2014 NFL free agents: Jimmy Graham best of the available tight ends

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Jimmy Graham is the prize of the free agent tight ends.

The New Orleans Saints have one priority this offseason, and that's to keep Jimmy Graham on the roster.

The superstar tight end is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He's in line for a huge payday, and the Saints are likely going to be the team to give it to him if they are able. With at least 85 catches in each of the last three seasons, Graham has been the best tight end in football by a wide margin. He has also been Drew Brees' primary receiving weapon in a highly productive offense and easily one of New Orleans' most valuable players.

Graham is by far the best tight end on the market this offseason, but he's not the only one that could receive a solid contract in free agency. Teams are always looking for help at the position, whether it be someone to feature alongside their wide receivers or a second tight end for a two-tight end set.

2014 free agent rankingsQB WR RB TE OL DE DT LB CB S

Below, we'll take a look at some of the available tight ends, beginning with Graham:

1. Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)

No player caught more touchdowns in 2013 than Jimmy Graham, and it wasn't an isolated incident. In four NFL seasons, he has already racked up 41 touchdowns and two trips to the Pro Bowl. Unsurprisingly, he would be the consensus top tight end and one of the top players on the entire free agency market if the Saints are unable to bring him back for 2014.

Without much cap room to work with, it's not out of the realm of possibility either. The Saints could have some trouble even applying the franchise tag in a cost-effective way. Primarily used for his pass-catching abilities in a pass-happy offense, Graham will file a grievance if New Orleans gives him the franchise tag as a tight end.

Altogether, there is a decent chance that Graham hits the free agency market, where he would certainly be one of the top players available, if not the No. 1 guy.

2. Dennis Pitta (Baltimore Ravens)

Dennis Pitta rode a strong postseason performance (which culminated in a Super Bowl) in 2012 to high expectations heading into this past season. Unfortunately, his year was spoiled by a preseason injury, however. He eventually returned in Week 14 and made just one start. Pitta tallied 20 receptions for 169 yards in the four games in which he appeared.

Without much other competition on the market after Jimmy Graham, Pitta could be the recipient of the largest contract among tight ends in free agency if the Saints manage to bring back their All-Pro pass catcher. The Ravens could also choose to use the franchise tag on Pitta, with some cap space freed up thanks to the Terrell Suggs extension.

If Pitta is able to stay healthy for a team in 2014, there's no reason to think he can't return to the form that he showed during the Ravens' postseason run a year ago, during which he accumulated 14 receptions for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including one touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

3. Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers)

A scary injury ended Jermichael Finley's season early, but he still has enough left in the tank to land a contract this offseason. The Packers have a bit of depth at tight end, so they may allow Finley to test the market, depending on his contract demands.

If Finley can prove to teams that he has fully recovered from the spinal injury that was considered career-threatening at one time, he could be a solid option for bargain-hunting teams.

While he never quite lived up to his tremendous potential, he wasn't completely unproductive either. In six seasons with the Packers, Finley tallied 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns. Before suffering his injury, Finley was on a career-best pace in 2013. He racked up 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns in six games.

4. Fred Davis (Washington Redskins)

Once upon a time, Fred Davis was a promising young tight end with a bright future in the NFL. The Redskins even went so far as to slap Davis with the franchise tag in March 2012, giving the former second-round pick a one-year deal worth $5.4 million.

Since then, he has had injury and off-the-field problems, and is entering free agency at a bit of a low point. The talent is still there, however. Davis accumulated 59 receptions for 796 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games during the 2011 season, numbers that would be a welcomed contribution for many NFL offenses. If some team is willing to take a chance, they could get a talented tight end for cheap.

5. Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions)

The Lions made some changes to their coaching staff after underachieving yet again, and underachievement has defined the career of Brandon Pettigrew. A 6'5 former first-round pick with plenty of athleticism, Pettigrew never made the impact that the Lions had in mind when they selected him in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Pettigrew's production has slowly dropped off too. He finished with 416 yards and only two touchdowns during the 2013 season in an offense that finished third in the NFL in passing.

It wouldn't be surprising at all if the Lions continued to scrub their hands of underachievement and allowed Pettigrew to reach free agency where a change of scenery might be nice for the fifth-year pass catcher.

Other notable names

Kellen Winslow

After essentially being out of the league in 2012, Winslow rebounded last season with the Jets. He didn't regain the form he displayed as recently as 2011, but he was a solid contributor. He finished with 31 catches for 388 yards in 12 games. Winslow remains hampered by troublesome knee issues, and will be 31 at the start of next season. He could be in line for a short-term deal, especially for a team looking to add some quality depth.

Bear Pascoe

Pascoe will hit free agency after five seasons with the Giants. He has never been much of a receiving threat, finishing last year with 12 receptions for 81 yards. Instead, his biggest asset is his above average blocking ability. Run-first teams who utilize heavy personnel groupings could be interested in adding a very good blocking tight end.

Dante Rosario

Rosario has bounced around the league, and if he leaves Chicago, would join his fifth team in four seasons. He played a minimal role for the Bears last season, catching just one pass for 13 yards. He does bring considerable value as a blocker, and was an effective receiver earlier in his career.

Dustin Keller

Keller signed a one-year deal with Miami last season and was projected to start for the Dolphins. He suffered a brutal knee injury during the preseason and landed on injured reserve, however. Keller was an excellent receiver during his career with the Jets, and could be an attractive free agent option if healthy. Health is a big concern, however. He might be forced to take another one-year deal as a result of his issues.

Scott Chandler

Chandler set career-highs with 53 receptions and 655 receiving yards last season. The 28-year-old is more of a receiver than he is a blocker. He graded negatively in both pass and run blocking last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Teams looking for a pure receiving threat, however, could turn to the 6'7 tight end.

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