TE Nick Vannett Addresses Whether Broncos' TE Plan Includes Moving on From Jeff Heuerman
The Denver Broncos surprised a lot of pundits by signing free-agent TE Nick Vannett a week ago. Vannett (6-foot-6, 261 pounds) is entering his fifth NFL season and is coming off a forgettable season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I can’t say that I have too many great things to say about that organization just from my time being there because it wasn’t the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had," Vannett told local media during a conference call on Friday.
Going into the new league year, those in the know speculated that veteran Jeff Heuerman could be a cap casualty, especially considering the rise of 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant, the emergence of Andrew Beck and the relative depth of the Broncos' tight end room.
Once Vannett was signed to a two-year, $5.7 million contract, it became almost a fait accompli that Heuerman's days in Denver are numbered. Vannett doesn't know about all that. He's just excited to join his former Ohio State teammate.
“I honestly—I thought about that, but I have no idea what the plan is," Vannett said.
What Vannett knows is that he was signed to create competition in the tight end room and help out as a blocker in the running game. He's already heard from Heuerman, who called Vannett to congratulate and welcome him on board.
"I’ve talked to Jeff," Vannett said. "He reached out to me, congratulated me on signing with the Broncos. He’s excited that we’re going to be in the same room together. I think he’s more excited that we’re reuniting more than anything. We haven’t really talked about what could happen down the road or what they plan to do. I have no idea.”
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Vannett's 2020 salary cap hit is only $2.078M but the Broncos could save $3.875M by releasing Heuerman. In a perfect world, the Broncos would be wise to simply bite the bullet and hang onto both ex-Buckeyes, considering the bad luck the team has had in the injury department at the position.
Heuerman himself has missed 25 games due to injury since arriving as Denver's third-round pick back in 2015. Troy Fumagalli, a 2018 fifth-round pick, missed all of his rookie year recovering from a sports hernia and who in Broncos Country needs a refresher course on the litany of games 2017 fifth-rounder Jake Butt has missed? Hint: he's only appeared in three games for Denver.
Meanwhile, Austin Fort showed promise last season as an undrafted rookie before tearing his ACL in the preseason and even Bug Howard suffered a summer injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Fant is the star of the group. With 4.5 speed at 250 pounds, he's a next-level athlete playing the tight end position and is poised to have a monster second year playing in Pat Shurmur's offense, which might not use a lot of two-tight end sets but likes throwing the ball to the tight end.
This scheme will really play to Fant's strengths and ask him to basically be a big slot receiver who occasionally has to block. Vannett fits in as the TE2 who comes in to block on short-yardage situations and on the goal-line where he can catch a handful of passes in the play-action game.
If the Broncos keep Heuerman through the summer, which is likely, he'll be pitted against Vannett for that TE2 role. Heuerman's best chance at staying in Denver and earning all $4M on his 2020 contract, would be to clearly out-play Vannett in training camp and preseason — which is entirely possible.
There's room on this roster for both ex-Buckeyes. But they're going to have to battle it out. Only time will tell who will be the last man standing. We're a long ways off from that issue being decided, in all likelihood, as the Broncos continue their lockdown amid the viral outbreak that has paralyzed America.