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2005 NFL Free Agents: Tight Ends
By: Thomas J Gersey

1. Bubba Franks, GB, UFA (34 rec, 361 yds, 7 td)
Franks is the ultimate safety valve. On a team dominated by the deep game of Brett Favre, Franks has always been Mr. Reliable in the red zone. When Favre is freelancing, and looking for that underneath play, Franks has always been a consistent target and frequent recipient of the 6-point pass. His blocking isn't top notch, but his receiving ability has always kept him in the lineup. He would be a great fit for a team with a strong offensive line, where he could hide on the end and release underneath in the short passing game. He will never join the ranks of the elite tight ends, but he is talented and reliable.

BEST FITS: Green Bay, Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville

LIKELY OUTCOME: Recent news has Franks being franchised by the Packers. Green Bay lacks an adequate replacement, and may choose to keep Franks in the fold for slightly more than market value. Favre has indicated that he will remain in the Green and Gold for at least another year, and it makes sense to keep his best red zone threat around for at least another season. If the Packers elect not to retain Franks, look for Chicago, Washington or Pittsburgh to actively pursue his services.

2. Anthony Becht, NYJ, UFA (13 rec, 100 yds, 1 td)
Similar to Franks, Becht is extremely effective in the red zone. While seriously lacking as a verticle threat, Becht has great hands, and seldom fumbles. Big and strong, Becht is also an excellent blocker, and would fit a team looking for some assistance in lieu of replacing otherwise mediocre blockers. Becht's best quality may be his reduced sticker price.

BEST FITS: Chicago, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

LIKELY OUTCOME: The Jets have alot of decisions to make in free agency, most notably on their defensive line. On a team that relies heavily on a two headed running game and a developing superstar quarterback, I highly doubt Becht will emerge as a priority in the off-season. Becht would be a great fit in Chicago, where Rex Grossman could count on his hands in the red zone, and his blocking would help an offensive line that gets significantly weaker as you move out from pro bowl center Olin Kreutz. Pittsburgh would also be an excellent fit considering their conservative play calling.

3. Jermaine Wiggins, MIN, UFA (71 rec, 701 yds, 4 td)
While Wiggins won't be winning an Mr Universe competitions any time soon, with a physique reminiscent of a pony keg, what he will be doing is continuing to move into the upper echelon of tight ends. After back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, Wiggins found himself in the middle of the high octane Viking ofense last season, and made the most of the opportunity. While producing career highs in all major categories, Wiggins became a favorite second option as Daunte Culpepper kept the Purple People Eaters rolling. Wiggins is a decent blocker, with above average hands. What separates him from other tight ends is speed, which is excellent for the position. He can elude most linebackers, and has the body control to seal off the rest. He is most effective running out routes to the sideline, consistently producing first down catches when defenses load up on deep coverage.

BEST BETS: Minnesota, Baltimore, Arizona, St Louis, Detroit, Washington, New Orleans, New York Jets, Buffalo

LIKELY OUTCOME: In all likelyhood, the Vikings will retain Wiggins, as they have few other free agents to worry about retaining. If thy elect to let Wiggins go, with Jim Kleinsasser (the opening day starter last season) returning from injury, Wiggins would fit well in the explosive offenses in St Louis, Detroit, New Orleans or Buffalo. Arizona would be a nice fit where Denny Green would happily bring in a player familiar with his offense.

4. Freddie Jones, ARZ, UFA (45 rec, 426 yds, 2 td)
Jones has long been an enigma. With the talent to become a consistent 75 catch, 900 yard tight end, he has become "consistently inconsistent." A constant let down, whether due to injury or lack of focus, Jones is constantly on the verge of becoming the player everyone has been waiting him to become. He is big and fast, and can sneak behind the defense for the deep ball on occassion. He has good hands, but can get lost underneath and give up while attemption to elude a defender. He is not a superb blocker, but gets the job done effectively enough, but is prone to releasing too early.

BEST BETS: St Louis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Detroit

LIKELY OUTCOME: Jones really needs the perfect fit. He was ready to become a superstar while in San Diego, but has regressed significantly since his move to the Arizona desert. Green has let it be known that Jones will not return to the fold, so expect Jones to find a new home. St Louis and Detroit are the most intriguing possibilities, but Tampa Bay seems like an excellent fit. If the Bucs can get their QB situation figured out, Jones could be a very effective player in Jon Gruden's west coast scheme.

5. Stephen Alexander, DET, UFA (41 rec, 377 yds, 1 td)
The best way to describe Alexander is "solid." With decent speed, very good size and strength, and excellent blocking skills, Alexander's only real weakness his penchant for getting injured. He will never be another Tony Gonzalez, but he can be counted on for 50 rec, 600 yards, and 5 tds, all quality numbers that any team is desperate to pencil in before the season starts. Alexander would be great on a team that runs more than it passes, without a great deal of reliance ont he deep ball. His bad wheels will keep his price down, and make him a great bargain.

BEST BETS: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, New York Jets

LIKELY OUTCOME: I doubt Detroit will bring back the veteran, electing to draft a younger option or bring in a project to grow along with their youthful offense. Pittsburgh seems to be the perfect fit, where Alexander could serve as a stop gap until a drafted tight end could develop within the offense.

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