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2021 NFL free agency preview: 6 tight ends with ties to the Detroit Lions

Yeah, the Lions could be in the free agent market yet again.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their predecessors hitting the position hard, new general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell could very well be in the tight end market this offseason. Of course, that may get Campbell more excited than a plate of warm kneecaps, but for Lions fans, it can get a bit tiring spending another offseason looking for depth at tight end.

The truth is Jesse James is one of the prime candidates to get cut this offseason. Detroit would eat nearly $4.3 million in dead cap, but the $2.1 million in cap relief may be worth it considering how ineffective James has been in two season with Detroit.

If Detroit goes that route, the Lions will only have T.J. Hockenson and Hunter Bryant signed to the 2021 team, along with Alize Mack and Hunter Thedford, who signed futures deals earlier this year.

Assuming the staff won’t be satisfied with that lineup, here’s a look at six free agent tight ends that already has a connection to Detroit’s staff.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Jared Cook

Connection: 2 years with the Saints (Dan Campbell), 3 years with the Rams (Brad Holmes)

If Detroit is really thinking about going heavy 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), Jared Cook would give the Lions quite the one-two punch in Hockenson-Cook.

Having spent the past two years in New Orleans, Dan Campbell likely knows everything about him. And while the soon-to-be 34 year old is well past his prime, he’s still producing at a fairly impressive rate. In his two seasons with the Saints, he’s tallied 1,209 yards (11th among TEs) and 16 touchdowns (second).

The issue here is price. While his age will likely prevent him from signing a huge deal, his last contract was worth $15 million over two years. Spending $6-8 million on an aging tight end is probably not smart team building at this point for Detroit. But if Campbell can convince Cook to avoid retirement and come to Detroit for a discount, it’s possible.

Hunter Henry

Connection: 4-year overlap with Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn (Chargers)

Hunter Henry is the best tight end on the free agent market, and he comes with a ton of familiarity with the Lions’ new offensive coordinator. But Detroit isn’t about to spend $10-12 million a year on a tight end who would take opportunities away from T.J. Hockenson. They just don’t have the resources.

Gerald Everett

Connection: Drafted in second round by Rams (Holmes)

Brad Holmes likely played a huge part in bringing Gerald Everett to Los Angeles when the team drafted him four years ago. And while Everett likely hasn’t quite lived up to his draft billing, he’s been a consistent target, pulling in at least 30 catches and 320 yards in each of the past three seasons.

Everett has a great athletic profile, but doesn’t bring much as a blocker. Still, his connection to Holmes—and perhaps more importantly, his chemistry with new Lions quarterback Jared Goff—makes him a possible candidate in Detroit. He’ll still come with a significant price tag expected to be around $5-7 million per year.

Johnny Mundt

Connection: 4 seasons with Rams (Holmes)

Everett may not be the only tight end on his way out of Los Angeles. Mundt was much more of a special teamer than an offensive weapon for the Rams, but he proved to be capable when pushed into the starting lineup in Week 7 against the Bears. That game he caught three catches on three targets for 48 yards.

If Detroit wants to go the financially responsible route, you could do a lot worse than Mundt, who is just 26 years old and capable in all facets of the game, including blocking. He wouldn’t be a game-changer, but he’d be good depth that comes with that same experience under Goff.

Virgil Green

Connection: 3-year overlap with Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn (Chargers)

Green has had an unassuming, but solid NFL career despite being a seventh-round pick. 2021 will be his 11th season in the league, which is a huge accomplishment on its own.

Green is more of an inline tight end who can block. He’s never had more than 237 receiving yards in a season, but he’s consistently been one of the best blocking tight ends in football.

A guy like Anthony Lynn, who has coached him for the past three seasons, could absolutely value his skillset as the Lions try to establish the run in Detroit. His last contract averaged just $2.87 million a year, so he will be very affordable this offseason.

Dan Arnold

Connection: 2.5 seasons with Saints (Campbell)

Arnold’s career started in 2017 under Campbell with the Saints. As an undrafted player, he stuck around on the roster in New Orleans for a couple of seasons, but he only made 12 game appearances over that time.

However, since landing with the Cardinals, he’s seen a nice resurgence in his career. In 2020, Arnold pulled in 31 catches for 438 yards and four touchdowns. His 14.1 yards per reception led all NFL tight ends last year. However, don’t expect much blocking skills out of the 6-foot-6, 220 pound tight end.

If Campbell saw that potential back in 2017 and believes he can keep his momentum going, he’ll be a very affordable option on the market.

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