It wasn’t a marquee year for Detroit Lions tight ends. After deciding that Eric Ebron wasn’t worth the $8.25 million fifth year of his contract, general manager Bob Quinn scrambled to find a replacement... any replacement.
“We talked to basically every tight end on the free agent market and tried to get those guys here,” Quinn admitted last week.
The Lions missed out on a couple of top free agents; they couldn’t get a trade for Rob Gronkowski completed and Quinn even admitted that they tried again at the trade deadline.
What the Lions did end up getting were one-year deals for hometown backup Luke Willson and veteran redwood-of-a-man Levine Toilolo.
The stat sheet results were not encouraging. Combined with second-year Michael Roberts, the trio caught just 43 catches for 450 yards and four touchdowns. It’s clear the entire unit as a whole disappointed in 2018, and Quinn made it clear this team is very much in the market for a tight end next season.
“We’re looking forward to improving that position next season,” Quinn said.
But it wasn’t all bad news for the unit. Receiving is only half of the battle for many tight ends, and for Levine Toilolo, he absolutely crushed the other half of his duties. Not only was Toilolo an impressive pass blocker this season, he was the best pass-blocking tight end according to PFF.
At 6-foot-8, 268 pounds, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Toilolo is a solid pass blocker—he’s essentially built like an additional (very lean) offensive tackle. And when you combine the fact that Toilolo emerged as a somewhat reliable receiving option towards the end of the season—15 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown in the final five games—the 27-year-old is a solid candidate to come back in 2019.
It would be a tall order to ask Toilolo to be the Lions’ No. 1 tight end next year—if we’re being honest, he’s far too much of a liability as a run blocker. However, if Detroit can add a couple of other talented tight ends into the mix, Toilolo could be a valuable resources as a third-down tight end in passing situations. We’ll see if the Lions agree, with free agency just two months away.