The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinion of the team.
The new league year is set to begin March 17, and head coach Ron Rivera is faced with a new challenge in his second season with the Washington Football Team.
Rivera took a team that held one of the top picks in the draft and turned it into an NFC East division champion in 2020. His next task is to improve upon Washington's 7-9 record, and that begins with free agency. Several of last year's acquisitions like Logan Thomas and J.D. McKissic played key roles in the team's playoff run, and whoever Washington signs in the coming weeks will be held to that same standard.
Washingtonfootball.com has been breaking down some of the players available at each position. These are the positions that have been covered so far:
Next up are the tight ends, which are uncertain beyond No. 1 option Thomas. (Check out the full breakdown of the position, HERE.)
Here are some intriguing tight ends who will be available in free agency.
Hunter Henry might be the most talented tight end available, but he'll also likely be the most expensive.
Playing on the Los Angeles Chargers' franchise tag last season, Henry, 26, caught a career-high 60 receptions to go along with 613 yards and four touchdowns. Spotrac expects Henry to sign a four-year, nearly $44 million contract, which would make his annual average value more than three times that of Thomas, who signed a two-year deal last offseason.
Washington has the cap space to pair Henry with Thomas and give offensive coordinator Scott Turner two capable pass-catching options, but the team may also decide to spend its money at other positions.
"Henry] is a productive and capable tight end with plenty of tools to be an excellent receiver in any offense,” **[the PFF staff wrote as a part of its free agency rankings.** "Henry has the size to box defenders out underneath, the savvy to find holes in a defense and enough route-running skills to separate over the middle."
Smith is expected to be a few million cheaper per season than Henry, and at just 25 years old, his best football seems to be ahead of him. A 2017 third-round pick, he is coming off a career year with 41 catches, 448 yards and eight touchdowns. "He's an incredible red-zone weapon," Around the NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal wrote in his free agent rankings.
One of Smith's biggest strengths is what he can do with the ball in his hands, which is evident by his 6.8 yards after catch per reception. He's also an improved blocker and earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 75.2 this past season, the highest of his career. Smith has never received more than 65 targets in a single season -- Thomas had 110 last season -- so he could be in store for a breakout year in a more prominent role with Washington.
"This pass-catching tight end should see a robust market as teams look to add weapons in the middle of the field," CBS Sports' Pete Prisco wrote in his free agency rankings.
Everett will likely be cheaper than Henry and Smith but could have similar upside.
A second-round pick in 2017, he has spent his entire career alongside Tyler Higbee, who has outproduced him the past two seasons. Considering the Los Angeles Rams signed Higbee to a four-year, $31 million contract in 2019, they probably won't have enough money to retain the dynamic yet underused Everett.
"Sean McVay could never fully unlock Everett," Rosenthal wrote in his free agent rankings, "but the tight end has the size and speed to carve out a long NFL career."
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Everett has improved every season, hauling in 41 catches for 417 yards and a touchdown in 2020. While he would be paired with Thomas in Washington, it seems like there would be enough targets to go around for the 25-year-old to exceed those totals and establish himself as a long-term contributor for the offense.
"Given his age and upside, as well as his relatively small workload throughout his NFL career, he could be an intriguing option for a team looking to get more athletic at the position and expand its passing game options," the PFF staff wrote as a part of its free agency rankings.
Tight ends coach Pete Hoener saw potential in Thomas and then turned him into one of the most productive players at his position. Could he do the same with Dan Arnold?
The 6-foot-6 wide receiver-turned-tight end went undrafted in 2017 but is coming off by far his best professional season with 31 catches, 438 yards and four touchdowns. When Kyler Murray threw to Arnold, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback had a passer rating of 128.9.
"Arnold's listed at 220 pounds, helping to explain why he's one of the most purely athletic pass-catching tight ends in football," Rosenthal wrote in his free agent rankings.
The biggest knock on Arnold has been his blocking, but if Hoener can help him improve in this area, he would be a valuable asset as Turner attempts to make his offense "as unpredictable as possible." He would be able to outrun linebackers and make contested catches over defensive backs -- all while costing significantly less than the options mentioned above.
If Washington does not re-sign Jeremy Sprinkle, it could look to sign another blocking tight end. Enter Chris Manhertz.
Manhertz has been with the Carolina Panthers since 2016, when Rivera was the head coach and Hoener was the tight ends coach. Manhertz played in all 16 games during each of his first two seasons there, and the team liked him enough to sign-him to a two-year extension following the 2018 campaign. The general manager who orchestrated the deal? That would be current Washington executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney.
"Over the course of the years I've been here, I think I've established myself as a reliable teammate, a reliable asset -- especially in the run game. I'm fortunate to be with an organization that values that," Manhertz told the team website upon re-signing. "It's exciting and rewarding. It's also humbling just knowing where I started. To get to this point, it's a testament to perseverance. It took a lot of persistence, a lot of hard work and just not giving up."
The former Division I basketball player who had never played football has come a long way since entering the league in 2015. He has played in at least 15 games in each of the past four seasons and made a career-high 12 starts in 2020.