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Countdown to free agency: Should Martellus Bennett intrigue the Vikings?

By Matthew Coller

2The next big NFL date is March 9, when the new league year begins and free agency opens. The Minnesota Vikings are expected to be active in free agency, so as we make our way toward the start of the signing period, we will go position-by-position, analyzing which free agents the Vikings could/should be interested in. We began with the quarterbacks, then went on to the running backs, then the wide receivers, the left tackles, the right tackles, the guards, the centers and now the tight ends…

Another weapon?

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph had his best career season by far with 83 receptions and 840 yards in 2016, solidifying the position for Minnesota for the foreseeable future. But in this ever-passing world we live in, the Vikings should be in the market for any type of playmaker than can find, including at the tight end spot. When new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was in Philadelphia, the Eagles completed 102 passes on 147 targets to tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, so the Vikings might be interested in using the position more in the 2017 offense. They will need a playmaker first. While Rhett Ellison (currently a UFA) was fairly effective the few times he was targeted, the Vikings did not have a big body would could stretch the middle of the field. At one time, MyCole Pruitt appeared to be that player, but he was picked up by the Chicago Bears off Minnesota’s practice squad. Here are the possible playmaking tight end targets:

Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots

2016 receiving stats: 55 catches on 73 targets, 701 yards, seven touchdowns

Facing off with Bennett, Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen would be a pretty scary task for opponents and might even be cheaper than keeping Cordarrelle Patterson or signing a top free agent receiver. New England’s 6-foot-7, 250-pound tight end stepped in after superstar Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending injury. Bennett was ranked third by Football Outsiders and 10th by Pro Football Focus. Of course, playing with Tom Brady doesn’t hurt, but even when Bennett was a top target of Jay Cutler’s, he performed at a high level, catching 90 passes in 2014. The top tight ends make between $7-$10 million, while there are currently 15 receivers making over $10 million per season.

There are many other factors outside of production and price. Bennett called his former teammates “b—-es” after he left Chicago and is active politically and on Twitter. That might not sit well with the way Mike Zimmer likes his locker room. Also, the Vikings already have invested $7.3 million per year on Rudolph and could be primed to spend big at other positions like offensive tackle.

Jacob Tamme, Atlanta Falcons

2016 receiving stats: (Five games) 22 catches on 31 targets, 210 yards, three touchdowns

Tamme doesn’t mess around with mediocre quarterbacks. During his career, the veteran tight end has only played with Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan. But there is probably a reason that they keep throwing him the ball. In 23 total games as a Falcon over two years, he caught 81 passes with more than 70% of passes in his direction being caught. At 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, he doesn’t quite bring along the size of a tight end like Bennett, but acts as a reliable No. 2 and won’t bring along anywhere close to the price tag.

Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

2016 receiving stats: 59 catches on 75 targets, 584 yards, five touchdowns

While his name may sound a lot more like a politician than an NFL player, Andrew Luck would vote Doyle as one of his top receiving targets as he caught 78.7% of throws in his direction. You won’t find the former Western Kentucky tight end running any DeSean Jackson-type routes, but he did show some capability down the field and in the red zone with 13 catches and four touchdowns on throws over 10 yards in the air.

Vernon Davis, Washington

2016 receiving stats: 44 receptions on 59 targets, 583 yards, two touchdowns

He may be 33 years old, but Davis proved he can still play. As the Vikings might recall, the former 49er and Bronco still has the speed and hands to make plays down the field, averaging 13.3 Yards Per Reception and catching four passes of more than 20 yards the air. He turned out to be one of the best free agent bargains last year, making just $2.4 million on a one-year deal. Davis’s durability has been incredible over his 11-year career, playing 14 or more games every year since 2007.

Jordan Cameron, Miami Dolphins

2016 receiving stats: (three games) eight receptions on 11 targets, 60 yards, one touchdown

For a single season, Cameron was a top-notch receiving tight end. Unfortunately that season gets farther and farther in the rear view mirror. Back in 2013, the former Cleveland Brown caught 80 passes and seven touchdowns, but he only has 67 receptions in the three years since and has battled injuries. Miami did not get what they paid for when they signed him to a two-year, $15 million deal before the 2015 season. Red flags may be everywhere, but a low-money, one-year deal might turn out to be a boon if Cameron can get healthy.

Mychal Rivera, Oakland Raiders

2016 receiving stats: 18 receptions on 25 targets, 192 yards, one touchdown

From a significant part of the offense to barely a role player, Rivera has seen his reception totals cut from 58 in 2014 down to only a handful last year. The biggest reason: He isn’t a quality run blocker. Oakland preferred to play Clive Walford and Lee Smith in run situations, which limited Rivera’s snap counts. But if the Vikings are looking for a pure receiving tight end, the Los Angeles native could step in, so long as they add a run blocker, too.

Jermaine Gresham, Arizona Cardinals

2016 receiving stats: 37 catches on 61 targets, 391 yards, two touchdowns

After a solid career in Cincinnati, Gresham never really caught on as a significant part of the Cardinals’ offense, catching just 55 passes in two years – that’s fewer than in his final year with the Bengals. Gresham, who is a two-time Pro Bowler, may have seen his production slide, but he is only 28 and has not faced many serious injuries. He could still be productive in a No. 2 role, but, like several of the other top tight ends, Gresham is not a very successful run blocker.

See the entire list of free agent tight ends here

The post Countdown to free agency: Should Martellus Bennett intrigue the Vikings? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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