With all the talks of the Vikings in the Kirk Cousins market, one area being overlooked is the tight end position. Though they have Kyle Rudolph as a pass threat and David Morgan is a fan favorite as a blocker, Minnesota has had a rough time finding a second tight end the last few years. In 2017, the Vikings make a big push for Jared Cook, but ultimately lost out as he signed with the Raiders. The Patriots and Eagles have proved what having multiple tight ends can do. And with dynamic playmakers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, an extra weapon could make the Vikings’ offense lethal.
Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer like to bring in young free agents typically and build through the draft. There are some talented tight ends in this year’s draft pool. But for the purposes of this piece we are only looking at potential free agent signings. Bigger names like Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates and Benjamin Watson are older and thus, fall outside their usual formula. There are, however, a few appealing targets who have youth and production on their side. Let’s take a look at a few.
Eifert, like Rudolph, is a Notre Dame product and a former first round pick. When healthy, Eifert has been one of the better tight ends in the league. In 2015, he racked up over 600 yards and 13 touchdowns in only 13 games. Likewise, in 2016, in only eight games he had nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns.
He has, however, been a victim of the injury bug and has never played a full season. Recent reports have him cleared from this past year’s back injury. But for the foreseeable future, he is a question mark. The Bengals, per reports, want to bring him back on a one year prove-it deal. The talent is certainly there for a large contract should he be able to prove he is healthy. Zimmer was with the Bengals during Eifert’s rookie season, which could play a role in drawing him to Minnesota. Contract-wise, he would be on par with Rudolph, making around $7 million a year.
Burton is one of the hottest non-quarterback names on the market. A member of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl squad, he made a name for himself despite playing behind Brent Celek and Zack Ertz. In 2017, he had 23 receptions for over 400 yards and five touchdowns. And while his reception and yards totals both went down significantly from the year before, his average yards per a catch was up.
Burton is going to be a tough free agent to go after. Reports have Celek finally retiring which would leave his spot available for Burton to slip into. Also, in 2017, the Eagles placed a second round tender on him, showing how much they want to keep him around. Even though the Eagles will have to trim much of their Super Bowl Squad, Burton may be one piece they want to keep. His stock is steadily rising and he could be a number one tight end very soon. Contract-wise, teams may have to spend $5 million-plus to get a shot at him.
Willson is not a household name at tight end, but very soon could be. With the Seahawks, Willson has produced steady numbers over the last five seasons, averaging nearly 13 yards a catch on limited targets. He has a knack for big plays and long scores. With his speed and height, choosing between him and Rudolph could make defenses cringe. Most likely, Willson would be looking for $2 to $4 million a year with incentives.
Predicting the Vikings’ non-quarterback moves is tough. It all depends on how much of their nearly $65 million in cap space they dedicate to that position. Also factored are the core players the Vikings need to re-sign and what the Vikings do at wide receiver. However, if the Vikings plan to make a run at tight end, a healthy Eifert is the way to go. While Burton may be getting all of the attention, Eifert paired with Rudolph would be a lethal combination. Their mutual Fighting Irish background could also mean immediate chemistry Look for the Vikings to possibly take a shot at Tyler Eifert in free agency.