2012 Arizona Cardinals: Tight End Is the Missing Piece of the Puzzle on Offense

Andrew Nordmeier@@AndrewNordmeierContributor IIIMay 9, 2012

Heap is the favorite to be the starting tight end in 2012.
Heap is the favorite to be the starting tight end in 2012.Rob Carr/Getty Images

There's no doubt that the NFL has turned into a passing league and teams need to have as many receiving options as possible in order to be successful.

In the last few years, we've seen the tight end evolve from just being another blocker to being a focal point in the offense. For the Arizona Cardinals, this has been a position that has been underused over the last decade and is the missing piece to take the offense from good to great.

Think about how teams like New England, New Orleans and Detroit utilize the tight end position. With an upgrade at the tight end spot, Arizona can put up more points in 2012.

So how bad is it for the Cardinals?

Of the three men who played the position, none of them had more than 27 receptions and they combined for a total of four touchdowns.

The trio of Todd Heap, Rob Housler and Jeff King had 63 receptions and 687 yards in 2011. Cornerback Patrick Peterson scored as many times on kick returns as the Cardinals tight ends did.

In 2011, there were 10 players that each had more receptions than the Cardinals tight ends did combined: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Aaron Hernandez, Kellen Winslow Jr., Vernon Davis, Dustin Keller and Antonio Gates.

The Cardinals tight ends narrowly edged out Brent Celek and his 62 catches in 2012.

Is the tight end the missing piece in Whisenhunt's offense?
Is the tight end the missing piece in Whisenhunt's offense?Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The lack of production at the tight end position is nothing new for the Cardinals. None of the players in that position have recorded 50 catches in any of the last 10 seasons.

What can the Cardinals do to improve the tight end position?

The draft has come and gone without a tight end being picked. None of the 17 undrafted free agents brought in by the team are tight ends, either.

The free-agent options at the position are rather thin. Visanthe Shiancoe, John Carlson and Jeremy Shockey lead the market and are not high-end options for the team.

Barring a trade, veteran Todd Heap looks like he has a lock on the starting job. Heap had a few seasons in Baltimore in the six-to-seven touchdown range. He only scored once last year in a season shortened by injury.

Heap has the size to effectively play the position but will have to settle for being Kevin Kolb's third option on passing plays. Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Michael Floyd will be the primary passing targets.

Running back Beanie Wells only had 10 catches last season so the Cardinals don't get much assistance from the backfield in the passing game.

Arizona needs to find a tight end that can draw coverage away from Floyd and Fitzgerald. That tight end should also be a force between the hash marks and burn opponents who play the Cover 2 defense. It would also free up room on the field for Wells to run.

This should be an easy question for head coach Ken Whisenhunt to answer. He broke into the league coaching tight ends for the Ravens and Jets before seeing his career take off as a Steelers coach.

Tight ends are a must-have position in the modern NFL. Getting one would go a long way to helping the Cardinals join the ranks of the high-power offenses.