Top Tight Ends Left In Free Agency

With the release of Ladarius Green, Steelers’ Nation has understandably turned their attention to any options on the free agent market. That in mind, let’s view the top options out there.

Gary Barnidge – Released by the Cleveland Browns after they drafted David Njoku in the first round. He caught 55 passes for the Browns last year but he clearly regressed: His average dropped from 13.2 to 11.1 from the year prior and touchdowns had a more severe fall, nine to two. Barnidge turns 32 in late September. 22 career receptions and three touchdowns in his career against the Steelers.

Brandon Myers – Also turning 32 in September. Hasn’t had much NFL success as a receiver lately, finishing his time with the Bucs in 2016 with only seven receptions. Had 79 grabs with the Oakland Raiders back in 2012. Good size at 6’4, 250. Not much upside but maybe he comes into camp and compete.

Jacob Tamme – Coming off season ending shoulder surgery. Had 59 receptions for the Falcons in 2015 before Austin Hooper chipped away at his production. Just turned 32. Undersized at 6’3 230.

Larry Donnell – The New York Giants decided not to retain him, drafting Evan Engram in this year’s draft. Great size at 6’6, 265. 15 catches for just 6.1 yards last season. Best days are behind him but big blocker with a receiving resume. Over 100 career receptions. Came back from but suffered a concussion in October. So optics wouldn’t look great. Turns 29 in November.

Jim Dray – The other Browns’ tight end. Pretty much strictly a blocker but the team is familiar with him. Cheap camp add as insurance against David Johnson or if Xavier Grimble flames out.

Wes Saunders – Long shot. 7th round pick of the Steelers in the 2011 draft. Caught four passes and a touchdown with the team his rookie year. Ended up getting suspended and last in the NFL in 2014 with Indy. But got himself in great shape and did make stop to Steelers’ facility earlier in the offseason. Would definitely be outside looking in to make team.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Matt Correll

    Not a very enticing list… I think we are probably better off just seeing what we have in Grimble, Orndoff, and Odom.

  • nikgreene

    Agreed. None of these vets are anything more than a stopgap option if Jesse James is injured. I prefer the team go with the younger guys.

  • William Weaver

    X-man.. step on up

  • steeel

    Barnidge. He had no QB’s. Tony Gonzalez in his prime would regress in that offense.

  • nikgreene

    Maybe the Steelers can poach a rookie TE another team tries to shuffle to the practice squad?

  • stan

    Larry Donnell was plagued by drops in his Giants career. He’s an intriguing guy to add but you wouldn’t want to count on him as a #1 player. I’d be happy with Barnidge or Tamme too.
    As with the Warren news, I’m presuming the Steelers knew about this possibility before draft day and made their decisions accordingly. Therefore, they probably are happy enough with James, Grimble and Johnson with the UDFA from Pitt as a back-up plan.

  • george

    No thanks-injury history not good. . I think we go with what we have unless someone more promising gets cut after preseason.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Like who? Doubt any of the good ones would be put on the practice squad

  • S.T.

    Time to get on the Rob Blanchflower hotline…

    I kid, I kid…

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Good post, Alex. I was just looking that up myself.

    My first thought was to trade for Julius Thomas. But then I remembered the Dolphins already did that. Ha.

    In my opinion, Barnidge is the clear choice. He will be turning 32 this year, but he doesn’t have as much wear and tear as most TE’s. I don’t like delving too deep into the stats with him (because he has played with such poor QB’s) but if you look at his actual 2015 tape you will see his receiving skills. He’s a good route runner and he has great reliable hands. He has only fumbled ONE time in his entire career (his rookie season).

    I’m not saying he’s the long term answer. But he could definitely contribute for the next year or two while Ben is still here.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    I like Odom, we’ll see how he progresses.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    What exactly does that mean?

    Barnidge has only missed 3 games in his entire career. He played all 16 games in 4 of the last 5 seasons. If anything he plays THROUGH injuries.

  • Simon Cutts

    Much like the long snapper pick became clear with the release of Warren, does the team’s second round pick now make more sense with release of Green? Big physical over the middle red zone ball catcher.

  • Steelers12

    Any trade options

  • Steelers12

    Good point

  • T3xassteelers

    I like Tamme and Donnell! Hope they go after one of them.

  • Roger G

    What’s David Paulson up to these days?

  • S.T.

    So who are the stars of next year’s draft at TE? Who do we start falling in love with way too early only to go full Yinzer on the team when they don’t give us who we want on draft day?

  • S.T.

    Substitute teacher. Blanchflower is still a free agent, though, so…

  • WeWantDaTruth

    Barnidge would be a nice stop gap for a year or two.

  • Kevin Artis

    Roll with what you got.

  • Alex Kozora

    I generally agree. Maybe bring in a guy like Dray as some camp competition.

  • S.T.

    And keep one eye on the waiver wire.

  • nikgreene

    Any of the fifth round guys are a possibility – Kittle, Legget. It wouldn’t be the first time a 5th rounder didn’t make the final 53. I doubt the Steelers would have much problem carrying a development tight end considering their lack of depth at the moment.

  • John

    Second that. Youth movement at this position. And of course I can’t get “Time Is Tight” out of my head now…

  • Jennifer Russell

    why not use Watt as TE and pass rusher?

  • kev4heels

    the FO had to know this was a possibility.
    a TE SHOULD have been taken in the first 4 rounds. PERIOD

  • Rob

    Vernon Davis, Ben Watson, and Antonio Gates (funny enough) are older but seemingly still effective players, on the tail-end of their careers, in young and crowded rooms. There’s a chance, but it’s not a great list imo.

  • Ace

    Too bad this was suck a weak class for TE’s. Donnell’s the best bet but he’s still just a #2. I’d rather roll with who they got.

  • Steelers12

    Jesus, lets get Tony Gonzalez on the phone ASAP

  • John Noh

    If you’re going to do that, I’d rather have Heath back.

  • Steelsmoke

    Run whatcha brung

  • Milliken Steeler

    No thanks to his production DESPITE, playing for the Browns? lol

  • pittsburghjoe

    Pheew, Im sure glad we drafted a TE in the 4th round or this would be concerning.

  • Milliken Steeler

    We could talk to those same Jags about Ben Koyack however, I think he’s part of why it was easy to let Thomas go. He’s up and coming and a great blocker.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Well hopefully some others will become available with the post June 1st releases, we should be looking at TE, ILB and Safety.

  • Michael

    Gave L. Green $10,000,000 to catch 18 passes. Where do I sign up? Other TE choices were available without concussion issues. Dropped the ball, FO.

  • Steeldog22

    He’s in fight club. His name is David Paulson.

  • steelersfan

    Not sure what Steelers were thinking in draft. Really a 2nd string QB over a potential starter at TE? That’s how deep the TE class was this year. We could’ve taken a mid round player and been much better off at the position. Unreal.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Agreed although it took a collective effort to duplicate the receiving numbers that L Green put up Im with you i’d bank on all of the guys getting better this year minus David Johnson. Who knows maybe they find something in the Fordham kid Odom

  • Jim Foles

    i think we will see barnidge in b&g soon…

  • Jim Foles

    Wrong Barnidge?

  • Michael

    Can FO recoup some part of signing bonus if it was a failed physical?

  • RMSteeler

    I still feel that JuJu will get MOVE TE routes. Keep the TE’s we got for inline blocking. Let JuJu develop the downfield jolts to CB’s and ILB’s on running plays and crossing routes to other WR’s. Be the guy not had since Hines. Ben could have had some influence in this WR taken that high. Guess we’ll find out. List of TE’s available is dreadful. Don’t waste a roster space for a dreg.

  • Jim Foles

    exactly… Barnidge ranked 25th among 63 qualified tight ends last season

  • steelersfan

    Jesse James is the happiest man in America right now

  • steelersfan

    Mind boggling . No idea what Colbert was thinking.

  • steelersfan

    But it was one of the best classes for TEs in the draft….

  • Quan Hurst

    Trade? Minny? Bmore? N.O.? LA?

  • Sam Clonch

    It would be hard to look at anything prior to 2015, since Barnidge was basically a nobody prior to his one year wonder year. He’s pretty much the definition of a fluke. He had like 50 catches total his first 6 years. 2 years he had ZERO catches. One of those being his rookie year, which is probably why you think his fumble happened as a rookie and not his second season, when it actually happened.

  • Terrible Towlie

    this clears the way for Odom to make it

  • CP72

    What’s the first rule of Fight Club?

  • kongmw

    oh wow this crop is really picked over at this point. jesse james can’t be worse than these on the list.

  • Nick Webb

    We just got a 6’4″ 230lb WR back, does that lessen the blow?

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Hard pass on all. Wait for training camp cuts and go from there. I know we’re ok, but I really liked Green.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Ben forced our hands with a tremendous bluff.

  • Sdale

    Probably just too tough to ask a rookie to learn OLB and TE at the pro level in year one. Once he’s a beast at OLB, they would maybe flirt with the idea, but we need him to be very good at one thing, not OK at a couple things. Remember, he apparently wasn’t a good enough TE in college to keep him in that position, so it probably would not work out.

  • Steel City Slim


  • deuce_seven

    Ravens have 6 TEs on their roster who have caught TDs in NFL games.

  • Jason

    The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.

  • ND_Steel

    He was a good player and too bad he doesn’t get a do-over with a good QB vice what he had in Cleveland, but he’s 32 and would be coming into a new system…pass. Heath just retired at 33.

  • Steelers12

    We can dream, tony went out healthy. Heath had injuries no way he comed back

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I honestly wouldn’t mind a trade, but no one really comes to mind right now. Head still spinning a bit.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    For some reason I think this is still gonna work itself out just got that feeling

  • LucasY59

    doubt it because he played last yr

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Oh I’m not worried, just out of left field. I expected Green to play and play well.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Just think we played most of last yr without him anyways but man was I dreaming of possibilities with all our weapons this season

  • Larry Kraus

    Have the Steelers browsed the big guards and forwards that didn’t get drafted into the NBA? They usually have good hands and can run. Some very good tight ends were basketball players in college.

  • Jason

    with the Warren and Green release what do they have to offer 3.5Mish?

  • Michael Mosgrove

    So you broke both of them. everyone get Jason

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Would be better off with big al as optional te.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    I wanted shaheen bad given a redraft if have easily taken him round 1 and rusher in round 2.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    3rd qb*

  • Michael Mosgrove

    In blocking andpass protect he is.

  • steelersfan

    Right I was going by his projected ceiling but yeah that makes it even more frustrating

  • SilverSteel

    On another perspective, Tomlin is probably relieved. Not knowing how it was going to turn out affects what players get cut in a cascading fashion. He hates unknowns. Now he can just make the best decision with 3, without having to keep an “insurance” guy which eats up a spot taking away someone that still has value….Allen, Gay, Chick, Moats, Adams. Now he just has to feel confident of Bryant and it will be a killer camp.

  • Jim Foles

    Barnidge has more tread life left.. he didnt play much his first 5 years with carolina.

  • SilverSteel

    I would not hate that or the guy from Pitt.

  • Jason Vancil

    Is Barnidge healthy? Well at least we have 20 Wide Recievers on the roster

  • Jason Vancil

    Yes. Many teams are successful without a dynamic pass catching TE.

  • SilverSteel

    Hey, the whole JJSS acting as a mini TE was my original idea. 🙂 I think it can work simply because Tomlin wants to get him the snaps and the WR group is packed. He can be a hybrid due to his blocking skills.

  • Rotten Sircus

    AGREED !!!

  • SilverSteel

    Remember when we used to have all kind of gadget plays that actually worked? That was a while ago. Watt probably could easily find the soft spot in the zone and catch a few.

  • SilverSteel

    But isn’t he older and slowing down? I hear d his production dropped lately.

  • MC

    Had no idea Saunders was brought in again. I remember him making some catches that got me really excited about his potential, could be worth a look if he’s stepped up his game since his last tenure.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Jake Butt and George Kittle were available in the 4th round but they preferred to draft Dobbs a QB backup which they have already.

  • SilverSteel

    I wouldn’t mind seeing that in the RZ once or twice.

  • Tino Mendez

    WR group is crowded, Can we trade Coates for a TE?

  • Jim Foles

    this on pff. Barnidge ranked 25th among 63 qualified tight ends last season with a 70.6 overall grade. His 76.0 pass blocking grade led all tight ends in 2016 but he ranked 50th with a run blocking grade of 43.6.
    Barnidge’s 123 pass blocking snaps last season lead all tight ends as he allowed just three total pressures.
    Barnidge wasn’t used much in the deep passing game in 2016, he ranked third among tight ends in 2015, however, in terms of both catch rate (60 percent) and receptions (six) on deep passes (balls that travel at least 20 yards in the air).
    Over the past two seasons, Browns QB’s had a 111.1 QB Rating on 73 targets to Barnidge at the intermediate leve

  • PaeperCup

    Can’t Barnidges drop in production be attributed to the carousel of QBs they had last year?

  • PaeperCup

    Who would Kittle not be able to beat out on that 49er squad? They do however have Hikutini as well…he might end up being available. Not at all a good blocker, but a decent pass catcher.

  • J.

    Uggg again i go back to last years draft when we could have taken Hunter Henry.

  • deuce_seven

    It was. But Orndoff has a 6/7 round draft grade by most. Some even had him in the 5th.

  • deuce_seven

    Based on what I’ve seen, Odom has terrible hands.

  • NinjaMountie

    He was young and he improved a lot as the year went on. Lets see where he is after camp.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Very true!

  • Wil Masisak

    Here’s another long shot: Derrick Griffin, Griffin is the exact height and weight of Green, and his most recent 40 yd was identical to the 40 Green ran coming out of college. Griffin has some outlier athletic talent, and background as a WR. Why not replace Green with a Green clone?

  • Wil Masisak

    And I would love a short-term deal with Gary Barnidge.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Maybe he meant he appears to be too healthy for us to show much interest in signing him, wasnt injured enough over his career = injury history not good.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Doubt Ben and AB agree with this assessment, we will make a move somehow to get another TE that can be a threat down the seam even if we have to trade a draft pick to get one, watch.

  • Jason

    And then everyone would be screaming that we needed a corner. Burns will b more valuable to us than Henry would have been. We don’t need all pros at every position on offense. With this O line if Ben, Brown,Bell, MB, Ju Ju, Rogers and Coates isn’t enough then Ben doesn’t deserve to be mentioned as a top tier qb. Brady would throw for 60 td with those weapons. Don’t get me wrong, a TE to work the middle would be great but I think James and Grimble can get it done.

  • Brian Miller

    Bet we pick someone up after cuts are made. Otherwise, our TEs go back to being mediocre nonfactors.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    Wes Saunders had good reviews coming out but dropped and flamed out due to substance abuse. If his head is on right it might be worth a camp invite….

  • stan

    I have a feeling there’s a major red flag out there with him. Even the Browns aren’t stupid enough to cut a cheap, quality player like him and its not like other teams have been beating down his door. Still, he’s worth a flier to see if he’s still useful at this point. We don’t need him to be a pro bowler.

  • stan

    Dobbs has a chance to be a starter after Ben retires. Landry has reached his ceiling as an adequate back-up. That’s the difference.

  • Lee Foo Young

    Dobbs also has a chance to be another Dennis Dixon.

    I’d have rather they drafted the TE.

  • John

    Tamme was terrific for Matt Ryan and Falcons before he got hurt. Might be an option depending on health.

  • John

    The Tomlin answers on Warren at draft were telling. They wanted him to be healthy at draft time and then maybe not later.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Unfortunately, after looking over many rosters of the teams that drafted the top tight ends pickings seem very slim on potential cuts, I cant even come up with a decent trade scenario, might have to eat my words on this, only guy I really saw that is mildly interesting is Jace Amaro, currently with the Titans but they have Delanie Walker and drafted Jonnu Smith in the 3rd round. Amaro is likely expendable to them, just not sure he has the speed we need at the position.

  • steelmann58

    Guys is barniage done as a pass catcher? I think the Steelers will be on the look out a pass seam te that might get cut from another team

  • nikgreene

    Fair points. Perhaps I overstated my knowledge of those specific players. My general point was just that the Steelers will hopefully look to improve the TE position before opening day, and the ways to add to the roster go beyond the currently available FA.

  • RickM

    K.C. has drafted a QB to replace the 33-year-old Smith. I don’t think the Steelers needed Ben to announce anything to realize they better get someone as a successor to a guy who is 35 and who’s injured every year. Almost every GM in the league would likely be scouting for a QB given those circumstances. This is on the front office. They’re the ones who clearly felt Green would play and therefore prioritized a back-up RB and a 3rd string QB, for the time being at least.

  • Hard Row

    When the steelers drafted a backup RB and backup QB, it pretty much closed the door on them getting a TE. They had to have known about Green so TE must not have been a priority.

    I think they wanted another target, not necessarily another TE. They probably had interest in Njoku and Engram but after them, JuJu is a better option.

    They could use a combination of JuJu or even Bell out of the backfield to approximate that F TE.

    I can see a 2 RB set with Conner and Bell where Bell motions out wide. The defense would likely have to counter that with their base formation and the steelers would have the matchup advantage.

  • Delboka

    We have “The David Johnson.”

    Why look for a back up? He is bound to catch 3 passes in his 2 year contract.

  • SoCal Steeler

    Might as well bring Barnidge in and throw him a TD pass in each Brownies game just for the heck of it.

  • Gautama Om

    Very possible considering there was a ton of TE’s drafted this year which would more than likely push off a decent TE off another team’s 53.

  • Rusted Out

    I think Hernandez is still hanging around somewhere.

  • gdeuce

    Barnidge is too concussed

  • Taylor Williams

    Patriots won the SB without gronk.

  • gdeuce

    had Martellus Bennett

  • gdeuce

    it won’t be a bluff when he’s gone in a year or two

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    And we’ll probably draft a qb nxt year too.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Well, this really baffles me. I was against the TE because my feeling Green was ok but as we see it apparently is not. The FO had to have some sort of idea of this thus is why we have a brand spanking new LS that we acquired in the 6th round. I would also like to think we had some sort of setiment on Green as well which would make me wonder why in the heck we did not get a TE in a strong TE class. Really puts the “?” in your head.


    He was AWFUL with the Jets (my BF is a Jets fan so I have heard him pissing and moaning about Amaro!!).


    Right but we are competing for a SB – we need more than decent!!
    When he DID play, having that pass catching TE in the O really opened things up.
    A shame for everyone involved.

  • Kevin Reich

    Ravens have six and will have to cut one. Pitta, Ben Watson, Max Williams, Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore, Waller.

  • RickM

    Good point, but we are 30th on the waiver wire. We will likely be left with the dregs of anyone cut by another team.

  • Ryan Johnson

    Tim Wright is out there. He tore his ACL last year and I have no idea about his current health, but he’s only 26(ish) and has some pass catching chops. He looked good with TB a few years back.

  • Terrible Towlie

    did you see his highlight film? looked good there, and its a pro coach’s job to get him to play like that every time

  • Grant Humphrey

    I kinda like Barnidge but beyond that none of these names are enticing

  • corduroyninja

    The Tryout TE (Phazahn Odom) is from Fordham, the Tryout LB was from Pitt. It would be awesome if they could make Odom into a weapon. With a name like Phazahn he already sounds like he has some sort of lasers.

  • steeel

    Jess James is a plodder and a weak blocker. Grimble is a guy and inconsistent. Johnson is a slow blocker.
    We need upgrade to maximize our wideouts. No threat from tight end hurts this offense. The Steelers had the right idea with Green, just got screwed on medical. We will still have offensive problems, especially in red zone if we don’t upgrade.

  • Thomas

    I would take some Gary Barnidge, probably not that expensive, underrated player in my book.

  • Time for James to step up and be a leader to these new rookie TE’s on board. See what happens. The F.O. should not spend money on a F.A. T.E…..especially on anybody on that particular list that is currently available.

  • J.

    Sorry but a corner could have been found on the FA market that could do what Burns did last year and will do this year. There is no tight end out there that is going to do what Hunter could have done for us.

  • Aj Gentile

    Oh noooooo

  • Original BearTrap

    would love to see a list of potential targets that may be cut loose. id love to see us make a play for tim wright since hes proven to be healthy, and the lions have too many tight ends anyways