3 Potential Landing Spots for Free Agent Tight End Jordan Cameron
Who can blame him?
After having a breakout season in 2013, the soon-to-be 27-year-old tight end does come with some risk baked in to his free agency price tag. He sustained three known concussions during the 2014 season, causing him to miss six games. And he's had concussion issues in prior seasons.
But when Cameron is healthy and on the field, he’s a difference maker. He’s averaged 12.8 yards per reception over the past two years without the semblance of a decent quarterback. And, despite never being consistently healthy in 2014, his Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target of 0.65 was better than Jimmy Graham (0.59), and Martellus Bennett (0.57).
The 2015 free agent tight end class isn’t necessarily the best ever, but it's a really solid group for tight end needy teams, and features notable players: the aforementioned Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Charles Clay, and Niles Paul. Even with Jordan Cameron’s injury past, his NFL production over the last two years accompanied by a stellar athletic profile should not be ignored.
So, what teams are most in need of Cameron’s services in the future?
2014 starting tight end on roster for 2015: Levine Toilolo (37th out of 44 tight ends with at least 30 targets in Reception NEP) | Atlanta available cap: $23.4M (15th most)
The 7-9 Falcons were not a very good football team in 2014, despite vying for the NFC South championship into Week 17. However, the lone bright spots on Atlanta’s roster right now is their quarterback, Matt Ryan, stud wide receiver, Julio Jones, and the 33-year-old, Roddy White. Those three carried Atlanta in 2014 and kept the team competitive throughout the season, posting the league’s seventh-best Adjusted Passing NEP, right behind Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
GM Thomas Dimitroff’s handling of the tight end position in 2014 was peculiar. Perhaps the team thought Levine Toilolo was a passable option, but he’s really not. Toilolo ran more routes in 2014 than Rob Gronkowski, but his 10.7% target share per route run and his 0.52 yards gained per route run was last among qualified tight ends.
Clearly, the athletic, coverage-beating tight end, Jordan Cameron, would be a welcome addition to the 2015 Atlanta Falcons and give them a option in the middle of the field they so desperately miss since Tony Gonzalez retired. Falcons new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan obviously knows Cameron well from his 2014 season in Cleveland, so connecting these dots makes a lot of sense.
2014 starting tight end on roster for 2015: Luke Willson (24th of 44 tight ends in Reception NEP) | Seattle available cap: $25.5M (12th)
Seattle desperately needs receiving options, period. The team let Golden Tate walk during the 2014 offseason, traded Percy Harvin, and essentially had patchwork wide receivers for Russell Wilson to throw the ball to for the entire 2014 season. Wilson desperately needs a reliable mid-range option, but also someone who can win in contested catch situations in the red zone. Cameron certainly fits those criteria.
Even though Seattle does need an upgrade at tight end, I’m not sure how actionable Jordan Cameron to Seattle is. It certainly could happen and it would make a world of sense, but the team is going to give Russell Wilson a well-deserved payday, which will weigh heavy against the cap in 2015. And, frankly, wide receiver is an even bigger need than tight end.
The only Seattle receiver who finished above the league average of 0.66 in Reception NEP per target this year was Doug Baldwin (0.69). Granted, tight end isn’t a dire state of need -- Luke Willson actually was eighth among all tight ends with 40 or more targets in Reception NEP per target. But Cameron would be a welcome upgrade to an offense that lacks any firepower outside of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.
Green Bay Packers
2014 starting tight ends on roster for 2015: Richard Rodgers (38th out of 44 tight ends in Reception NEP) and Andrew Quarless (21st of 32 tight ends in Reception NEP) | Green Bay available cap: $23.7M (14th)
Jordan Cameron to Green Bay would be unfair, especially if GM Ted Thompson can manage to re-sign free agent Randall Cobb. I’m sure Aaron Rodgers would welcome Cameron with open arms, as the Packers haven’t had a legitimate starting tight end option since Jermichael Finley went down with an injury in 2013.
However, that wasn't a problem in 2014, and to circumvent the lack of a tight end presence in the red zone, the Packers made Jordy Nelson the third-most targeted receiver inside of the 20-yard line and Cobb the fifth-most.
The Packers don’t need Jordan Cameron as much as Atlanta and Seattle do, but they do need an upgrade at tight end. The Packers may give third-round pick in 2014, Richard Rodgers, another year to develop, but Cameron would just be another weapon to eat up the middle of the field for a team that had the most potent passing attack in 2014, leading the league in Adjusted Passing NEP.