We continue our look at the Titans as they approach the 2010 offseason with a look at Mike Heimerdinger's seeming favorite position, the tight end. That discussion must start with a discussion of the free agency. Both of the Titans' most-used tight ends in 2009 are not currently under contract for the 2010, and the Titans must decide whether they want them back.
Last offseason, Bo Scaife was tagged as the Titans' franchise player, earning him a salary of $4.462 million, or just short of $100,000 for each of his 45 receptions for 440 yards. Those figures were down from his 2008 production of 58 grabs for 561 yards, but his yards per attempt totals were pretty close to the same (9.7 v. 9.8). He saw 14 fewer targets in 2009 than he did in 2008, and his catch percentage fell slightly, but that's probably easily explained by the Titans playing from behind more and possibly more downfield attempts. By now, you know pretty much what you'll get production-wise from Mr. Scaife.
The question becomes one of value: he's one of those players affected by the new CBA. He'll be a 5th year player, and thus possibly restricted, but to keep a player restricted, you have to offer him 110% of his previous year's salary. That comes out to just over $4.9 million, which would be an exceptionally large amount of money for a particularly unexceptional TE. The least bad indicator we have is that the Titans plan to make qualifying offers to all their restricted free agents. By the amount of the qualifying offer, he'd be subject to 1st and 3rd round compensation if any team tried to make him a qualifying offer, but I'd guess the Titans would be willing to take less than that to trade him. That's purely a question of economics on the part of the Titans' front office, and includes factors that we can't know. I'd be equally unsurprised to see the Titans make a qualifying offer or not make one. The only way to avoid a qualifying offer would be to agree to a long-term deal, and there's been no talk of that happening.
The other free agent, who will certainly be a free agent, is of course Alge Crumpler. The man they call Algernon has not been the receiver he was early in his career with the Falcons that some Titans fans envisioned him being, but has been a quality blocker for the Titans and enabled Bo to play more of an H-back role. He had 27 receptions last year, down from 24 the year before, for a total of 222 yards. That's a rather feeble 8.2 yards per grab, down from 10.7 per the year before. Yes, part of that is the 25 or so pounds he picked up in the offseason, but it's also a function of turning 32 late in the season and having creaky knees. He might look to retire, but if an NFL team is willing to pay him, he might as well keep playing. Will the Titans look to retain him? He'd certainly come cheaper than Bo, but the answer to that may depend on...
Craig Stevens. The ex-Cal Golden Bear was considered the best blocking tight end in the 2008 draft when the Titans took him in the third round in a mild surprise, since TE was not a position of particular need. With Crumpler around, he's played sparingly the first two seasons, with his career catch total unchanged at 1 after the 12 games he played in 2009. Those 4 games he missed? NE and the home game against the Jaguars, after suffering a concussion on the opening kickoff of the Sunday nighter against the Colts, and the late season games against the Dolphins and Chargers with another concussion. Maybe it's just me, but I'd call that a little worrisome. Stevens is under contract through the 2011 season on his rookie deal, for very reasonable salaries, so he'll be around for a couple more years if his head permits it.
The fourth tight end on the Titans' 2009 roster is the one who had the greatest expectations and put up the least production, rookie third round pick Jared Cook. He clearly possessed (and still possesses) great physical skills Scaife and Crumpler did not and do not have, but picked up an ankle injury in training camp that hobbled him early in the year and struggled for all of the season, putting up only 9 catches for 74 yards. When in the game (rarely), he almost always either lined up in the slot or was flexed out wide. Hopefully he'll put it together in 2009, but without a catch in the Titans' last 5 games, I can't point you to a positive trend. But, uh, think about what a 6'5", 246# guy who can run might be able to do!
What's the outlook? We'll know more as the deadline nears for the Titans to make Scaife a qualifying offer or lose their rights to him. Personally, I'd let him go and see what his market value with the rest of the league is, but that's a potentially risky move and depends on Cook progressing. The Titans tend to be more risk-averse than me in my living room, so expect him to get a qualifying offer. I also suspect they're satisfied with Crumpler's blocking skill and immobility and expect him to be offered a modest 1-year deal. Given Stevens' injury history, that's only reasonable. With those moves, the Titans would be done.
If the Titans don't retain either Scaife or Crumpler, they'll add at least 1 and quite possibly 2 more people at the position. Ex-Patriot Ben Watson is probably the premier unrestricted free agent, while bringing back Ben Hartsock might be more of a budget-oriented blocking TE who's younger than Crumpler. If the Titans do retain Crumpler and Scaife, they'll probably also add an undrafted free agent to serve as a camp body.
What say you, Titans fans? Want to keep Scaife, Crumpler, both or neither? Are you still intrigued by Cook's potential? Ready for Stevens to prove his worth?