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The New Reality, No.82: 2017 Free Agent Tight Ends

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football

Whether a contender or not, projecting to the offseason and the next season climate is key to maximizing roster spots on the back-end of a dynasty roster. Closing up the 2016 regular season, I will outline the key 2017 NFL free agents at each offensive skill position. Here is a look at the tight end position:

Check out Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers in previous installments.

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Bennett looks to be back in physical form as a mismatch this season. However, he has been a marginal fantasy producer regardless of a healthy Rob Gronkowski in the lineup or not thus far. Bennett was one of the strongest metric prospects at the tight end position entering the NFL since 1999 by my metrics. He will command starter-level money and commitment on his next deal. Spotrac projects something in the neighborhood of $9 million per year, a similar deal to Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, and Delanie Walker in past contracts.

Cameron Brate had positive buzz in the offseason after flashes in 2015, then Austin Seferian-Jenkins was shown the door by Tampa Bay. With the starting role, Brate has continued to prove his worth with plus ball skills and impact down the seam in contested situations. Brate is the TE9 in points-per-game through 13 weeks and a restricted free agent in the offseason. Expect outside interest in Brate after a breakout season, on pace for 63-700-8.

Jordan Cameron has fallen like a rock on all fronts in recent years. His athleticism has not shown through and the production as been abysmal with a dose of concussions for good measure. Since his 2013 breakout season of 80-917-9, Cameron has fewer receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the three years from 2014 onward. Approaching 30 years old, it is hard to imagine more than a one-year 'prove it' type contract for Cameron on the NFL and fantasy fringe.

Vernon Davis is the most interesting name on the tight end list. His athleticism, even in his 30s, is higher than nearly all starting tight ends in the NFL. Davis is TE25 this season despite being the No.2 to Jordan Reed in Washington outside of Reed's missed games. Spotrac.com projects a contract in the neighborhood of 3 years, $8.8 million for Davis in the offseason. Expect Davis to get a shot at a starting job with his next opportunity.

Vance McDonald is another producer in 2016 poised for interest this offseason. A former second round pick and strong metric prospect with above-average marks in size, athleticism, and collegiate production, McDonald is finally translating his physical traits into production (four games of 10+ PPR points since the 49ers Week 8 bye). 

Jack Doyle had 12 PPR points in four games during the first half of the season, but has tailed off since. Doyle is a classic two-way tight end with surprisingly soft hands and red zone prowess. Doyle has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 2016 than his first three seasons combined. The Colts gave Doyle a low tender (with no compensation if another team signed him) in the offseason showing the lack of interest. Expect more on the open market for Doyle after his to-date career year and strong tape in 2016.

Jacob Tamme has been hurt of late but serves as a veteran stopgap option for a team to bridge into a younger option or 2017 draft pick. 

Jared Cook has tailed off every year since his tepid peak season back in 2013. He signed a one-year deal with Green Bay and has been in a split with Richard Rodgers most of the season. His athleticism has not maintained like Vernon Davis' over the years. Expect a one-year deal if Cook stays on the NFL fringe as an unrestricted free agent this coming offseason.

While the clear No.2 to C.J. Fiedorowicz in Houston, Ryan Griffin is enjoying his best statistical season-to-date in 2016, on pace to hit 400 yards. Griffin is finishing his four-year rookie contract and will be an unrestricted free agent. Griffin's incoming metric profile shows strong size and adequate athleticism traits. Expect a secondary role on his next contract.

Of the bottom half of the list, Erik Swoope and Gavin Escobar are the wild cards. We have seen them minimally through a few years but could emerge with larger roles down the line. Swoope has some flexibility and athleticism uncommon for tight ends and is finally seeing steady snaps this season for the Colts. Escobar has a massive frame with solid hands who Dallas has used as a split-out receiver, especially in the red zone at his peak during his rookie contract.