One of the most important traits a dynasty owner can have is the ability to be proactive instead of reactive. So when it comes to the sudden, troubling news surrounding Patriots’ star tight end Aaron Hernandez, it’s imperative we cover all our bases and attempt to stay ahead of the curve. Though as of now there’s no hard evidence linking Hernandez to the recent murder near his North Attleboro residence, there’s a lot of “smoke,” even involving allegations that Hernandez shot a colleague in the face this past February. With the possibility that the consensus top-three tight end could miss game time, contingency plans must be enacted.
What follows is a short list of targets Hernandez owners should consider in the event he’s unable to suit up. These are players who could be had relatively cheaply and might come with a level of upside higher than what their market values would otherwise dictate. These alternative options will be broken down into two categories, starting with a group of “short term rentals.”
Tony Gonzalez, TE ATL
May ADP: 96.0 (8th round)
Synopsis: By now, everyone is familiar with Gonzalez’ story. The Falcons managed to coax him out of retirement for one more year with the promise of a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl Championship. The Falcons’ gain is mirrored by that of the dynasty community, who can once-again expect a TE1-level performance in 2013.
Gonzalez might be trickier to acquire than those who comprise the rest of this list, mainly because his value is only to contenders. Because of this, it’s more than likely he’s already in the starting lineup of a team looking to win a championship. However, if he’s languishing on the roster of a rebuilding squad, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer up a 2014 second round pick for him.
Heath Miller, TE PIT
May ADP: 174.3 (15th round)
Synopsis: Miller was one of the surprises of 2012, finishing as the overall PPR TE4. The changeover in offensive coordinators from Bruce Arians to Todd Haley introduced a more “horizontal” passing attack and Miller was the prime beneficiary. He recorded 71 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games, re-asserting himself as one of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets.
Miller’s downside is a combination of his age (30) and injury status. During a week 16 clash with the Bengals, Miller shredded a trio of ligaments in his knee (ACL, PCL and MCL) and is now no lock to be ready for the 2013 opener. However, even if he misses a few games, Miller’s skillset was never predicated upon speed or quick-twitch athleticism, and I don’t predict a huge drop-off when he returns. He could likely be had for a future third round pick.
Owen Daniels, TE HOU
May ADP: 165.2 (14th round)
Synopsis: Similar to Miller above, Daniels experienced a big turnaround in 2012. Re-establishing himself as the only reliable pass-catching threat opposite all-world receiver Andre Johnson, Daniels finished the season with 62 receptions, 716 yards and six touchdowns – this led to a finish as the PPR TE9, and anyone who used a lottery ticket pick on the undervalued Texan was greatly rewarded.
The arrival of first round rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins undoubtedly throws a wrench into Daniels’ long-term viability. However, for a quick fix, Daniels still offers upside as a low-end TE1. For the price of a mid-round future pick, he’s as good a short-term option as any.
Jermichael Finley, TE GB
May ADP: 147.2 (13th round)
Synopsis: If there were ever a cliche to perfectly sum up Finley’s current state, it would undoubtedly be “how the mighty have fallen.” Once viewed as the best young tight end in the game, Finley’s shine has since lost some of his luster. In fact, after falling out of the TE1-range in 2012, his stock has plummeted to that of an early 13th round selection in startup drafts.
Nevertheless, hope remains. Former Packer Greg Jennings has taken his talents to Minnesota, freeing up nearly eight targets per game. For his part, Finley is said to have looked “excellent” during the off-season according to head coach Mike McCarthy, as well as “stronger” and “more confident.” He still possesses the skills worthy of a high-end TE1, but no longer comes at a cost. Going into a contract year, now’s the time to make an offer.
Fred Davis, TE WSH
May ADP: 179.8 (15th round)
Synopsis: I don’t need to go too in-depth on Davis, as our own Steve Wyremski recently dedicated an entire piece to his explaining why he’s underrated. Simply put, fears of his chemistry with quarterback Robert Griffin III are unfounded, and rookie Jordan Reed doesn’t figure to offer up much in the way of immediate competition. He’s already flashed high-end TE1 ability when healthy, and Davis figures to be the second option in the passing game behind receiver Pierre Garcon.
Getting back to that last part, health is obviously the key issue. Davis’ Achilles’ tear kept him from receiving any meaningful interest in the 2013 free agency market, resulting in him re-upping with Washington on a one-year “prove it” deal. He’s still rehabbing, but is said to be about 90% of the way there, and should be ready for at least part of training camp. As the 25th tight end being drafted in startups, the potential reward is easily worth the cost.
Martellus Bennett, TE CHI
May ADP: 141.3 (12th round)
Synopsis: During his time as Jason Witten’s caddy in Dallas, Bennett’s athleticism and potential were squandered. In 2012, as a first-year starter for the division rival Giants, Bennett exceeded expectations to the tune of a finish as the PPR TE12. Considering the down year from quarterback Eli Manning, as well as the overall mediocrity of New York’s offense, Bennett’s output was a revelation for both Giants fans and dynasty enthusiasts alike.
Despite his 2012 breakout, New York was unwilling to sign Bennett to a lucrative extension, and he inked a four-year pact with the Chicago Bears. In new coach Marc Trestman’s offense, Bennett is expected to be utilized as a seam-stretching mismatch, highlighting his athletic abilities. However, despite the strong likelihood of improving upon his 2012 season, Bennett still has his “one-year wonder” doubters, as he’s still lasting until the late 12th round in startup drafts. Now’s the time to capitalize on any type of anxiety Bennett’s owners might have and a future second round pick should get the job done.
Currently, when it comes to Aaron Hernandez, patience is a virtue. Remember, as of now there’s nothing more than rampant speculation circulating about the talented tight end, and it’s still entirely possible all of this will blow over. Therefore, it’s crucial Hernandez owners don’t overreact and sell their star tight end for pennies on the dollar. His current value is already in the dirt, so why not wait until the criminal proceedings play out, if it even gets that far?
Regardless, any and every fallback option should still be explored so owners can be at the ready if the news gets any worse. I’ve detailed six relatively cheap alternative options at the tight end position and it’s my belief Hernandez owners should not hesitate to acquire one of them. Even if it turns out Hernandez hasn’t been acting like a Boy Scout, you should try your best to do so – follow their motto and “Be Prepared.”
Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27
You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.