One of the Detroit Lions biggest failures last offseason was their inability to address the tight end position. Darren Fells left in free agency and the team released Eric Ebron in 2018 and they ended up signing Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo late in free agency, and while Toilolo was a fine blocker neither provided much as a receiver.
The Lions will need someone to step in to receiving tight end role that Ebron vacated last season, and they may want to look to free agency. Here are a few tight ends the team may take a look at this offseason.
Jesse James (Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Steelers tight end might be the top name on the free agent market this spring. James spent much of last season playing second fiddle to Vance McDonald but did show off some great talent when he was in the game.
James caught 30 passes for 423 yards—averaging 14.1 yards per reception. He was lost in the shuffle in Pittsburgh, not only competing with McDonald for playing time but Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and James Washington as well. He would see a much bigger role in Detroit for the first time in his career and would finally have a chance to shine as a top option in the offense.
He may be expensive, though. James will be the most sought after name on the free agent market this spring. The tight end could land himself a deal even bigger than the $32 million Trey Burton earned last season, but the Lions may be willing to meet his price.
C.J. Uzomah (Cincinnati Bengals)
Uzomah is another player that has not done much yet, but has shown enough promise over the past few years that a team may be willing to give him a short deal to bring him in as a receiving tight end.
The tight end is a great athlete. He has a lot of the physical tools that you would want out of a receiving tight end, he just needs to put it all together. He has failed to do so in Cincinnati—only catching 79 passes for 769 yards in the four years of his rookie contract—but has had a few big games over the years that may have general managers ready to take a chance on him.
Uzomah will probably be cheaper than James and may have more upside. He is not getting much buzz at the moment and is an under-the-radar free agent fans should have their eyes on.
Jared Cook (Oakland Raiders)
Not only did Jared Cook have my favorite play of the 2018 NFL season, he’s also been a reliable, consistent, receiving tight end over the years.
Chiefs D catches touchdowns too pic.twitter.com/6gwIkSca6n— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 30, 2018
Despite that play, Cook quietly had a great 2018 season while playing on a horrid Raiders offense. The 31 year old set career highs with 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns. He clearly has a lot left in the tank and can still contribute at a high level in the NFL.
He would be an instant boost to the Lions tight end room and could even potentially help the development of Michael Roberts or another young tight end the team may draft. There is not any upside to bet on for Cook, he’s a known product at this point, but he is more of a guarantee than either James or Uzomah.
Demetrius Harris (Kansas City Chiefs)
Harris is another player who has shown potential but is buried on the depth chart between a much better player. Travis Kelce may be the best tight end in the NFL, which means that Harris is not playing much of a role in the Chiefs dynamic offense.
The tight end has not done much with the opportunities he has been given, though. He has a catch rate below 50 percent—catching twelve of his 25 targets—and only had 164 yards on the season.
Harris has shown some athletic ability over the years, though, and does come with some upside. If the above targets are all off the board, you could see the Lions maybe taking a chance on Harris. He may be cheap and has potential to shine if he is given a bigger role.
Geoff Swaim (Dallas Cowboys)
Swaim was nothing more than a random depth piece no one knew much about before 2018. He erupted early in the season, though. As the Cowboys offense could not anything going early in the year, Swaim seemed to be the only target Dak Prescott could find. His role evaporated once Amari Cooper arrived, but the tight end now has a chance to hit the open market with a few games of good film on his resume.
With Jason Witten now back on the Cowboys (what?), Swaim is set to hit the market. He will be a name towards the bottom of the Lions free agent wish list, but if Detroit misses out on all of the above names then he is a very affordable option that can at least play at a decent level.