So much attention has been given to the New York Jets’ need at wide receiver this offseason that the tight end position is often overlooked. Tight ends can be just as valuable to a quality passing game, and tight end is almost as big a need for the Jets as receiver. An elite tight end can be a game changer in today’s NFL, and the Jets have to be looking to upgrade the position.
Last season, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow combined for 57 catches for 786 yards and 6 touchdowns. Winslow is gone and won’t be brought back, but the Jets did re-sign Cumberland to a 3-year, $3.7 million contract. Cumberland is big and fast, and there is definitely some potential there. However, the production has yet to match his athleticism, and his contract is more in line with numbers for a backup than a starter. He is penciled in as the Jets’ starter right now, but it is essential that the team bring in some competition.
Zach Sudfeld is Cumberland’s backup, and he showed some promise with the New England Patriots in the preseason last year. The Jets picked him up after he was released in October, but he didn’t make an impact as the team’s third tight end. Sudfeld will probably have to fight for his place on the roster in training camp, and although he should be the No. 3 tight end, the Jets can’t expect much production.
The Jets were linked to several veteran tight ends in free agency, but they failed to sign any of them. However, there are still a few options that could make for some interesting competition for Cumberland, including Ed Dickson and former Jet Dustin Keller. Jermichael Finley is the biggest name available, though he is coming off a spine injury that has cast doubt over his future in football. Finley is an exceptional talent when healthy, and he is certainly worth a flier if the doctors clear him. Dickson and Keller would both offer some experience at the position and could make for a nice pairing with Cumberland.
The other option for the Jets is to use the draft to target a tight end. They are rumored to be very high on Eric Ebron, and he will certainly be in strong consideration if he is available at No. 18. If not, Jace Amaro is the clear No. 2 tight end in the draft, and he would be an option if he slid into the second round. Both players were very productive in college and project as very good receiving tight ends at the next level.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Troy Niklas could be second round options, while C.J. Fiedorowicz should be available in the third. While there are promising players after the top 5, there doesn’t appear to be anyone who can make the immediate impact the Jets need. However, the Jets simply have too many needs to address all of them at the top of the draft. Something has to be left out, and it very well may be tight end.
Given that fact, it may be in the Jets’ best interest to target one of the veterans. Bringing in a player such as Keller would give the Jets another reliable veteran option and solidify the position. While landing someone such as Ebron would make a huge splash and be a significant improvement, tight end may not be a pressing enough need in John Idzik’s and Rex Ryan’s eyes to warrant a first round pick. Signing a veteran and working to continue Cumberland’s development appears to be the best option right now. If Cumberland improves, the Jets could end up in good shape at tight end. If he doesn’t, however, the lack of top receiving threat at the position will continue to plague the Jets.