Many talented tight ends switching teamsPosted: Wednesday April 10, 2002 1:07 AM
By Bob Harris, Special to CNNSI.com
This is the fourth article in an ongoing series taking a position-by-position look at this year’s free agent movement. The focus this week is on developments among the league’s unrestricted free agent tight ends:
Stephen Alexander: Signed w/Chargers on March 15; $15M/3-yrs; $3M SB
That's a pretty good deal for a guy who missed nine games with an ankle last year and finished the season with a grand total of nine catches for 85 yards.
In fact, it's so good that even though the Chargers desperately needed somebody to replace Freddie Jones, there have been rumblings out of team headquarters that GM John Butler could have gotten Alexander for a lot less. Indeed, it is believed that none of Alexander’s other suitors -- the Texans, Cowboys or Lions -- offered anywhere close to the money he'll get in San Diego.
But perhaps the worst news regarding Alexander is the fact that some observers in Washington are of the opinion Alexander had lost a step even before the injury.
On a more positive note, Alexander said he feels great and is very familiar with the system San Diego offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will run, having worked with Norv Turner early in his career. As Butler noted, "We're bringing in a tight end who knows this offense inside and out. It wasn't Stephen Alexander's fault he had a bad ankle. He's been to a Pro Bowl and he's been a Pro Bowl alternate."
In 2000, Alexander, a former second-round pick, had career-highs in receptions (47) and receiving yards (510). That's the version the Chargers are hoping trots out in September.
Overall, the 6-4, 246-pound Alexander has 122 career catches for 1,302 yards and nine touchdowns.
Marco Battaglia: Signed w/Buccaneers on March 18; $3M/3-yrs.
However, despite Battaglia's shortcomings as a blocker, head coach Jon Gruden recently told reporters "Marco is no run of the mill guy at tight end."
According to Tampa Tribune beat writer Roy Cummings, free agency is one avenue the team will explore, but there is a very good chance the team will use the draft to add the player it needs. But no matter who is brought in, Cummings is looking for Battaglia to start and get the bulk of the workload at that position.
Luther Broughton: Signed w/Bears on March 6; $550K/1-yr; $25K SB.
But the 6-2, 248-pounder is familiar with offensive coordinator John Shoop, having spent his rookie season in 1998 with Carolina. At the time of his signing, Broughton's agent Mark Bartelstein said, ''We think there is a real good chance for a lot of playing time. We have a real good feel for the situation.''
Broughton had his best season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, when he caught 26 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns.
Byron Chamberlain: Re-signed w/Vikings on March 19; $8M/5-yrs; $1.7M SB.
The Vikings will reportedly run a double tight-end set with Chamberlain as the primary pass-catching tight end and Jim Kleinsasser, who is moving back from fullback, serving as more of a blocker.
The Vikings also plan to use Chamberlain as a third receiver in some sets. Because he is such a fine pass catcher, Chamberlain forces teams to remain in their base defenses and will give the offense major options. The Vikings believe Chamberlain, 31, will continue his emergence.
The bottom line? Chamberlain returned to a team that will take advantage of his receiving abilities while not asking him to do much blocking.
He earned a Pro Bowl berth last season in his first as a starter after languishing as a backup in Denver his entire career. He had 57 receptions last season, and the team thinks he can catch up to 70 balls this season in this scheme.
Cameron Cleeland: Signed w/Patriots on March 25; $525K/1-yr; Christian Fauria: Signed w/Patriots on 3/17; $3.8M/3-yrs; $800K SB.
With incentives that his agent Ed Cunningham labeled "easy to reach," Cleeland should make close to $1 million this year if he stays healthy.
But staying healthy has been a major problem for the former Husky, who has suffered three serious injuries to his Achilles tendon. Last year, he was able to play in only nine games before another injury and subsequent surgery shelved him.
"The key for Cam is just to get healthy," Cunningham said. "When he's healthy, he'll contribute a lot. We're confident [New England head coach Bill] Belichick and [offensive coordinator] Charlie Weis will find him an opportunity to show what he can do."
There's no denying Cleeland can be a stud when healthy. In 1998, his rookie year, Cleeland played every game, catching 54 balls for 684 yards and six touchdowns. Since then, he's played in just 20 games. He missed the entire 2000 season. In 2001, he had 13 catches for 138 yards and four TDs.
According to Cunningham, the Patriots and Cleeland's doctors agree he should be 100 percent by training camp. Cleeland, who has a background with Patriots strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik, is already working out regularly and should make an appearance at the Pats' offseason workouts that begin next week.
The general consensus among those who follow the Patriots closely says Cleeland would be the best of the bunch if it weren't for the injury problems. Next best would be Fauria, but he's had injury problems, too.
As Fauria's previous head coach, Mike Holmgren, recently noted: "He's a terrific young man, a great leader. I just think he had too much metal in his body [from various surgeries] over the years and I didn't think he was going to last.''
Fauria has admitted as much, telling reporter while rehabilitating one of his off-season surgeries, "I've got enough screws in me to build a bridge."
Freddie Jones: Signed w/Cardinals on March 18; $5.1M/3-yrs; $1.25M SB.
It's also worth noting that Jones played last year for offensive coordinator Norv Turner in a system similar to the Cardinals. Rich Olson, who completed his first season as Cardinals offensive coordinator last year, had been Turner's right-hand man with the Redskins.
Despite the arrival of Jones, head coach Dave McGinnis said he wants yet another, now probably in the draft. Inconsistent starter Terry Hardy is coming off shoulder and knee surgeries and might not be ready for camp. Even when healthy he was inconsistent. There are no bona fide backups on the roster although converted WR Tywan Mitchell is a receiving threat.
Brian Kozlowski: Re-signed w/Falcons on April 4; terms undisclosed.
However, the former Connecticut standout, who entered the league with the Giants as an undrafted college free agent, is best utilized as a No. 3 tight end and H-back. While he isn’t a powerful blocker for in-line situations, he is effective on the move, in motion as an H-back.
For his career, he has appeared in 117 games and started 15 of them. Kozlowski has 62 catches for 771 yards and eight touchdowns.
Itula Mili: Re-signed w/Seahawks on March 14; 3-yrs; terms not disclosed.
Which explains Seattle's continuing interest in Shannon Sharpe.
If the Hawks fail to land Sharpe, look for Holmgren to draft a tight end -- especially if Miami's Jeremy Shockey or Colorado's Daniel Graham is available when the Seahawks make the 20th pick in the first round.
Washington's Jerramy Stevens also interests Holmgren, but the youngster has said he might be more interested in playing elsewhere after having been involved in a few highly publicized legal scrapes in Seattle.
Pete Mitchell: Signed w/Jaguars on March 22; $650K/1-yr.
"I realize he's a tough coach to play for, but you respect him and one of the greatest things about Tom is that he'll tell you what's going to happen," Mitchell recently said of Coughlin. "I told him the grass isn't always as green somewhere else. As a player getting up in years, I don't want to be jerked around. He's fair and he's obviously a winner.
"He turned that [Boston College] program around and he turned the Jags into a contender. I'm sure he'll do it again."
As one observer recently noted, the addition of a second tight end to work behind starter Kyle Brady isn't particularly exciting, but it certainly makes sense from Coughlin's perspective. The coach reportedly sees the addition of players like Mitchell as an inexpensive way to tilt the locker-room sentiment back in his favor after so many disgruntled veterans turned against the coach last year.
Dave Moore: Signed w/Bills on March 11; $3.8M/3-yrs; $500K SB.
However, Riemersma's agent, Jack Wirth, denies reports that his client has been told he'll be released if he refuses to re-work his current contract.
Wirth said he spoke with general manager Tom Donahoe after the Bills signed Moore and he was assured that Riemersma was still very much in the team's plans because new coordinator Kevin Gilbride plans to use a lot of two-tight end sets.
"Everything's status quo," Wirth said. "We've talked this all out and nothing's going to be done there with Jay. They have two good tight ends and that's what they wanted. They're trying to upgrade and it's a good move. Jay's got no problem with it. Jay's competed every year for his job, and he's started three years and he expects to compete and start this year."
Just for the record. ... Moore started 65 straight games with the Buccaneers. He finished with 35 catches for 285 yards last season, and his 24 career touchdowns rank fourth among Tampa Bay players.
Jeff Robinson: Signed w/Cowboys on March 6; $4.8M/4-yrs; $850K SB.
Those six blocked kicks were a league high.
So Dallas essentially handed Robinson, who is widely considered one of the NFL's best deep snappers, a $1.1 million signing bonus to ensure punter Micah Knorr and kicker Tim Seder can relax and do their respective jobs.
Of course, Robinson, who caught 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown last season, will also provide depth at tight end following the recent release of veteran starter Jackie Harris. His signing leaves three tight ends on the team's current roster. Of the three, Robinson and Mike Lucky are considered better blockers than receivers while James Whalen is a receiver who struggles to block.
David Sloan: Signed w/Saints on April 3; $7.05M/4-yrs; $1.2M SB.
"David is an every-down tight end that can run, catch and block. That consistency is something we have lacked for the past few years," general manager Randy Mueller said in an interview posted on the team's official web site. "He has been to the Pro Bowl and has been one of the league's best at his position, so he will be a great addition to our offense."
Sloan proved to be a perfect match for the West Coast offense installed by the Lions in 2001, posting 37 catches for 409 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns while starting 15 contests. He finished the year especially strong with 18 receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the final four games. Sloan's seven touchdowns, which were a career-high, were the NFL's third-highest total for a tight end last season.
"His size and his speed will make him a threat in our offense," Saints head coach Jim Haslett stated. "David will have an impact with his blocking and should be a weapon in the red zone."
Last season was Sloan's best year statistically since going to the Pro Bowl in 1999, when he set career marks with 47 catches for 591 yards and four touchdowns. …
That’s it for this week. Check back next week for a look at the latest developments among the league's place-kickers.