Tight End has Emerged as a Position of Prominence in the NFL
Tight ends in the NFL are finally getting the respect they deserve as we have seen several of the top tier players at the position get big contracts during the offseason. Tight ends have always played a huge role in different variations of NFL offenses, but the position as a whole has evolved over the years as the players in today’s NFL has truly defined the value the position holds. Considered to be a quarterback’s best friend, tight ends have become a valuable commodity over the years as the position has progressed as a whole.
Let’s focus on the careers of Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, and Antonio Gates and credit them for bringing versatility to the position and the reason why tight ends are viewed as an essential piece in the game now. These Hall of Fame players accomplished so much and did it all from blocking in run support and in pass protection to catching difficult passes over the middle of the field while constantly putting up consistent numbers while playing a vital role for their respective franchises. These extraordinary players were the vocal leaders and the heart and soul of their teams as they left the game as 3 of the greatest to ever play the position giving young prospects entering the league a blueprint for success and someone to model their careers after.
General managers around the NFL are finally opening up their wallets and paying these elite players after the impact they had last season. The tight end position has evolved, and these players are being well compensated for their contributions.
After his performance last season, and helping the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl title, Travis Kelce was given a 4-year contract extension that will allow him to earn $14 to $15 million annually. The terms of the deal was for $57.25 million with $28 million guaranteed. Kelce has had 4 consecutive seasons with over 1000 yards receiving as an integral part of the Chief’s offensive attack.
George Kittle has wowed with his play over the past 2 seasons while recording consecutive 1000 yard campaigns. His efforts were rewarded with a contract extension of 5 years worth $75 million, making him the highest-paid player at the position. Kittle has been a mismatch for both linebackers and defensive backs alike because of his size and strength and also plays a significant role as a pass catcher and pass blocker in the 49ers offensive scheme.
Another player who had a breakout season at the tight end position was Austin Hooper. As a member of the Atlanta Falcons last season, Hooper recorded a career-high 75 receptions, 787 yards with 6 TDs. During the offseason, Hooper signed a lucrative deal with the Cleveland Browns for $44 million with $23 million guaranteed for a term of 4 years. Look for Hooper to be incorporated into new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense as a run after the catch threat and bonafide target in the red zone.
Still playing under his rookie contract, the Baltimore Ravens traded Hayden Hurst to the Falcons as they will try to compensate for the loss of Hooper leaving for Cleveland in free agency. Hurst has plenty of upsides and could potentially be the next tight end in line for a huge payday. Hurst possesses the ability to stretch the field and create separation and pile up yardage after the catch. Look for him to build a solid rapport with quarterback Matt Ryan en route to a breakout season.
Arguably the greatest to ever play the position, Rob Gronkowski will join forces once again with Tom Brady as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in hopes to continue being the lethal combination defensive coordinators once feared and had trouble containing. Gronkowski retired from the NFL after winning Super Bowl LIII but has decided to reunite with his former quarterback as they will attempt to continue their success and make another run at a Super Bowl title. Gronkowski should be refreshed after taking a year off as he has suffered numerous injuries over the course of his career. He should see more one-on-one matchups instead of double teams as a result of being on the field with 2 Pro Bowl receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
After spending all of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten will switch uniforms and don the silver and black in Las Vegas for the Raiders as he will begin a new chapter in his illustrious Hall of Fame career. The addition of Witten will give the Raiders 2 dynamic options at the tight end position as Darren Waller had a breakout season last year totaling 1145 yards as the Raiders top receiving threat. Witten will become an asset for whoever starts behind center for the Raiders and will be a leader on the field as well as in the locker room as they try to create a winning culture in Las Vegas.
This upcoming season may very well be the year of the tight end as we can all expect more of them to emerge as major contributors for their teams.