November 9, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 41-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
While the Raiders have an incumbent tight end who has flashed ability as both a receiver and a blocker in Mychal Rivera, they may seek to improve upon the position. Versatile tight ends are a staple of modern NFL offenses, and it helps to have more than one, especially in a Chip Kelly-esque no-huddle offense. While Rivera was a quality starter at the position, especially down the stretch last year, Reggie McKenzie may want to use his sizable cap money to improve the position or add a second option to create a “Gronk and Hernandez” situation on the Raiders roster. Here are a few names:
Julius Thomas: much has been said, over and over about Thomas. He’s the hottest tight end in free agency unless the Broncos manage to retain him by some miracle, and is going to attract a lot of money and attention. The Stockton native, who comes from a family of Raider fans, has been linked to the Raiders, but there is speculation that the Jaguars or other teams might be interested and willing to pay more. Thomas, who is only 26, is taller and faster than Rivera, and is a top notch redzone target, having caught 24 TD passes over the past two seasons from Peyton Manning.
Jermaine Gresham: while much has been made of Julius Thomas’ free agency, Gresham may have the best resume of any tight end approaching the market. A 2010 first round draft pick, Gresham has been a big part of the Bengals offense, catching 280 passes over the past five seasons. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012. He is in many ways of similar profile to Thomas, with good speed, a long 6’5″, 261 pound frame, and is only a month older than Thomas. While Thomas has as many touchdowns in the past two years as Gresham has his entire five-year career, Gresham has been a consistent receiver for longer than Thomas, and is probably a better in-line blocker.
Jordan Cameron: with the Browns in a state of disarray, there’s a strong chance Cameron jumps ship if he isn’t franchise tagged, which he likely will not be, as his cap number with the tag would be somewhere around $8.4M. Cameron, a Southern California native and USC product, is about the same age as Thomas and Gresham, and is also 6’5″, though slimmer than the other two. He is probably the best athlete of the three, possessing wide receiver speed and route-running ability with plenty of strength to play from the line of scrimmage. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013, when he caught 80 passes, but struggled to stay healthy last year and saw his production drop significantly. Still, he’ll likely be a popular free agent, and will command money similar to Thomas and Gresham.
Next: 2015 FA Watch List: Wide Receiver