Entering 2008, the Titans had lost 2 of their top 3 tight ends in the Bens, Troupe and Hartsock. To help carry the load with Bo Scaife, who was re-signed as a restricted free agent, the Titans picked up the ex-Falcon Alge Crumpler in free agency and spent their 3rd round draft pick on Craig Stevens out of Cal.
So, how'd everybody look? Scaife turned in a significantly better performance than I thought he would, nabbing 58 passes for 561 yards. Crumpler, on the other hand, spent a lot of time looking like a 30 year old tight end with a lot of miles on his body and creaky knees. Far from the receiving threat he was earlier in his career, the man known as Algernon set career lows with 24 catches for 257 yards. Stevens, who was billed as a fine blocking tight end, caught passes like it, playing mostly special teams and had 1 reception for 9 yards on the year, that in the Week 17 "who cares"-fest against the Colts.
In terms of contract, Stevens is signed through 2011, but Scaife will be an unrestricted free agent unless the Titans are able to re-sign him in the next five or so weeks after playing 2008 on the restricted tender. While the Titans are currently well under the 2009 cap, Crumpler is the one player on the roster I'd identify as a potential cap casualty, based on his production last year, plus a base salary of $2,000,000 and quite possibly a roster bonus as well. So, what will the Titans do? First, I'm sure Stevens will still be around. I also think the Titans will make a strong effort to resign Scaife, and I concur with Terry McCormick's asssessment this is likely to happen. While I indicated I think Crumpler could be a cap casualty, I think the Titans will probably keep Crumpler around for a veteran presence of whom not much will be asked.
If you're looking for free agent upgrades at the tight end position, you're looking at the draft, or at least draft picks. Texans TE Owen Daniels will be a restricted free agent, and he'll get at least the second round tender Scaife got. If you want Ben Troupe Redux, Cardinals TE Leonard Pope is another of the restricted free agents. In terms of true free agents, Scaife is the best name on the list. Other names include L.J. Smith of the Eagles (ask an Eagle fan about this guy, and count the curse words), Desmond Clark of the Bears (older than Crumpler), and Jim Kleinsasser of the Vikings. Yes, another year of Crumpler looks like a better option than those alternatives.
I suppose I should also mention the Titans re-signed FB/TE Casey Cramer after Josh Stamer's injury at the end of last year. Cramer's contract runs through 2009, as well, so he could be around for another year. If so, he could see time at H-back in additional to special teams duties, but I have a hard time seeing him being the actual 3rd TE. There's also Matthew Mulligan, who was signed to the practice squad in November. I'm ashamed enough to admit I completely forgot that happened, and freely admit I know almost nothing about Mulligan except to say that his chances of making the 53 man roster are probably pretty danged small.
Bottom line: I think the Titans try to re-sign Scaife, succeed at that, Crumpler stays on the roster for another year, and the Titans' TE lineup in 2009 looks a lot like it did in 2008. If they decide not to go with Crumpler again, I'd look for them to bring in a cheaper, younger veteran. What say you, readers?