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A look at the available unrestricted tight ends

First the news: The Miami  Herald learned late Thursday that Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline will remain Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline as he has agreed to a five-year, $30.8 million contract with the Dolphins. The deal has $12.5 million in guaranteed money. So one wide receiver down but the Dolphins need more help for their passing game this offseason. Speaking of which:

The Dolphins need to upgrade their tight end position. Have I mentioned that a few thousand times in this space? Have I said it enough to get my point across?

Good tight end play is a quarterback-savior. Good tight end play is a red zone headache for the defense and a helpmate to the offense. Good tight end play is a matchup problem all over the field. Good tight end play is no longer a luxury in today's NFL.

It is a necessity.

And the Dolphins have had mostly average tight end play for way too long.

Don't misunderstand. Anthony Fasano is a smart, hard-nosed, try-hard player. He's a good blocker and able pass receiver. But he's not an elite player. He's not even a player New England coach Bill Belichick worries about stopping when he's forging a game plan to play Miami. Indeed, Fasano is the guy Belichick wants the ball to go to in the Dolphins pass offense because it means the weapons are being erased from the game.

Fasano is an unrestricted free agent. I assume the Dolphins will re-sign him or try. Why re-sign a merely solid player at a position that needs upgrade?

Well, the guys behind Fasano haven't been good enough to take his job and the folks the Dolphins might consider signing come with significant questions.

First consider Miami's history at adding tight end behind Fasano:

Charles Clay. He has little production but at least he's got unmet potential.

Jeron Mastrud. He tries hard.

Will Yeatman. His best career move was becoming an offensive lineman.

Mickey Shuler. Not his dad, unfortunately.

Joey Haynos. Tall. That's all.

Kory Sperry. One-TD wonder.

John Nalbone. Bust.

Michael Egnew. Not holding my breath.

Let's face it, the Dolphins haven't had a whole lot of luck finding great tight ends of late. But as unrestricted free agency is about to dawn over the weekend with the chance for teams to speak with agents representing all the league's available players, this is a good time to discuss the possibility that Miami's luck changes.

This coming free agency period actually offers a possible fit or two for the Dolphins that might deliver modest upgrade. (Honestly, I'd look more to the draft if I were the Dolphins, but one cannot discount the possibility Miami may dive into free agency to address the position.)

There are a dozen or so unrestricted free agents about to come to market barring them signing last-minute deals with their current teams. Here are some followed by my thoughts on them:

Tony Gonzalez: He's retiring and if he doesn't he's returning to the Falcons. Simple as that.

Ben Watson: Might have made mild sense five years ago but not now.

Martellus Bennett: Very, very intriguing. He has all the measurables -- 6-6, 270 pounds, runs well, strong. And he had a good season with the Giants. But his 55 catches for 626 yards was also his best NFL season. And he wants to get paid. I don't mind players wanting to be paid for their historic production and potential ahead. But when a player that has one good year wants to get paid, that worries me. The Titans might be suitors. I cannot say I'm sold if the price is going to be the $6-$7 million per year I've heard tossed around.

Dustin Keller: He's almost exclusively a pass-catcher. He's 6-2 and 250 pounds and has been something of a security blanket for Mark Sanchez. The Jets would like to keep him, but they're not moving heaven and earth to do it right now. They're letting him test the market. He's coming off an injury-riddled season so that raises questions. He's going to be 29 so that's not an issue. Yes, adding him subtracts from the Jets. But I'm not sure how significant that is in the grand scheme of things.

Delanie Walker: I don't like him. He drops way too many passes. He's only 6-foot. He is a product of a great system, great coaching and great complementary talent, in my view. Put him on the Dolphins and he does not beat out Fasano. He would be better than Charles Clay, but that's not the goal, I don't believe.

Dallas Clark: Only if Peyton Manning comes with. And he's not.

Jared Cook: He fancies himself a receiver and wanted to be franchise tagged as such by the Titans because he often lined up in the slot. The Titans decided not to wage that fight and so they didn't tag him and he's likely going to hit the market. Oh, and he also wants to get paid. The rumored orbit is $8-$10 million per year. The Rams, where former coach Jeff Fisher now works, are said to be interested. Dolphins fans are also interested. I'd be interested too if the price wasn't so sky high.

Fake GM Salguero advice: Draft a tight end. Or pray Green Bay's Jermichael Finley is released.

 

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