Potential Free Agent Targets At Tight End For The New Orleans Saints

There aren't a lot of options at tight end for the Saints after Juwan Johnson's surgery, but here are a few that the team might opt to look at.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
In this story:

New Orleans Saints TE Juwan Johnson will miss a significant amount of time as he recovers from foot surgery. Several reports have Johnson being recovered in time for the regular season opener on September 8 against the Carolina Panthers.

Johnson, 27, is expected to be a big part of the offense under new coordinator Klint Kubiak. The early indications that he'll be back in time for the season are encouraging. However, he'll still miss valuable on-field experience with a new system through training camp and preseason. There will also be an issue if his rehabilitation and recovery goes slower than expected.

Veteran TE and New Orleans native Foster Moreau returns from last year's squad, but he's more valued for his blocking and as a short yardage receiver. The only offseason addition to the position was Dallin Holker, a good athlete and excellent pass catcher in college at Colorado State, but also an undrafted rookie.

Holker will have a prime opportunity to secure a role on the roster and already attracted some favorable attention during OTA sessions in May. Michael Jacobson and Tommy Hudson will also have opportunities, but neither have showcased strong receiving skills. The Saints were also scheduled to have a tryout with TE Sal Cannella, an outstanding receiver in the USFL, XFL, and UFL.

There's a good chance that New Orleans will roll with what they have, banking on a bigger role from Moreau and development from Holker. However, they could also secure the position further with another veteran free agent. Here are some tight ends still available that the Saints may look into.

Geoff Swaim

Arizona Cardinals tight end Geoff Swaim (87) stiff arms Washington cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (25) for extra yardage
Arizona Cardinals tight end Geoff Swaim (87) stiff arms Washington cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (25) for extra yardage / Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports

Swaim, 30, was a seventh-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Texas by the Dallas Cowboys. In four years with Dallas, he started 18 games and caught 35 passes for 336 yards and one touchdown. His best season was in 2018, when he had 26 receptions for 242 yards.

After one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019 as a free agent pickup (13 catches, 65 yards), Swaim spent three seasons with the Tennessee Titans. There, he caught 52 passes for 351 yards and five scores. In 2021, Swaim had career-bests in receptions (31) and touchdown catches (3) while accounting for 210 yards.

The Arizona Cardinals signed Swaim in free agency last season. He'd have 10 catches for 94 yards in limited action for an even more limited system. Over his nine-year career, Swaim has 110 receptions for 846 yards and six touchdowns.

At 6'4" and 260-Lbs., Swaim is a lean but effective blocker. He offers very little threat as a downfield receiver. However, he's proven to be an adequate complementary target in short yardage and over the middle.

Tyler Kroft

Sep 27, 2020; Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft catches a game-winning touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Rams
Sep 27, 2020; Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft catches a game-winning touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Rams / Jamie Germano-USA TODAY NETWORK

Kroft was a third-round choice in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Rutgers by the Cincinnati Bengals. Over a nine-year career, he has caught 105 passes for 1,081 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Kroft's first four years were spent in Cincinnati, where he also had his best production. Over those four seasons, he had 67 receptions for 661 yards and eight scores. His best year was in 2017, when he pulled in 42 passes for 404 yards and seven touchdowns. A foot injury limited him to just five contests the following year, after which the Buffalo Bills signed him off the free agent market in 2019.

Never quite duplicating his success in 2017, Kroft toiled on the depth charts of the Bills for two years, then Jets and 49ers for one year each before appearing in only eight games with Miami last year. Over those five seasons with four teams, he had a combined 38 receptions for 420 yards and five touchdowns.

Kroft may not be the downfield threat he was early in his career. However, he's 6'6" and 252-Lbs. with very good hands, excellent route experience, and can be an adequate blocker as a second tight end.

Brycen Hopkins

Los Angeles Rams tight end Brycen Hopkins (88) catches a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during  Super Bowl LVI
Los Angeles Rams tight end Brycen Hopkins (88) catches a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl LVI / Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams selected Hopkins in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Purdue. He was expected to add another pass catching threat for the Rams after 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven scores as a senior with the Boilermakers.

Hopkins never really developed with the Rams. He played in only 10 games through his first two years, catching just one pass in only 61 offensive snaps. He'd finally get a chance to shine during the Rams Super Bowl LVI victory, however, catching four passes for 47 yards.

Hopkins had his best, albeit production in 2022, pulling in seven receptions for 109 yards. He had five catches for 78 yards last year before being allowed to hit free agency this offseason.

A smooth route runner, Hopkins could be a late-bloomer that could develop in the right scheme. He's a below average blocker, but has good athleticism at 6'4" and 245-Lbs. to be used as a motion tight end or from the slot to create mismatches.

Jimmy Graham

November 11, 2012; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) gains extra yards after a catch against the Atlanta Falcons
November 11, 2012; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) gains extra yards after a catch against the Atlanta Falcons / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Even at 37 and after 13 seasons in the NFL, Graham would be the best and most logical option for the Saints. He's no longer the nearly unstoppable threat he was in his first stint with New Orleans from 2010 to 2014. However, Graham would still be a viable threat near the goal line and other specialized packages.

Graham has lost some of his speed and incredible agility from the years of NFL wear and tear. But he's still 6'7" and 265-Lbs., still has great hands, still runs proficient routes, and still uses his body in traffic better than perhaps any tight end in NFL history.

Those are traits that former offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael evidently forgot about last year. It's a good bet, that if Graham chooses to return, that Klint Kubiak would find ways to take advantage of those attributes to benefit the offense.

The biggest question over Graham is whether he still wants to play. If he does, he's indicated that New Orleans will be the first team he'll communicate with. However, Graham is also preparing for a rowing expedition across the Arctic Ocean.

Graham's Arctic trek isn't scheduled to be done until late July, around the time that the Saints start training camp. It's a good bet that New Orleans won't contemplate bringing in another tight end until later in the summer, if at all. Expect the Saints to see where Johnson's recovery is and how players like Holker, Jacobson, and Hudson are developing in their offense.


Published
Bob Rose

BOB ROSE

Covers the New Orleans Saints as a senior writer for the Saints News Network.  Co-Host of the Bayou Blitz Podcast.