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A Revised Look at the Tight End Situation for the Cleveland Browns

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Ronald Martinez

When free agency started, the tight end situation appeared to be one of the positions that the Cleveland Browns would target out of the gate. Fans had their eyes on the likes of Jared Cook, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, or Brandon Myers to complement the inexperience (on the receiving side) of Jordan Cameron and Dan Gronkowski. Even re-signing Benjamin Watson seemed like a last-resort option. None of that happened. Instead, the Browns signed Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis.

I should make one clarification: the possibility still exists that [Fred] Davis could become a member of the Browns, as speculated a couple of days ago. It just seems unlikely at this point, though. F. Davis is basically the final proven tight end receiving target left on the market. At first, it seemed like the Browns and the Redskins were the two final teams courting his services. Now, the Buffalo Bills have entered the mix:

At some point, you have to move on, and I think that's what Cleveland has done. Could they still sign F. Davis? Yes. I say "move on" in regards to the fact that they are not banking on him being part of their club next season. It was a different story when free agency first started and there were numerous fallback options. None of your standard fallback options became part of the club. At that point, the Browns turned to the depth fallback options: ones that fulfill a specific niche, or, in a perfect world, are a steal/sleeper.

  • K. Davis only signed a one-year deal with the Browns, but should see quite a bit of action in two tight end sets as a blocker. That is where he excels, and can be viewed as a replacement of sorts for Alex Smith. Maybe you can think of him as you would a Robert Royal, but with even more drops.
  • Barnidge was signed to a three-year deal, which included a $650,000 signing bonus. He would not account for a lot of dead money if the Browns decided to cut him at any point, but still, the figures make it seem as though Rob Chudzinski wants to make him his pet project in the long term. Barnidge graded as well as K. Davis did in blocking last year, although he had much fewer snaps. He was buried on the depth chart in Carolina as a receiver, but numerous reports indicate that he has the ability to be a down-field target. If that develops, he could fit the role of a "complete" tight end.
  • Right now, it looks like Cameron is going to get a chance to be "the guy" this year. In hindsight, isn't there something conflicting with the attitude fans, including myself, have had at the tight end position? For the past two seasons, we've been clamoring for Cameron to see more playing time, believing he could add a little extra dimension to our offense. He didn't receive a lot of playing time last season, but still made the best of things when he did. Now is his chance to shine, and all we have done is pray for the Browns to bring in a guy who would, again, limit Cameron's reps.

From Pro Football Focus, there is reason to believe that all three tight ends will receive significant playing time in 2013, based on how Norv Turner, the Browns' new offensive coordinator, ran things in San Diego:

In Norv Turner’s offense, if his recent work with the San Diego Chargers is any indication, there will be an opportunity for Cameron to earn plenty of snaps. While Turner did give his second pass-catching tight end, Dante Rosario, nearly 200 snaps in 2012 – a healthy portion of them came when Antonio Gates was injured. Randy McMichael, a stronger run blocker, saw over 500 snaps in 2012 – seldom releasing into a pass route.

In that scenario, Cameron = Gates as the starter, K. Davis = McMichael as the blocker, and Barnidge = Rosario as the second receiving tight end. The Browns also have Gronkowski in the mix, but he's your prototypical training camp tight end who fights for a potential shot on the depth chart (side note: to be fair, Gronkowski had a very solid camp in 2012 as a blocker and a receiver, so you never know...). The Browns could complicate things further by drafting a tight end. If that were to happen, I would see it as a signal that Cameron's roster spot would be in jeopardy.

What do you think? Is F. Davis pretty much out of the picture for Cleveland? Do you approve of the Browns moving forward with this unit in 2013? Also, Josh Finney might have an article coming up soon with a deeper look at K. Davis' blocking.