It’s no secret that the Carolina Panthers have lacked an elite presence at tight end last season after Greg Olsen was released by the team a year ago. Panthers tight ends caught just 27 passes on 41 targets for 204 yards and only three touchdowns last season.
The Panthers utilized a combination of Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz and Colin Thompson to catch passes out of the tight end spot a year ago, and only Thomas is left on the roster heading into free agency.
This year’s free agent crop of tight ends has a mix of veterans and young talent, but presents plenty of question marks. The Panthers are also likely to look for a tight end in this year’s draft. But, if they go to the free agent well for this position, here’s who they should be looking at.
Hollister’s price tag could end up being set by what behemoths Hunter Henry and Rob Gronkowski bring in, but he should be relatively cheap in free agency. Over the past two seasons in Seattle, Hollister caught 66 of 99 targets for 558 yards and six touchdowns. The 27-year-old was known for stretching the field at Wyoming. While not overly deceptive after the catch, he presents a nice frame at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds.
Kroft will likely be among the cheaper tight ends on the market this offseason. He had lackluster production last season as the No. 2 tight end in Buffalo, where he caught 12 passes on 16 targets for 119 yards and three scores. But he provides versatility and youth. The 28-year-old pass-catcher played both receiver and tight end at Rutgers and is known for his quickness.
Cook is a veteran who could likely not garner a large salary. Despite being in his 12th season last year, he caught 37 passes on 60 targets for 504 yards and seven touchdowns in New Orleans. Cook would bring a solid veteran presence for whatever rookie joins the squad, too.
This is wishful thinking. Henry is going to get paid, and I don’t think Carolina should be the team that signs that check. But if they feel like they need to address something else in the draft, plucking the price tag off Henry could be in play. Though he’s battled back from injury, Henry provides the ability to be an elite No. 1 tight end if he stays healthy. He caught 60 passes on 93 targets for 613 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.