The Arizona Cardinals surprised most of us when they decided to send John Carlson a two-year, $4.65 million contract in free agency this offseason, because even though the deal is cheap, it was interesting to see Carlson receive more than just a standard one-year contract. His concussion issues caused him to contemplate retiring at one point last season for the Minnesota Vikings, but he looked like a nice TE2 signing on paper for the Cardinals. Although he was once supposed to be a very good tight end in this league after flashing with the Seattle Seahawks and signing a significant contract with the Vikings a few years ago, that never materialized.
Rob Housler was once tabbed as a potential breakout player at TE for a couple of offseasons, and he has the athleticism to still do it. Troy Niklas was a star in college as a well-rounded TE, and he has the upside to star in the NFL. Jake Ballard was an interesting flier option who was productive with the New York Giants before needing microfracture surgery, which caused him to be too rigid to play for the New England Patriots last year. The Cardinals have four interesting guys at tight end, but none of them have seemed to pique head coach Bruce Arians’s interest more than Carlson.
Arians said of the 30-year-old Notre Dame product, via ESPN NFL Nation’s Josh Weinfuss, “John has done a really, really good job. First off, he’s extremely bright. He picked up the system extremely quick. He plays full speed all the time and has got outstanding hands. His issue in the past … he’s not an overwhelming blocker but he’s more than adequate.”
The Cardinals competition at tight end has to be the best in the league (the one in Houston gives it a fair run, though), as it’s truly anyone’s game. I think the rookie Niklas will end up starting, as he and Housler have the most upside. Chances are that only one of them pans out, but we’ll see if both can make an impact, especially since Housler is a new-school kind of TE. Ballard could be a factor if he can prove he’s healthy and agile enough, but Arians’s quotes on Carlson make me wonder if he could be locked in as the steady, No. 2 TE. If enough tight ends shine for the Cardinals this offseason, then we could see Carson Palmer toying with a nice twin-TE attack to add to an incredibly gifted group of wide receivers and Andre Ellington out of the backfield.