For many, many years, the Miami Dolphins have been trying to acquire a premier tight end.
This year’s NFL draft class is very, very deep and it seems a certainty Miami will draft at least one player at the position.
But if Miami wants to secure a veteran tight end starter in free agency — with Julius Thomas expected to be cut and Anthony Fasano considering retirement — there are a few intriguing options, as well.
Coach Adam Gase really needs a versatile, athletic tight end who can split the seam and be a dangerous red zone threat for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The biggest splash signing would be former Miami Hurricane football/basketball player Jimmy Graham, who was not as productive in Seattle as he once was in New Orleans. Graham would likely flourish more with Gase than he did as a Seahawk.
Graham, 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, led the NFL with 10 red zone touchdowns in 2017.
But Graham is 31 years old and has played eight NFL seasons.
Perhaps a younger player such as Trey Burton of the Philadelphia Eagles would be a nice fit.
Burton, 26, and a former Florida Gator, had 37 catches in 2016 and 5 touchdowns on 23 catches this season.
Burton tossed a memorable touchdown pass to Nick Foles in Philadelphia’s recent Super Bowl win. At the right price, the former undrafted free agent could be the ideal late-bloomer plucked at just the right time.
Of course, projecting what he may be able to do as a starter could also result in overpaying.
The Dolphins like the potential of A.J. Derby, added late in the season, and MarQuies Gray can certainly serve as a capable third-string tight end. But new tight end blood is needed.
Let’s take a look at Miami’s 2017 production, and some players on the tight end free agency radar:
2017 Starting Tight Ends
Julius Thomas (13 starts)
Pro Football Focus ranking: #50
2018 Contract: $6.6 million salary cap hit; expected cut
Anthony Fasano (six starts)
Pro Football Focus ranking: #59
2018 Contract: Unrestricted free agent
Top 2018 free agent tight ends (and some more affordable options)
Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
Pro Football Focus ranking: #33
Contract Expectation: $6.7 million per year market value (Spotrac)
Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles
Pro Football Focus ranking: #13
Contract Expectation: $7.0 million per year market value (Spotrac)
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Pro Football Focus ranking: N/A
Contract Expectation: $7.6 million per year market value (Spotrac)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets
Pro Football Focus ranking: #44
Contract Expectation: $4.1 million per year market value (Spotrac)
Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks
Pro Football Focus ranking: #43
Contract Expectation: Earned $1.8 million last season
Ed Dickson, Carolina Panthers
Pro Football Focus ranking: #39
Contract Expectation: $3.5 million per year market value (Spotrac)
Virgil Green, Denver Broncos
Pro Football Focus ranking: #63
Contract Expectation: Earned $2.8 million last season
Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Pro Football Focus ranking: #41
Contract Expectation: Earned $690,000 last season