Despite a limited salary cap situation, the Seahawks are looking to make a big splash in the tight end market this offseason. The first indication of their desire came last week when reports trickled down that they reached out to the Eagles about veteran Zach Ertz. Though it appears general manager John Schneider was merely doing his due diligence by checking in on Ertz’s market, the interest in upgrading at the position in a significant way looks to be very much real.
Last night, a source told our very own Corbin Smith the Seahawks are set to make an “aggressive run” at Titans unrestricted free agent tight end Jonnu Smith. With Ertz and Smith, Seattle is not only looking at two of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, but a pair of players who would eat up a considerable amount of cap space. Though they can create more than enough financial flexibility to realistically acquire either one of these players, they will have to pick and choose which positions they'll prioritize over others, and tight end is clearly one of those spots.
It’s a group that underperformed and was often underutilized in the passing game in 2020. Additionally, Greg Olsen - the Seahawks' notable free agent signing last year - has officially retired from the NFL and Jacob Hollister - their top pass-catcher out of the position - is hitting unrestricted free agency next month. As for the tight ends still on the roster, Will Dissly’s usage was inconsistent at best in his return from a torn Achilles, Colby Parkinson (foot) saw just two targets in his rookie season after starting the year on the non-football injury list, and Tyler Mabry is an undrafted free agent who spent the entirety of his first NFL campaign on Seattle’s practice squad.
Therefore, it’s rather obvious why the Seahawks have reportedly focused in on the position this offseason. It also helps that new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron hails from a Rams system that heavily relies on its tight ends - one of whom we’ll talk about in a bit - and quarterback Russell Wilson has typically played his best football when he’s had a crutch to lean on out of the position.
Even if they don’t land Ertz or Smith this offseason, there are still a few options for the Seahawks to explore. Let’s take a look at three tight ends they could also pursue.
If they’re in on players like Ertz and Smith, then there’s no reason to believe the Seahawks won’t have interest in Chargers unrestricted free agent Hunter Henry as well. While he’s viewed as the top tight end on the market this offseason, Henry has never put up elite numbers and has yet to appear in all 16 games of a regular season over the course of his five-year career.
That includes a 2018 season in which he didn’t play after suffering a torn ACL in OTAs. He’s also missed significant time due to a lacerated kidney in 2017, a tibia plateau fracture in 2019, and a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in 2020.
When he’s on the field, however, Henry is one of the league’s top pass-catching tight ends and blocks fairly well in the run game. If he can stay healthy, there’s a pretty good chance he’s one of the most productive players at his position next year. He claims to be prioritizing teams with good quarterback situations and the Seahawks - despite their recent drama with Wilson - have one of those, so Henry and the ‘Hawks could be a mutually beneficial match.
I’ve talked about Gerald Everett a few times over the past month, so I’ll try to keep this relatively short. With the poaching of Waldron and new run-game coordinator Andy Dickerson from Los Angeles, it’s become pretty clear the Seahawks love what the Rams have built over the past few seasons and that admiration likely doesn’t stop with their coaching staff.
Everett wasn’t a focal point of Sean McVay’s offense in L.A., but he made the most out of his limited opportunities. Catching 127 of his 204 targets for 1,389 yards and eight touchdowns in his four years with the team, the South Alabama alum should be a more affordable option for the Seahawks and may carry a bit of upside as well.
If Seattle doesn’t establish a new starter atop its tight end group post-draft and still has some money to play around with, they could wait until the summer to find their man. By then, the Vikings will be able to cut or trade Kyle Rudolph with very little dead cap ramifications if they so please.
The 10-year veteran’s numbers have diminished over the past few seasons, but 2020 was the first year in which he didn’t play all 16 games since 2014. Dealing with a foot injury suffered in Week 13, Rudolph finished the year on injured reserve. Before that, he logged 28 receptions on 37 targets for 334 yards and a lone touchdown.
Given that he’s still under contract for three years at cap hits in the $7.5-10 million range, it’s hard to see any team trading anything of worth for the declining 32-year old Rudolph. But if the Seahawks are looking at it from a one-year rental perspective and can guarantee his services for nothing more than a late-round pick, the potential dead money hits of $2.9 million in 2022 and 1.5 million in 2023 are manageable. It wouldn't be the most ideal situation, but they could do worse.