NFL Tight Ends Next in Line for Big Contracts in 2021

| August 1, 2021 5:16 am PDT

Tight ends seem to be a forgotten commodity among NFL offensive players. However, you could argue that they are as important as ever.

The ability to have a player that can go out there and give you 800 yards while also making key blocks is very valuable.

When it comes to contracts, Travis Kelce and George Kittle lead the way, as they both make around $15 million a year. Those two guys are far and away the best tight ends in the league.

Still, there are some tight ends out there that can score a big NFL contract with over $12 million a year. Let’s take a look at some of those players.

4. Mike Gesicki: Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins drafted Mike Gesicki in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Gesicki stayed pretty quiet during his rookie season, going over 35 yards just once.

While Gesicki failed to produce a 100-yard game for the second straight season, he became a lot more involved in the offense. Just look at how much his stats improved from 2018 to 2019.

Stat 2018 2019
Receptions 22 51
Targets 32 89
Yards 202 570
Touchdowns 0 5

Gesicki really came on late in the season. His five touchdowns all happened in the Dolphins final six games. He even recorded a two-touchdown game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Going into 2020, people expected him to build on his late 2019 success. Gesicki definitely did that in the yardage department. He recorded his first career 100-yard game early in the season, and he put up 130 yards and a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.

Though he didn’t make a ton of noise throughout the season, Gesicki was consistent. He went over 40 yards nine times in 2020.

For the season, he finished with 53 receptions, 703 yards, and six touchdowns. His 703 yards were a far cry from Travis Kelce’s 1,416. Still, though, it ranked him fourth most among tight ends.

The Dolphins made some upgrades to their receiving core this offseason. They added a pair of speed demons in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. Initially, you may look at that addition and worry about Gesicki’s potential target share but it’s not so bad.

Miami will likely use Fuller and Waddle as deep threats. Their ability to take the top off the defense will open up the middle of the field for Gesicki. He should also remain a good red zone threat.

Gesicki will enter free agency following this season. There’s no urgency between the Dolphins and Gesicki to agree on a contract extension.

Whether he chooses to stay in Miami or goes elsewhere, Gesicki should get a pretty solid payday.

Jonnu Smith signed for $12.5 million per year this offseason. Smith is a better blocker than Gesicki, but he has never produced over 45 receptions or 500 yards in a season. I have to think the Gesicki camp will immediately use that contract as a benchmark. Anything between $12.5 and $14 million would make Gesicki the third highest-paid tight end in the league.

Another strong season could put Gesicki in a great spot to score a big contract next offseason.

3. T.J. Hockenson: Detroit Lions

T.J. Hockenson was a standout tight end during his college days at Iowa. Hockenson recorded 46 receptions, 717 yards, and six touchdowns in his final college season. The great season won him the John Mackey Award, which is given to the best collegiate tight end.

The Detroit Lions selected Hockenson with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Like most tight ends, Hockenson struggled during his rookie season. However, his season actually got off to an excellent start.

This is what he did in his first career NFL game:

  • 6 receptions
  • 131 yards
  • 1 touchdown

His 131 yards were the most ever for a tight end in his first career game.

Hockenson didn’t clear 60 yards in a game for the rest of the season. He finished the season with 32 receptions, 367 yards, and two touchdowns, though he missed the final four games of the season with a concussion.

Like most tight ends in their second season, Hockenson elevated his game. He didn’t clear 100 yards, but like Gesicki, he remained extremely consistent. He went over 50 yards in eight games during 2020.

Hockenson finished the season with 67 receptions, 723 yards, and six touchdowns. A pair of campaigns over 1,100 yards for Travis Kelce and Darren Waller overshadowed Hockenson’s season. Still, his 723 yards were third-most among tight ends.

Detroit’s offense changed a lot this offseason. They traded quarterback Matthew Stafford for quarterback Jared Goff. The Lions also lost their top two wide receivers.

The downgrade at quarterback will affect Hockenson, but I think the lack of weapons will make up for it. Hockenson is the best receiving option for Detroit, and we should see Goff look his way a lot this season.

Because he just finished his second season, Hockenson isn’t eligible for a contract extension until next season.

That doesn’t even factor in the fact that the Lions will likely be picking up his fifth-year option. That means he won’t enter free agency until 2024. However, if Detroit wants to keep him around, they’d be wise to sign him before that.

I believe Hockenson is already among the top-five tight ends in the NFL. We’re really going to find out how great he is as defenses key in on him this season.

If he can post over 1,000 yards, we’re going to see him get close to Kelce’s $14.3 million. Depending on when he signs, he has a chance to become the highest-paid tight end in the league.

2. Dallas Goedert: Philadelphia Eagles

 When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Dallas Goedert in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the tight end wasn’t a positional need. Zach Ertz was coming off three consecutive 800-yard seasons.

Still, they saw Goedert as a good complement next to Ertz.

In just his second career game, Goedert recorded seven receptions, 73 yards, and one touchdown. That was essentially the highlight of his rookie season, as he didn’t go over 50 yards in any other game. He finished the season with 33 receptions, 334 yards, and four touchdowns.

Goedert had a bigger role in 2019 and played very well. His numbers probably don’t look the best, but you have to realize that he was the second tight end on his own team. Goedert finished the season with five consecutive games over 40 yards. His final season totals were 58 receptions, 607 yards, and five touchdowns.

He recorded his first career 100-yard game in the 2020 season opener against the Washington Football Team, and finished the game with eight receptions, 101 yards, and one touchdown. He missed four games in the beginning of the season with an ankle injury.

With Ertz dealing with an injury of his own, Goedert finally had a chance to shine as the number one tight end in Philadelphia.

Here is how he did in four games without Ertz.

Week Receptions Yards Touchdowns
8 1 15 0
9 4 33 0
10 5 77 1
11 7 75 1

That Week 8 game was his first game back from the ankle injury, so that can help explain the low numbers.

In 11 games in 2020, Goedert put up 46 receptions, 524 yards, and three touchdowns. His 47.6 yards per game ranked fifth among tight ends.

Philadelphia will likely trade Ertz at some point before the 2021 season. That means Goedert will finally get a full season to be the number one tight end. He has the potential to put up big numbers in the final year of his rookie contract.

We know Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith both signed contracts securing them $12.5 million this offseason. Goedert’s numbers are right on par with Henry, despite not being a top option.

Because of that, I expect Goedert to get somewhere around $13 million a year. Honestly, re-signing with the Eagles may be his best option because of how much they utilize their tight ends.

1. Mark Andrews: Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens selected Mark Andrews in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The move was interesting because the Ravens took another tight end, Hayden Hurst, in the first round of that year’s draft. However, Andrews quickly became the team’s primary receiving option at tight end.

Andrews went over 50 yards five times during his rookie season. Take a look at how he performed compared to Hurst.

Stat Mark Andrews Hayden Hurst
Receptions 34 13
Yards 552 163
Touchdowns 3 1

I don’t think it took long for people to realize Andrews should’ve been the first-round pick. He backed up a solid rookie season with a big 2019 season.

Andrews kicked off that season with back-to-back games each with eight receptions, 100+ yards, and one touchdown. He also recorded a pair of two-touchdown games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns later in the season.

For the season totals, he had 64 receptions, 852 yards, and ten touchdowns. The touchdown number led all tight ends and was the second-most in the league.

Understandably, Andrews took a step back in 2020, but it wasn’t a big one. He failed to record a 100-yard game, but he did go over 55 yards five times. Despite missing two games, he finished with 58 receptions, 701 yards, and seven touchdowns.

People criticize the Ravens for not giving quarterback Lamar Jackson a true number one target, but I believe they already have one with Andrews. I know he isn’t a receiver but his numbers show how valuable he is to this offense. Jackson and Andrews make up one of the best QB-TE duos in the NFL.

Andrews’ resume ranks up there with some of the top tight ends in the NFL.

At this point, it’s basically a consensus that he is the best tight end outside the big three of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller.

Will he surpass Kittle as the highest-paid tight end in the NFL? I don’t think so but he’ll come close. I have to believe Andrews will get at least $14 million a year. Ultimately, I think it’ll be closer to $14.5 million a year.

He is a free agent following this season, so it won’t be long before we find out just how much money he’ll make on his next contract.

Where Will These Contracts Rank Among Tight Ends?

I expect both Mark Andrews and T.J. Hockenson to crack the top-five with over $14 million a year. Dallas Goedert will likely be right around fifth among tight ends if he signs for over $12.5 million.

Gesicki isn’t quite on the same level as these guys, but he should still make somewhere around $12-12.5 million a year. At worst, he’ll be top ten among tight end contracts.

It’s still unclear just how much money these guys will make, as they can still use the 2021 NFL season improve their value.

Regardless, when eyeing the next big NFL contracts for tight ends, it makes sense to begin the discussion with these four pass-catchers.

Like reading about big NFL contracts? Check out my other breakdowns for the other major positions.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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