Arizona Cardinals wise to host Jermaine Gresham

At this point in the calendar year, it’s hard to find tight ends on the waiver wire whom you can feel comfortable signing, so it must have been a relief for the Arizona Cardinals to see that former Cincinnati Bengals long-time TE Jermaine Gresham is still on the market. With the Bengals no longer interested in keeping a player whom the coaching staff has seemed to sour on, there are two known teams interested in signing Gresham at this moment in time.

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ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported today that in addition to having a contract offer from the New Orleans Saints, Gresham will visit with the Cardinals this week. But those two named teams aren’t the only organizations that are apparently interested in the 27-year-old Oklahoma product, because Schefter adds that the tight end “also has other visits” lined up in the next couple of weeks and will likely sign with a team before training camps open up.

Gresham is clearly the best tight end available out of slim pickings, and he’s one of the best free agents available overall. He’ll have to prove that he’s completely over his back woes, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a player who is still in the best years of his career athletically.

I think a change of scenery from Cincinnati will be a breath of fresh air for a player who was criticized heavily during his tenure with the organization for failing to become a legitimate pass-catching threat after being the 21st overall pick in the 2010 draft and a player touted as a big, athletic pass-catching threat at the position.

But while Gresham has never put up more than 737 receiving yards, 64 catches, or six touchdowns in a single season, he’s consistently found ways to get on the stat sheet. He’s never had less than 46 receptions, 460 yards, or four touchdowns in a single season, so he’d be a welcome red zone threat and chain-mover for a team.

For example, last season, as per Advanced Football Analytics, Gresham caught 77.5% of everything thrown at him as an obvious safety valve who basically never stretched the field. He finished the season with a paltry 7.4 yards per reception and probably should have had an even higher catch rate than his 77.5% clip, but he did come away with 62 receptions and did a consistent job of getting the yards that the Bengals offense needed on a given play (team-leading 56.1% success rate percentage in 2014).

Additionally, Jermaine Gresham is a capable pass protector who can bring in some nice blocking as an ideal No. 2 TE with modest two-way ability, though he is, as he showed last year, capable of being a starting-caliber player.

I mean, if the Cardinals signed him, he would definitely be a starter due to their lack of other options at the position. Young Notre Dame product Troy Niklas has talent, but there isn’t another tight end on that roster that intrigues me outside of the 2014 second-round pick.

Meanwhile, Gresham comes in as a player who had the lowest drop rate among qualifying TEs last year, per Pro Football Focus, and he showed off his underrated work in pass protection by surrendering just one pressure (a mere hurry) all season. If you extend the Yards Per Route Run qualifiers to 39, then Gresham was 22nd among tight ends in that efficiency stat, which is encouraging for his next employers.

Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) makes a catch during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have two useful tight ends in their roster in red zone stud and potential breakout candidate Josh Hill and veteran Ben Watson, whereas the Cardinals have less of a logjam at the position and would almost certainly start Gresham upon signing him, barring a huge camp (which isn’t out of the question) from Niklas. But while the Cardinals have less competition at the position and a bigger need to sign Gresham (at least on the surface), he could still figure to be a bigger part of the Saints passing game due to the split in TE usage by both teams.

It will be interesting to see which other teams Gresham would visit, but the Arizona Cardinals probably have a bigger need at tight end than any other team in the league right now. Even if Niklas breaks out as a sophomore, the Cardinals could still use a dependable backup like Gresham, who showed off good hands (a cynic would say that this could be subject to change), solid blocking, and underrated consistency in a bounce-back 2014 campaign.