Jay Gruden has his hands full as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins. Amidst a roster that requires attention at nearly every position, the tight end situation serves as no exception.
While it may not be a atop the list, the Redskins can afford to take a look.
What Jay Likes
During his time in Cincinnati, Gruden enjoyed two-TE sets with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert—two athletic bigs with strong hands and the ability to block.
In Gresham's three years under Gruden, he hauled in 166 catches for 2,387 yards and 15 scores—good for an average of 55 catches, 796 yards and five touchdowns per season.
And despite having one of the league's more athletic tight ends in Gresham, the Bengals spent their first-round draft pick last April on Eifert, who went on to catch 39 passes for 445 yards and two scores as a rookie.
Take a look at Cincy's offense last season, and it's clear Gruden not only enjoyed using his two physically imposing, dual-threat tight ends, but he did so creatively in order to create mismatches and increase offensive production at every position.
The Current Situation
As the roster stands today, the Redskins have a three-man pack led by Jordan Reed, who's coming off a stellar rookie season despite being riddled with injuries and only playing in nine games.
Behind Reed—and assuming Fred Davis isn't re-signed following yet another failed drug test, according to Jason La Canfora—the Redskins have Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul.
Although Paulsen has pulled in a few nice grabs over the past couple seasons, he makes a name for himself by being one of the hardest-working guys on the team. Any coach—whether it be Mike Shanahan or Gruden—can appreciate a guy who gives you everything he has, both on and off the field.
Paul, on the other hand, is a converted wide receiver who remains a work in progress. While he may not be the blocker that Paulsen is, Paul's history as a receiver makes him intriguing as a pass-catching type. Can Gruden get Paul over the hump at his new position?
How Gruden views Paulsen and Paul remains to be seen. The good news, however, is that Paulsen will be just 27 years old to start the season. Paul is just 25, and both come at a nominal price.
The Free-Agent Market
Spoiler alert: It's not great.
Sure, Jimmy Graham would look perfect in burgundy and gold. But let's keep sane, shall we?
If Gruden wants to take his chances in the free-agent market, looking at guys like Ed Dickson could have some upside. Maybe a Garrett Graham?
Dennis Pitta? Forget about it.
Jermichael Finley? There will certainly be a market for him, assuming he makes a full recovery from offseason neck surgery. But what kind of market?
While the Redskins do have some coin to spend this offseason, they can't afford to go Richard Branson. Their surplus in cap space this spring needs to be handled with extreme care. Signing a tight end in this market should only be done as a low-risk play for the team.
There's a lot to like in the upper echelon of the 2014 tight end draft class, but be weary of the drop-off. After names like Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro—both of whom the Redskins won't have a chance at—there's a step down, which includes guys like Austin Seferian-Jenkins and C.J. Fiedorowicz. After that, you're looking at projects and question marks.
With the Redskins' biggest offseason need being improved protection for Robert Griffin III, it's something that needs to be addressed by way of both offensive line and pass catching. Drafting a tight end like Fiedorowicz would be killing two birds with one stone, as he's a guy who can block in-line yet stretch the seam and offer a set of reliable hands for the quarterback.
If Gruden wants to add to his tight end corps, doing so by way of the draft seems wise. Not only is it a cost-effective approach, but the Redskins have the advantage of having high draft picks in the third and fourth rounds, providing them the potential for an ASJ or Fiedorowicz to fall in their laps.
On the other hand, with this draft serving as a critical building block for the new regime in Washington, perhaps Gruden gets the most value out of sticking with the group he has and using a combination of Reed, Paulsen and Paul to see what he can get out of them in his offense.