Free Agency Preview: A Look at the Backup Tight End Options

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller (USA Today Sports)

Leading up to free agency in mid-March, we will examine a multitude of angles pertaining to the Minnesota Vikings’ free agency approach.

Do the Vikings Need to Find a Backup QB?
Do the Vikings Need to Sign Another RB?

Our first two free agency previews focused on positions where the starter is virtually set in stone (QB and RB). Part 3 is seemingly no different as we take a peek at the tight end spot, where Kyle Rudolph remains entrenched entering his contract year. Considering Rudolph holds a $7.625 million cap hit with no dead money, some have labeled him a candidate to restructure. But after having his second-best season in terms of receiving yards, and the 10th-most receiving yards among tight ends league-wide, Rudolph’s contract seems extremely fair. He is set to be the 11th-highest paid tight end by annual contract value, per Spotrac, which is right in line with his production.

David Morgan enters his own contract year, however, while Tyler Conklin enters Year 2 of his four-year rookie contract as the third-string tight end.

With two tight ends entering the final year of their deals, it may be time to start planning for the future, and the best place to do that may be the draft as opposed to free agency.

Strictly looking at 2019, however, might there be a pass-catching tight end in free agency to pair with Rudolph? Minnesota has leaned on its back-up tight ends as blockers for years and hasn’t had a second tight end with more than 124 receiving yards since 2014 when Rudolph got hurt. Adding another pass-catching threat at the position would give playcaller Kevin Stefanski a weapon the team hasn’t had in quite some time.

Level of FA need on a scale of 1 to 10: 4

Here are some of the options on the market.


C.J. Uzomah: After three quiet years in Cincinnati, got a chance to play extended reps after Tyler Eifert’s leg injury. Caught 43 balls for 439 yards and three touchdowns in his contract year.

Jeff Heuerman: Like Uzomah, was called into action due to injuries and tallied 281 receiving yards, but broken ribs derailed his season early.

Jesse James: After three years of decent production — often as the Steelers’ No. 2 tight end — James hits the open market at age 24. Might require a bigger commitment than Vikings are willing to give.


Jared Cook: Coming off a career year with 896 receiving yards in Oakland, but with Cook turning 32 soon, there might be a risk of overpaying.

Antonio Gates: Still a remarkable player for his age, but almost certainly wouldn’t play anywhere except with the Los Angeles Chargers.


Tyler Kroft: Kroft was drafted highly in 2015 (third round) and didn’t necessarily fulfill expectations, though he put together a nice 2017 season with 404 yards and seven touchdowns while posting the best passer rating when targeted of all tight ends with over 50 targets. Coming off a foot injury that ended his 2018.

Maxx Williams: After being a second-round pick out of the University of Minnesota in 2015, Williams had his four years in Baltimore wrecked due to injuries. But he’s only 24, and hey, the local angle!

George Swaim: Lasted the duration of his rookie deal with the Cowboys after being a seventh-round pick. Finally got a shot last year and was sure-handed as an option for Dak Prescott with 26 receptions. Only 25 years old.

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Photo Credit: Tim Fuller (USA Today Sports)

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