In theory, the Vikings have their tight end depth chart pretty much set. They have the powerful veteran in Kyle Rudolph, the semi-proven backup in Chase Ford, and the journeyman blocker in Rhett Ellison. They also have some camp fodder in Ryan Otten.
Rudolph just signed a huge deal that runs through 2018 and is highly unlikely to go anywhere. Ford is entering a contract year, but is inexpensive and likely to be a restricted free agent in 2016, so there is no real reason to actively oust him from the Vikings roster.
Ellison is also fairly cheap, with a 2015 cap hit of $735,146, and appears like a guy the Vikings want to lock up for the long-term. While unspectacular within the offense, Ellison is a great blocking tight end and solid special teams player.
The Vikings seem highly unlikely to spend heavily on the tight end position this offseason, with actual value more likely to be found in the Draft for a talent worth bringing aboard, but let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.
These pending free agents are from a list generated at Spotrac and lists them from oldest to youngest while also showing their 2014 cap hits:
A few observations about this list:
JORDAN CAMERON: Norv Turner was clearly able to bring out the best in Cameron two seasons ago. Health and a change in coaching staff resulted in a down-year for the athletic pass catcher, however, and he’ll bring plenty of question marks into the open market with him if he makes it that far.
JULIUS THOMAS: The lazy man will say that Thomas won’t be half the player he has been without Peyton Manning as his quarterback. And I guess I’m a lazy man, because I think his best option is to stay in Denver and continue riding the Manning Train as long as possible.
CHARLES CLAY: This is my pick for “best available” tight end in free agency, if Miami lets their young playmaker leave for some reason. If Clay can get 100% healthy as he enters the prime of his career, then he could be a dominant force in the NFL for a few years.
JERMAINE GRESHAM: Inconsistency has been the major detractor so far in Gresham’s career, but his quarterback is also the definition of the word “inconsistency.” Mike Zimmer has had some exposure to Gresham and might be able to help the front office determine just what kind of money he is worth, if the Vikings even bother discussing it, that is.
VIRGIL GREEN, LUKE STOCKER, and LANCE KENDRICKS: If the first wave of free agency passes with these guys remaining free agents then it is possible that their upside at a reduced price could be enough to get the attention of the Vikings… and every other NFL team.
It seems entirely likely to me that the Vikings will ignore the tight end position in free agency, at least when it comes to first and second tier signings. They have plenty invested in starter Kyle Rudolph and will feel somewhat comfortable with his primary backups.
If value is to present itself in the form of a blue chip tight end, then obviously they would have to consider it. That scenario is far more likely to come about during Draft Weekend instead of during free agency, however.
Look for Teddy Bridgewater to spend another year with Rudolph, Ford, and Ellison as his options at tight end. Below them on the depth chart, however, we will probably have a few guys having it out for a spot on the practice squad.