Free agency moves deepen the fantasy tight end pool

Oh how quickly things can change in the National Football League ... and in fantasy football.

It was just a year ago when fantasy pundits all agreed that the tight end position, aside from the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce, was quite thin. It was very thin in fact, and seemingly getting thinner with Graham traded to the Seattle Seahawks. But something happened during the course of the 2015 campaign. Gary Barnidge happened. So did Jordan Reed, Delanie Walker, Tyler Eifert and Benjamin Watson. All of a sudden, the position wasn't so thin anymore.

After what happened on the first day of the NFL's new league year, well, tight end is now a virtual fat cat.

First, the Indianapolis Colts retained Dwayne Allen on a four-year, $29 million contract. Before you scoff at his value, keep in mind that he scored eight touchdowns in 13 games in 2014. Allen was waiver-wire fodder last season, as he missed time due to injuries and was asked to block more than be a weapon in the passing game, but offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has promised him an increased role in the Colts offense moving forward. That's good news for Allen, as is the presence of Chudzinski (a former tight ends coach who has coached Antonio Gates, Olsen and Kellen Winslow in the past).

Suddenly, Allen has some potential late-round value.

Next, Gates re-signed with the San Diego Chargers. Sure, he's not a spring chicken anymore (he turns 36 in June), but he still produced 630 yards and scored five touchdowns in 11 games last season. If Tony Gonzalez could retain No. 1 fantasy value at the same age (and older), why can't Gates? He also still has quite the rapport with his pal Philip Rivers in an offense that loves to throw the football. To me, Gates is a top-10 fantasy tight end.

The next domino to drop was Coby Fleener, Allen's former running mate, who signed a five-year, $36 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. This move followed the team losing Watson to the Baltimore Ravens, so Fleener entered a tremendous situation to improve on his production. In fact, there's a good chance he'll follow in the footsteps of Graham and Watson and be the third Saints tight end in the last three seasons to be a top-10 fantasy player at the position. That's what happens when you catch passes from Drew Brees.

Of course, Fleener's departure also opens the door for Allen to see more work in the pass attack for the Colts.

As if this weren't enough to deepen the position, Ladarius Green then signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Are you kidding me? A player who fantasy analysts have been pining over for years goes to arguably the best offense in the league? And with the retirement of Heath Miller, Green becomes the top tight end in the Steel City. No questions asked. You want to talk about upside? Green is dripping with it.

Oh, and his absence from the Chargers offense means fantasy fans no longer need to be concerned with him as a statistical road block for Gates.

So at the end of what was a fantastic day for the fantasy tight end position, we added four No. 1 (or potential No. 1) options in Gates, Fleener, Green and Allen. Add that to a list of names that includes Gronkowski, Olsen, Reed, Eifert, Olsen, Kelce, Walker, Julius Thomas, Graham, Zach Ertz and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and fantasy owners suddenly have a whole wealth of options to consider in 2016 drafts.

Why wait? CLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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