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Should the Panthers take a gamble on free agent tight end Jordan Reed?

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The Panthers are thin at tight end, and the free agent market for that position is even thinner

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Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers currently have six tight ends on their roster and none of the are needle movers. Ian Thomas is an intriguing young player who seemingly has potential but through two seasons only has 52 receptions for 469 yards. Holdover Chris Manhertz is just a blocking tight end with six receptions in 54 career games.

The remaining four roster fillers are Temarrick Hemingway, Colin Thompson, and undrafted rookies Giovanni Ricci and Cam Sutton. This fearsome foursome have combined for a total of ZERO career receptions.

If Ian Thomas fails to emerge as a clear cut starter or if he misses any time with injury, the Panthers will be in dire straits when it comes to receiving tight ends. The lack of both quality and depth at the position led Pro Football Focus to rank the Panthers tight ends as No. 31 of 32 NFL teams (take that, Washington!).

Since Spotrac estimates the Panthers still have around $11 million in available cap space I decided to peruse the list of available free agent tight ends to see if Carolina could bring in a one-year rental to firm things up. Unfortunately, the tight ends who are still available are on the market for a reason. Old timers like Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis are unsigned, as is former Panther Ed Dickson. Geoff Swaim’s age of 26 makes sense for the Panthers timeline, but he’s only recorded 48 receptions in his five year career.

But there was one name on the list that had me thoughtfully stroking my chin and saying, “hmmmmm....” and that is Jordan Reed. The former Washington player was released in February after missing the entire 2019 season due to a major preseason concussion, reportedly the seventh confirmed concussion in his career. There’s no downplaying how serious a history of concussions can be for a player’s long-term well-being. If I were Reed, I’d take my $32 million in career earnings and retire as quickly as possible. But I’m not Jordan Reed and he’s free to make his own life decisions, and per the NFL’s website he’s planning on playing in 2020. He has also cleared the league’s concussion protocol so he’s technically able to play.

When healthy the former 2013 third round pick has been one of the most productive tight ends in the league. In 2015 he registered 87 receptions for 952 yards with 11 touchdowns in 14 games. In 2016 he played just 12 games but produced 66 receptions for 686 yards and was voted to the Pro Bowl. But between 2017 and 2018 he missed 13 games then sat out the entire 2019 season. For his career he has averaged five receptions for 51.9 yards per game.

Reed would be the ultimate high-risk, high-reward type player. Even if he’s just 75 percent of what he was in Washington he’d still likely be the best option on the Panthers roster. Given his injury history the Panthers would need to sign him a “prove it” deal with heavy incentives and minimal guaranteed money. A good frame of reference is the oft-injured Tyler Eifert who signed a one-year, $4 million in 2019 with just $1.2 million guaranteed after playing just 13 games over the three previous seasons. He responded last year by playing all 16 games with 43 receptions for 436 yards on his one-year deal.

Since Reed missed all of 2019 he’d likely need to be willing to take less than Eifert’s deal, so something like $3 million with $1 million guaranteed. While it’s tough for teams to evaluate players during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wouldn’t mind taking a flier on Reed. Carolina isn’t competing for a Super Bowl but the team should at least strive to be competitive in the first year of Matt Rhule’s reign. The Panthers depth at tight end is shockingly thin and Jordan Reed just might be the best option available.


If you were the general manager, would you sign Jordan Reed to a 1-year, $3 million deal?

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