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Free agency primer: Ranking the tight ends

Around the League's positional free-agent previews are ranked according to the players we would want -- not the players who will make the most money. We're ranking each position and have our top-85 players overall. The series continues with available tight ends. We listed each player with the team they played for in 2012. Here goes:

The OG


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1. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons (Re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons)

Gonzalez has announced he will return to the Falcons, but he remains a free agent until a contract is signed. We fully expect him to re-sign quickly with Atlanta.

Solid starters


2. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
3. Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
4. Delanie Walker, San Francisco 49ers (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Tennessee Titans)
5. Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans (UPDATE: Signed with St. Louis Rams)
6. Martellus Bennett, New York Giants (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Chicago Bears)

Notes: Talk to five evaluators and you might get five different favorites from this group. They can all start and upgrade many starting lineups. Keller is coming off an injury-plagued season, but he consistently produced despite poor surroundings for four seasons before 2012. Keller never missed a game until last season and could thrive away from the Jets' mess. The St. Louis Rams make sense for him.

Davis would be in the tier with Gonzalez if he wasn't coming off a torn Achilles tendon. He's a somewhat forgotten, wildly explosive receiver when he's healthy. I'd love getting him at a bargain price ... Walker might be the best blocking tight end in the NFL. He has bad hands but he can handle a variety of roles. He's a perfect player for 2013 multiple offenses. ... Cook has all the tools but he never consistently put it together for the Titans. After four years, it would be weird to expect a breakout in a different uniform. ... Bennett is coming off a rock-solid season for the Giants as a blocker and receiver. It's concerning the Giants don't seem that eager to re-sign him.

Role players


7. Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins (UPDATE: Signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)
8. Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders

Fasano is a perfect complementary tight end. He's a good blocker with reliable hands. He's better off as a No. 2 tight end that can start when you ask him. ... Myers came out of nowhere to produce big numbers (806 yards) for the Raiders in 2012, but no one is quite sure he can do it again. Still, he's a solid backup at the very worst.

Fighting for snaps

9. Ben Watson, Cleveland Browns
10. James Casey, Houston Texans (UPDATE: Signed with Philadelphia Eagles)
11. Kevin Boss, Kansas City Chiefs
12. David Thomas, New Orleans Saints
13. Dallas Clark, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14. Visanthe Shiancoe, New England Patriots
15. Travis Beckum, New York Giants
16. Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins
17. Kellen Davis, Chicago Bears
18. Matt Spaeth, Chicago Bears
19. Kellen Winslow, New England Patriots
20. Todd Heap, Arizona Cardinals
21. Dante Rosario, San Diego Chargers
22. Alex Smith, Cleveland Browns

Notes: Watson is a solid-enough veteran who probably defines "replacement-level" starter at this stage. ... Boss' future is unclear because of his concussion history. ... Thomas might return to the Saints. ... There was little interest in Cooley as a free agent after the Redskins cut him last season.

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Position overview

It's rare to see this many quality young players available in the same offseason. To put it another way: Bennett was the best free-agent tight end last year, and that was before he had a breakout campaign for the Giants. I was tempted to put Keller and Davis in their own tier because they have higher ceilings than the rest of the group behind Gonzalez. There is risk involved, but they offer a chance to lock up a promising starter for their peak years at a reasonable price.

Teams with a need

New York Jets: Yeah, Jeff Cumberland probably isn't going to be enough.
Miami Dolphins: They need weapons at every position.
Cleveland Browns: Like the Dolphins, there is plenty of salary-cap room to work with.
Tennessee Titans: They failed to re-sign Cook.
Oakland Raiders: They don't seem that interested in re-signing Myers.
New York Giants: Now that Bennett has left, their current starter is ... Bear Pascoe.
Chicago Bears: Kellen Davis was a huge disappointment last year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They still don't have a reliable pass-catcher at tight end.
St. Louis Rams: A logical landing spot for Cook or Keller.
Arizona Cardinals: Coach Bruce Arians likes using tight ends in the passing game.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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