Coming off the Free Agent Wishlist for the wide receivers, we go into another position that has been bereft of top talent for some time -- tight end. Since Zach Miller left as a free agent to head to Seattle following the 2010 season, the Raiders have not been able to fill the position with a legitimate weapon.
Not to sell Mychal Rivera short; he has performed fairly well, especially considering he was a sixth round pick. He's just as advertised. He will make some catches but he has serious problems in the blocking department. To be as poor a blocker as Rivera is, he would have to be an elite receiving threat, and he is far from that.
It appears there will be some tight end talent on the market who can fill that need. Some of whom should receive serious interest from the Raiders.
If there is any team Julius Thomas is most likely to join for a reasonable price, it's probably the Raiders. He has turned down offers from the Broncos already and is reportedly seeking something in the range of $9 million per season. His father sure has lost his patience with the Broncos and their fans and being that he is a big Raiders fan, he would LOVE for his son to put on a Raiders uniform. Julius himself grew up a 'big time' Raiders fan. Just like Jack Del Rio whose defense in Denver lined up against Thomas the past three seasons.
There is no doubt about Thomas' abilities as a receiver. He is a mismatch with his size, speed, and hands and he has 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons to prove it. That's second only to Jimmy Graham (26 TD's). Where he gets criticism is in the blocking department. Though Pro Football Focus gave him a positive grade in both pass blocking (+1.1) and run blocking (+0.1) in 2014. That is a tremendous improvement from his -11.2 run block grade in 2013. For comparison, Raiders current starting tight end, Mychal Rivera, earned negative grades in both areas, including a league worst -17.3 grade in run blocking. Clearly Julius Thomas would be an upgrade across the board for a team starved for great tight end play.
If you're looking for perhaps the best combination of receiving and run blocking on the market, Clay is your guy. He is good enough in run blocking that he played some fullback for the Dolphins in 2012. He had a breakout season in 2013 as a tight end, with 759 yards and 6 touchdowns. Outside of the TD totals, Clay's numbers across the board that season were very similar those of Julius Thomas and Martellus Bennett.
Here is what Kevin Nogle of Phinsider had to say about Clay:
Clay is coming off a down year this past season, largely due to injuries that he could not seem to shake. That said, he still played 14 of the 16 games, and was third on the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. We did not see as many of the chunk yardage gains as we have become accustomed to seeing from "Big Play Clay," but, I think it was a one-year blip on the radar rather than any "injury prone" or regression type of thing.
Clay is really liked by the fans, and he is a big part of the offense when he is healthy. Working against him this offseason could be the play of Dion Sims, who stepped up when Clay could not play and looked good doing it. Sims is still young and developing, so the presence of Clay on the roster would be beneficial, but it might not be as much of a necessity as it used to seem. The Dolphins have expressed interest in keeping Clay, so it may just come down to how much he is asking.
As a former first round pick, Gresham averaged 56 receptions and 544 yards receiving per season with 24 combined touchdowns in five seasons -- the last featuring his third offensive coordinator within a system that's limited in passing game progressions.
During his first three seasons, Gresham dropped 22 passes. Over the last two seasons (since 2013), Gresham dropped only four of 108 catchable passes... and only one this season. On the other hand, Gresham fumbled three times in 2014 -- a career-high.
He may have let you down this season and perhaps he didn't stand out as one of the absolute best players -- he ranked second in receptions on the team (62) and touchdowns (5) -- but he didn't really deserve scorn either. It may, at times, appear to be a liability, but who on this team fought hard for trivial yards more than Gresham?
Is there disappointment that he sat out against Cleveland with a toe injury when the team believed he could have played? Yes. Did it matter in the game at all? No. Is it especially troublesome that there are personnel at Paul Brown Stadium, presumably coaches, that "want nothing to do with Jermaine Gresham"? Yes. Are there maturity issues?Absolutely.