Chris Ballard stated in his end of the year press conference that this team needed to add more impact playmakers on offense. While that can mainly be looked at as adding at the wide receiver position, the Colts could use a true "move" tight end as well. Veteran Trey Burton was solid in that role this past season but it is certainly a spot that could use an upgrade.
With Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox returning as two of the best blocking tight ends in football, the Colts need a move tight end that can consistently get open and stress the defense from the middle. Today, we are looking at four tight ends in free agency that could fit that role for Indy.
1.) Jonnu Smith, Titans
The clear cut best tight end in free agency this year is Jonnu Smith from the Titans. The 25 year old tight end is coming off the best season of his career as he tallied 457 yards receiving and eight touchdowns on the year. What is even more impressive is the fact that he was the fourth option in that offense (behind Derrick Henry, A.J Brown, and Corey Davis).
For the Colts, Smith would fit everything the Colts want out of a tight end. He is an explosive player for his size who can win vertically and dominate in the redzone. His 12 touchdowns over the last two years are among the best at the position. On top of that, a very underrated aspect of his game is how good of a blocker he is. He may not be at Doyle or Alie-Cox’s level, but he is much more effective than most move tight ends. He would cost a bit more than the other players on this list (Spotrac has him projected at 8 million a year right now) but it would be worth it to add this dynamic playmaker at tight end.
The best overall tight end in free agency is easily Jonnu Smith. Great athlete who is an outstanding redzone target. Also a very underrated blocker. Think Frank Reich could turn him into a top 5 tight end in football pic.twitter.com/bEwlD3bI0o— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 5, 2021
2.) Dan Arnold, Cardinals
I was shocked to find out the other day that many fans around the league don’t know who Dan Arnold is. A former UDFA out of Wisconson-Platteville, Arnold had a breakout year for the Cardinals in 2020. He totaled 438 yards receiving (14.1 yards per catch) and four touchdowns on the year. At 6’6” and just 25 years old, Arnold is a super-intriguing player in free agency for a team like the Colts.
I feel confident in saying that Arnold is the best pure move tight end in this free agent class. He has great long speed and is skilled at finding soft spots in zone coverages. He also attacks the ball well in the air, as evident by his touchdown against the Giants late in the season. He isn’t an all-around complete tight end like Jonnu Smith is, but what he offers in the pass game would be a big boost to this offense with Carson Wentz.
Dan Arnold is probably the best move TE free agent this year. Excellent speed, reliable hands (one drop last year), and a nice catch radius. I'd bet there will be a lot of interest league wide but he'd be a nice add to the Colts pic.twitter.com/lB2DfDtG57— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 5, 2021
3.) Jordan Reed, 49ers
The drop off comes after Arnold, though, as the quality of move tight ends plummets. Jordan Reed, though, is an interesting option for a team like the Colts. Once a top-tier tight end in the league, Reed suffered countless injuries (including multiple concussions) that led to his release from Washington. He had a bit of a resurgence for the 49ers last year, though, as he totaled 231 yards receiving and four touchdowns in 10 games played.
While Reed doesn’t move the needle at tight end, the Colts are the perfect team to take him on. With Doyle and Alie-Cox on the roster, he doesn’t have to be an every-down player for the team. He can be a true reserve tight end which could (hopefully) limit his chances for an injury. On the field, Reed is still an excellent route runner who has natural hands and moves well in space. If he could stay healthy— which is a big if— he would be a big addition to a team like the Colts. I am not saying they should absolutely sign him, but he is an interesting option to look at.
I like Jordan Reed as a target for the Colts this offseason. Injuries derailed a promising career but he is still one of the better route runners in the league at TE. Natural hands with some juice too. As a move tight end role player, I like him for Indy pic.twitter.com/SjH1mg4f5h— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 5, 2021
4.) Zach Ertz, Eagles (if released)
Finishing off our list is the most likely scenario of the ones listed. I reported earlier this offseason that the Colts would have interest in Ertz this offseason, and with his release seeming more likely by the day, we seem to be closing in on the possibility of an Ertz and Frank Reich reunion. The former All-Pro tight end is coming off of an injury-plagued 2020 where he appeared in 11 games and finished with 335 yards receiving and one touchdown.
As for his fit in this offense, there is some good and bad here. Ertz is not a typical move tight end as he doesn’t win with his speed or after the catch. However, he is a good route runner who knows how to position his body in contested catch situations. Then, there's the obvious connection between him and Reich. Per my report back in January, Reich has used Ertz’s film as a teaching point when talking with tight ends on the Colts. He obviously views Ertz as a top tight end and a fit in his offense. While Ertz may not move the needle anymore, his fit in this offense— and reuniting with Reich and Wentz— just makes too much sense not to happen.
The most likely Colts signing this offseason is Zach Ertz if/when he is cut. Familiarity with Reich and Wentz is huge. While he doesn't win with YAC or speed, he is a precise route runner who uses his size well. Doesn't move the needle but the move makes a lot of sense pic.twitter.com/H0W75RIoiT— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 6, 2021
The Colts need to surround Carson Wentz with more weapons for him to be successful in Indy. He has the offensive line and the running backs, now he just needs the pass catchers. While adding more talent at receiver is a top priority, adding a pure move tight end and upgrading over Trey Burton is also a need for this team.
Hopefully, the Colts aim a bit high and go after either Jonnu Smith or Dan Arnold. I imagine that both will have pretty strong markets but with how Frank Reich utilizes tight ends, he could make either top players at their positions in the league. I do feel as they the most likely option though will be signing Zach Ertz if he is released. The fit seems too obvious and the relationship with Reich and Wentz should bring mutual interest between the two sides.
Still, we have about a week until free agency kicks off so, we don’t know what is going to happen. All we do know is that the Colts need a move tight end and there are a few intriguing options out there for them to pursue next week when free agency kicks off.