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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Examining team needs: Tight end

By Rich Cimini

Prepare for an overhaul.

The New York Jets' most experienced tight ends, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen (Boston Market) Winslow, are headed to free agency. Winslow won't be back. Behind them, the Jets have Zach Sudfeld and Konrad Reuland, coming off major knee surgery. In other words, it's time to send up an S.O.S. signal.

Jeff Cumberland
Retaining Jeff Cumberland, a free agent, might be the best value for the Jets.
You look around the league and you see so many young, athletic tight ends playing integral roles in the passing game. The Jets went the other way last season, de-emphasizing the tight end. In fact, they ran only 206 plays with two or more tight ends, 29th in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their tight ends combined for only 63 receptions. It's time for some fresh blood.

Projected offseason plan: They need two immediate contributors. In an ideal world, it would be a pass-catching tight end and a thumper at the point of attack. Geno Smith needs a reliable target, especially in the red zone.

Free agency: Assuming Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) lands the franchise tag, it's a thin market with no impact receivers. Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers) is young and talented, but he's a risk, coming off spinal-fusion surgery. Maybe the Jets can approach him with a one-year, prove-it contract. Another top receiver is Dennis Pitta (Baltimore Ravens), but he missed most of last season with a hip injury. The Jets had a high draft grade on former first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions) when he came out in 2009, but his receiving numbers have fallen off. He was used last season mostly as a blocker; he'd certainly add some punch at the line of scrimmage, but he won't threaten the seam as a receiver. Former first-rounder Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals) might be a thought if he's released. All things considered, the best value might be Cumberland, a decent two-way tight end. If they can retain him for $2 million-to-$3 million a year, and add a threat in the draft, they'd be OK at the position.

Draft: It's not a deep crop. You're talking about five or six draftable tight ends. The consensus top choice if Eric Ebron (North Carolina), a 6-4 pass catcher who could come off the board in the middle of the first round. He'd be hard to pass up with the 18th pick. He averaged nearly 16 yards per reception last season, and he can move around the formation, creating matchup advantages. Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) was a pass-catching machine, catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards last season. At 6-5, he has terrific size. The knock on him is that he's a one-year wonder. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. Insider has Amaro going to the New England Patriots at No. 29. Figures, right?