The 2022 offseason is well underway and the new league year is upon us. With an increased salary cap of $208.2 million for the 2022 season, the Baltimore Ravens will have more monetary resources to fortify their roster ahead of the draft next month.
The unrestricted free agent market will feature several quality to elite players at several of their top positions of need, as well as some that are under the radar but vital nonetheless. In this article, I’ll be breaking down free agent candidates that the Ravens can explore at tight end.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
The Ravens have been trying to effectively replace their former first-round pick ever since they traded him away following the 2019 season. Now that he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent and rumored to be open to returning to the team, bringing him back makes perfect sense.
Hurst is familiar with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme. He also might be more willing to accept the role of the No. 2 tight end after not making it as a No. 1 in Atlanta, before getting usurped by generational rookie Kyle Pitts.
In 2021, Hurst appeared in 13 games, made five starts, and caught 26 of his 31 targets for 221 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The former first-round pick has failed to live up to the hype he had coming into the league out of Alabama in 2017 and hasn’t blossomed into a premier player at the position. However, he is still very athletically gifted and at 27 years old, remains relatively young. Howard has yet to eclipse 34 receptions and 565 receiving yards in a single season, hasn’t caught more than a pair of touchdowns in the last three seasons and is coming off his worst statistical season despite playing in a career-high 17 games.
He won’t command top dollar on the open market and might even be willing to accept a one-year, prove-it deal from a team that heavily uses tight ends. If the Ravens are unable to reunite with Hurst, Howard would be a nice inexpensive consolation prize with an average annual salary of just $2.2 million, per spotrac.com.
Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals
After being linked to the three-time Pro Bowler is trade rumors over the last few years, the Ravens can now name their price for his services without giving up any draft capital — not counting the effect it would have on the compensatory formula. Ertz recorded 74 receptions, 763 receiving yards, and five touchdowns between his time with two different teams. The majority of his production coming after he was traded to the Cardinals.
While the 31-year-old still likely views himself as a starter and will look to join a team in need of a No. 1, they have a compelling case for the best No. 2 tight end spot in the league if his market doesn’t develop the way he envisions.
According to spotrac.com, Ertz is projected to command an average annual salary of $7.6 million on a two-year contract worth $15.2 million.
Evan Engram, New York Giants
Even though Engram hasn’t put up prolific numbers through five career seasons, the 2017 first-round pick hasn’t been in the most conducive situation to produce at a high level. Given his age and ability, Engram will likely be one of the most sought-after player at the position when the new league begins — especially after both Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz got franchise-tagged.
Engram is a young, athletically-gifted specimen at 27-years-old. He specializes as a pass-catching threat to the degree that some teams view him as a big-bodied slot receiver and not a tight end at all.
Engram caught 36 of his 73 targets in 2021 for 408 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 15 games and made 12 starts. He would more than adequately fill the complementary pass-catching role behind Andrews at the position and be a massive upgrade over Josh Oliver. However, his blocking skills — or rather lack thereof — doesn’t make him a likely fit for the Ravens unless they can get him at a bargain.
According to spotrac.com, he is projected to command an average annual salary of $6.7 million on a four-year deal worth just over $27 million.
Kyle Rudolph, New York Giants
After serving as Engram’s backup and occasional running mate in two-tight end sets for the Giants last season, Rudolph is clearly past his prime but wants to continue his playing career. At 32 years old, coming off a season where he recorded just 26 catches on 39 targets for 257 receiving yards and one touchdown, Rudolph can be had for cheap.
Since he was released by New York, he wouldn’t count against the compensatory pick formula if signed in the immediate future. However, there likely won’t be a rush to acquire his services so the Ravens could probably wait until after the draft to sign him if interested.
Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gronkowski could very well walk away from the game this offseason and named dropped a division rival as a preferred landing spot if he doesn’t. However, at this stage in his career, the future Hall of Famer is more interested in having fun and adding to his legacy. Even though the Cincinnati Bengals are fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, a healthy and hungry Ravens team can provide him with just as much of an opportunity to do both in 2022.
Last season, Gronkowski was the most productive member of the entire tight end class slated to hit the open market next week. He started all 12 of the games he appeared in and caught 55 of his 89 targets for 802 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his best statistical season since 2017.
Any contract he signs will likely be one or two years in duration at maximum with the majority of the guaranteed money upfront. As far as what type of salary he might command, spotrac.com projects he’ll sign a one-year contract worth about $9.6 million.