New deals for tight ends?
A $10.5 million annual salary for a bonafide third receiver seems asinine on paper. Then again, Hooper will be that for the Browns, unlike Kittle and Kelce will for their respective franchises. The duo is their team’s go-to weapons, and general managers must be willing to cough up the dough due to their production alone.
Since 2016, four receivers have more total yards the Kelce. Over the past two seasons combined, both have finished in the top 25 in receptions and receiving yards. That production was done with Alex Smith, C.J. Beathard, and Nick Mullens commanding the offense for a season or two.
The price will undoubtedly expand for tight ends if they’re viewed more than just a secondary weapon. Last season, Las Vegas saw Darren Waller breakout with a career-best 90 catches for 1,145 yards. Since joining the flock, Mark Andrews has played the No.1 role for Lamar Jackson with a combined 98 catches, 1,404 yards and 13 scores in two years. Let’s not forget about Zach Ertz, who, despite battling injures, has averaged over 815 yards and 75 catches as the Eagles’ go-to man.
How the position has evolved
Tight ends are becoming multi-dimensional as the game evolves into a more pass-first league. No longer just blockers or final receiving options, the more they can do, the more valuable their roles become to the salary cap.
Players like Ertz and Andrews have proven their roles as well-rounded top targets. Waller recently signed a four-year extension, but if he continues to produce and becomes more durable as a blocker, that price could go up. Young talent such as Denver’s Noah Fant or Los Angeles’ Hunter Henry could only add to the plethora of untapped potential in the role.
Teams will now be looking for the next Kelce or Kittle in their draft conversation. Adding another element to their offense, the role now could become a critical discussion in meetings when it comes to negotiating new deals.
“To see [Kittle] him be able to emerge as one of the best tight ends in the league and get a deal like that, it helps out a lot of the younger tight ends in the league,” New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook said. “I hope they’re paying attention because if you put up numbers like him if you work hard and continue to run routes and block like him and work like him, it pays off — which is awesome.
“That does nothing but help out the tight end market.”
Congrats to defenders
An early congrats should be for the backline of defense. With more tight ends elevating their skills, it’s another job for defensive backs and cover linebackers to prep for in meetings. And when their skill sets limit the number of receptions, that plays in their favor when discussing new deals.
The average linebacker cannot cover tight ends such as Kittle and Kelce. Instead, teams will need to find larger, faster cornerbacks to play in the slot or hybrid linebackers that can emulate perfect coverage. The Arizona Cardinals could be testing the waters with that method this season with the addition of Isaiah Simmons.
Arizona struggled to cover tight ends from their 3-4 front last season. Instead, Simmons, the hybrid superstar from Clemson, will likely not have a set role entering the year for that reason. Playing predominantly in the slot for the Tigers, the No.8 pick shined in coverage against larger options in the slot while showing great disciple defending the run.
Several linebackers, including Bobby Wagner, Darius Leonard, Fred Warner, Deion Jones and Matt Milano, will shine in coverage. Others can make plays from time, but also are one false step from letting up a touchdown.
With safeties having to play more up and in coverage, this boosts their stock in negotiations as they now are more than hard-hitters. The same goes for those linebackers that can add extra elements to their game outside of covering the flats or stopping a runner behind the line.
A new NFL negotiation
Kittle and Kelce are just the first to see massive deals at the tight end role. Any young talent could blossom and be entering the same category a few years down the line. Now scouts must look at a player by how he plays instead of what he plays.
As the NFL continues to mold into a new era, teams must be ready to defend a new target. Simply put, any “do-it-all” option is better than a one-trick pony. Team’s top options could also be blockers, while defenders who play the run could be a threat to lead the league in interceptions.
Thanks to Thursday’s deal, positions are pointless in contract talks. Instead, it’s all about what you do when the whistle blows and the play is underway.