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As a dynasty owner, one must think beyond the upcoming season and more about the future of their franchise. One important area of focus for every dynasty owner should be players who are entering a “contract year”. The possibility of free agency not only impacts the player themselves, but their former and future team’s depth chart and the players that currently make that up.

NFL Players who are entering a contract year have that extra incentive to showcase their ability to play in the NFL and therefore should be strongly considered by dynasty owners when making final roster decisions during the offseason.

This four-part series continues with 5 tight ends who are entering a contract year and therefore should be under your watchful eye(s).

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Vance McDonald (San Francisco 49ers):

The 49ers selected McDonald in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft but he has been an afterthought up until the niners starting TE Vernon Davis was traded to the Denver Broncos in the middle of the 2015 NFL season and now Vance is entering his fourth and final season under contract in San Francisco. After Davis was shipped to Denver, McDonald finished the 2016 showing he had the potential to be the starting TE in San Francisco and has received praise from QB Blaine Gabbert and TE’s coach Jeff Nixon resulting from his strong performance in the 2016 minicamp using the words “mismatch nightmare” and “the sky is the limit”.

McDonalds stats after the niners bye week which was week ten was 21 of 30 targets, 262 yds and 3 TDs. If you take into consideration he missed the week 14 game due to a concussion, his stats put him at around a 56 catch, 700 yard, 8 TD season which are all pretty much top ten stats for an NFL tight end and I am guessing that this year McDonald improves on those stats.

Potential team for 2017:

McDonald has a legitimate opportunity to establish himself as a starting TE in the NFL as a big play threat and my gut tells me he will take advantage of that opportunity meaning the 49ers will strongly consider signing him to a new contract before he becomes a free agent next year as they have absolutely zero proven receiving threats on their roster heading into the 2016 NFL season and therefore need all the help they can get in all facets of the passing game.

Should San Fran choose not keep Vance on their roster next year, there will be other opportunities for him in the NFL with plenty of teams looking for that pass-catching threat at TE that is becoming more and more important to an NFL team and their ability to keep the chains moving. If Virigil Green, Jeff Heuerman and Garrett Graham fail to fill that role this year, then the Denver Broncos may be willing to take a stab at another former 49er TE after acquiring Vernon Davis last year only to witness him fail miserably. If not, then teams such as the Bills, Jets, Cardinals, Giants, Falcons, Texans, Seahawks, Packers and Rams may be a few of the many looking to make a move for McDonald depending on how their current TE’s perform in 2016.

Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, right, talks to his brother Bears tight end Martellus Bennett after the Seattle Seahawks take on the Chicago Bears for their home opener at CenturyLink Field in Seattle Sunday September 27, 2015. The Seahawks shut out the Bears, 26-0. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Martellus Bennett (New England Patriots):

In March, the Patriots traded their fourth round pick for Martellus Bennett (127th overall) and the Bears sixth round pick (204th overall).  Martellus is by far the most rounded of the tight ends entering a contract year in 2016 as he has shown the ability to be a top five receiving threat at TE as well as his ability to block the opposing defender exceptionally well.

 

Potential team for 2017:

The Patriots released TE Scott Chandler after he failed to shoulder the load last year but Bennett brings much more to the table when it comes to finding a TE to feast upon as the Patriots have struggled to find that second TE they have been persistent on looking for after losing Aaron Hernandez to the street gangs and thug life so if Bennett shows that he can fill the role that they envision, then he could very well stick with the Patriots if they are willing to pay him fair market value. Otherwise, he will likely move on to his third team in three years after leaving the Bears last year.

If the next NFL player on this list for entering a contract year as a TE fails to rebound from a down year and Bennett becomes a free agent, then I could see Martellus reuniting with Adam Gase in Miami and would be a great target for Ryan Tannehill as well as a great asset to the Dolphins running game.

Or, will Marty Bennett unite with his older brother in Washington State and join Michael Bennett and the Seattle Seahawks as he was rumored to be considering before he signed with the Patriots? I guess a lot of that depends on what kind of season Jimmy Graham has this year for the ‘hawks as he needs to get healthy and have a solid season this year himself and prove he still can be that solid TE he was was with the New Orleans Saints.

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Jordan Cameron (Miami Dolphins):

Cameron has proven to be a one-hit wonder in the stat sheets and even the presence of new coach Adam Gase isn’t enough to push his stock north so this is a critical year for him to display his skills to the fullest.

Jordan Cameron looked to be a very solid tight end in 2013 but has failed to produce the following two years resulting in him restructuring his contract and taking a $1.5 million pay cut to stay in Miami this year in hopes that he can revive his career after speaking to another NFL TE (Julius Thomas) who strongly encouraged him to play for his new coach Adam Gase since Gase has a reputation for getting production out of his tight ends as he has shown with guys like Julius Thomas in Denver, Martellus Bennett in Chicago and even Zach Thomas also in Chicago.

Cameron’s best year was with the Cleveland Browns in 2013 when he finished the season with 14 starts, 80 catches (68%) of his 118 targets, 900+ yards and 7 Td’s but has done little since to establish himself as that “go to guy” at the TE position after only catching just half of his targets these last two years.

Potential team for 2017:

I am afraid that if Cameron doesn’t make the cut for the Dolphins after the 2016 season, it can only mean that Cameron failed once again and if that is the case then I can’t imagine him having much more of an opportunity other than competing for a roster spot on another squad which means that if teams like Atlanta, Denver or Houston are still looking to find depth and hopefully a quality starting TE, they will likely bring Cameron in to compete for a roster spot.

 

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Jared Cook (Green Bay Packers):

If I am a Jared Cook owner, I am not exactly jumping up and down right now even though he has gotten rave reviews from voluntary workouts because Richard Rodgers didn’t exactly have a horrible year last year after catching nearly 60 passes out of 85 targets (68%) and scoring 8 TD’s while producing over 500 yards. Not great numbers but certainly not terrible for a TE and with Jordy Nelson returning, he will certainly garner much of Aaron Rodger’s attention when he is dropping back to pass the ball.

Cook has always been that teaser at the TE position for fantasy owners as he has shown flashes of brilliance but fails to be consistent. But on his behalf, Cook has really not had consistency from the team either, especially those he expects to receive the ball from and now he will be catching passes from none other than Aaron Rodgers so who knows…….Cook could be that sleeper that we all look for from one year to the next. Quite honestly, I will be looking for him in the later rounds of re-draft leagues as I feel he will be a forgotten man in the fantasy world slipping into the later rounds but then again……..he won’t be the first TE I take off the board either as it would be foolish to count on Cook as your starting TE which I must admit I have regretfully been guilty of in the past…….relying on Jared Cook as my TE in deeper leagues.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about Jared Cook……..If I can land him late in a re-draft league then great but I will certainly have picked a better option well before I even consider selecting him.

Potential team for 2017:

Jared Cook’s situation is very similar to Jordan Cameron’s in that if he doesn’t produce big this year, then he may be begging for a roster spot next year so he literally has the ball in his hands and if he doesn’t fumble…….he could still be a cheese head next year but if he fails to succeed, he will likely be looking for a way out of the mouse trap and fighting for a roster spot with another team looking to add competition and depth at the position.

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Gavin Escobar (Dallas Cowboys):

Gavin will have his work cut out for him this year as he recovers from an Achilles injury late last year and is in jeopardy of starting the 2016 season on the PUP list which would mean he could potentially miss the first six weeks of the 2016 NFL Season and likely more by the time he gets back into action. This is not exactly great news for a guy who is trying to earn a new contract over the course of the next year and has done little to establish himself in the NFL so he will definitely need to step up his game once he is able to compete for that new contract.

Potential team for 2017:

Unlike Jared Cook and Jordan Cameron, Escobar has not shown much to prove his worth as an NFL TE which makes his situation even worse than theirs. But today, aside from the aging Jason Witten, Gavin does not exactly have strong competition although Dallas not only made questionable selections in rounds 1 and 2 of the NFL Draft but also in round 6 when they selected Rico Gathers out of Baylor as a project TE and former basketball player who has not played a down of football since he entered his teenage years at age 13. The only other serious competition for TE in Dallas is James Hanna who was also selected in the sixth round but it was back in 2012.

With that said, the lack of depth at TE in Dallas could very well work into Gavin’s favor but unless he shows that he can not only stay healthy but be productive, he could very well be joining Jordan Cameron and/or Jared Cook next year when competing for a job as a tight end in the NFL but his lack of experience will make it even more of a challenge if he doesn’t show up this year.

In Summary:

Quality fantasy tight ends are hard to come by but can be that difference maker as to whether a fantasy team makes the playoffs or better yet…….win a Championship! These are just five tight ends who are worth watching and considering adding to your roster (or possibly trading) in hopes that they can make that difference for your team.

In most every case it is a make or break year that should motivate these guys to put their best foot forward and take that next step in their NFL career so no matter if you are looking to add them to your roster in hopes that they make that leap ahead or are looking to get that maximum return if you feel they have hit their ceiling, there is never a good time to not pay attention and be aware of any players future.

It is in a dynasty owners best interest to do their homework on contract year players and determine if you believe you may have found that next fantasy stud who either steps up his game and /or continues to produce on his current team or finds success on another team so take note and be proactive instead of reactive before these players’ contracts expire.