks can save $5 million by releasing him.

Finally, there's Garrett GrahamThe Bay Cave reports that the Buccaneers will go after the former Houston Texans tight end, who put up 49 catches for 545 yards last year, and has been a solid blocker as well. At just 27 years old, he's entering his prime and may be a good target for the Bucs.

Draft

The 2014 NFL draft has a number of very good players, with North Carolina's Eric Ebron leading the way. If the Bucs still have a need at tight end entering the draft, Ebron could be a target for them in the first round -- at number seven, or aftter trading back.

The Bucs are more likely to take a tight end later in the draft, though, with Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Jace Amaro representing intriguing second-round options. There's no transcendent talent in this draft after Ebron, either as a receiver or as a blocker, bit finding a quality starter should be doable in the second or third round (where the Bucs do not have a pick).

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