On Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals finished the day with six tight ends on their roster that had accumulated five career receptions between them. None of these players had been in the league before 2013. The list included a pair of 2014 draft picks, the final selection in the 2015 and a pair of former undrafted free agents.
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On Friday, they gained 280 more career receptions, 24 career touchdown catches, 74 career games and a first-round pedigree. Jermaine Gresham quickly became the best tight end in Arizona and the Cardinals got a lot better.
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Last season, John Carlson and Rob Housler were the primary tight end options in Arizona. The duo combined for 42 catches and 479 yards, just 19 more yards and 18 less catches than Gresham had individually in Cincinnati. While the two fulfilled the roles they were asked to perform, adding Gresham gives Carson Palmer a legitimate pass-catcher at the tight end spot and gives opposing defenses another weapon to worry about.
Jun 9, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws a pass as quarterback Drew Stanton (5), quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Logan Thomas (6) look on during minicamp practice at the Cardinals Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps the biggest way the Cardinals will feel the impact of Gresham is in the red zone. Arizona tight ends combined for one total receiving touchdown in 2014, while Gresham alone had five touchdown catches. All five for Gresham were from within 20 yards of the end zone.
Adding a receiver good for some 60 catches also takes some attention off Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, which should create more opportunities for the trio in the coming season. While their individual targets may each take a decrease, the quality attempts that Palmer will have should increase with each garnering less attention from opposing defenses, which will especially help Fitzgerald as he looks to bounce back from the second-lowest receiving yard total of his career.
Oct 5, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Arizona Cardinals tight end Troy Niklas (87) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The signing also allows for a much smoother ushering in of 2014 second-rounder Troy Niklas, who hardly saw the field with Carlson and Housler in the fold a season ago. He was positioned to be the starting tight end for Arizona in 2015 prior to the Gresham signing, but will now have the opportunity to be worked in slowly playing behind Gresham as the Cardinals’ number-two.
With the San Francisco 49ers going through serious roster turnover from a season ago, the opportunity to make noise in the NFC West is as great as it’s been in the last few years for the Cardinals. Adding Gresham puts them in a much better position to do so than they were in on Thursday.
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