News dropped today via @MySportsUpdate on Twitter that the Jags would no be picking up their team option for TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Seferian-Jenkins was often mentioned as a possibility for the Saints last season as they tempted fate and worked to bring Jimmy Graham back to New Orleans. Just a couple weeks ago it looked like Jimmy himself might also be an option for New Orleans this offseason as they look to bolster their receiving corps with a viable pass-catching Tight End threat to add to the mix. But it now looks like Graham will remain in Green Bay, but despite that, the Saints’ options are not at all limited in Free Agency should they want to stack up their offense ahead of the draft.
Still in play for New Orleans will be several viable options. Here are a few to keep an eye on.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jacksonville Jaguars
2018 Stats: 5 Games (5 Starts) – 11 Catches, 90 Yards, 1 Touchdown
ASJ didn’t have a stellar time in Jacksonville. Perhaps that’s why he prematurely tweeted out his goodbyes to Jacksonville last month. He’s consistently been considered a pass-catching threat throughout his career with Tampa Bay and the New York Jets but the red flags have often kept him out of action. In 2016 he played two games with Tampa Bay before being released after an arrest for a DUI. He was later signed by the Jets that same season where he had 10 catches and 110 yards over his seven games. Then, to begin the 2017 season, he was suspended for violated the league’s Substance Abuse Policy. In the 13 games he played after the suspension he put together his best season with 50 catches, 357 yards, and 3 touchdowns though that season will likely be remembered for his fumble out of the endzone against the Patriots.
Last season, he signed a 2-year deal with the Jaguars and just when things were looking up, he suffered an injury Week 5 that put him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. So his 2018 stat line isn’t impressive, but it’s visible that when Seferian-Jenkins can stay on the field and avoid either injury or trouble, he can produce. Getting his athleticism (37.5″ vertical and a 4.56 40 pre-draft in 2014) into a culture like the Saints have and with a training staff that’s help Alex Okafor, Alex Anzalone, and others make an impact after returning from injury could be a good thing for the 6’5″ Washington product.
Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers
2018 Stats: 16 Games (7 Starts), 30 Catches, 423 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
Jesse James might be my favorite of the free agency crop that also includes more big names like Tyler Eifert. His height helps set him apart and puts him right into the Saints wheelhouse. He stands at 6’7″ and adds a 37.5″ vertical. Along with that are his skills as a blocker and his health. James has played in 48 straight regular season games over the last three seasons of his four-year career.
His 14.1 yards per catch rate and his 76.9 catch percentage are also tempting. Someone at that size with reliable hands and a prowess for picking up chunk yardage doesn’t come along very often. Now that there’s a player of that ilk available, I expect the Saints to make a move to bring him to New Orleans to help him take the next step in his young career.
Demetrius Harris, Kansas City Chiefs
2018 Stats: 15 Games (3 Starts), 12 Catches, 164 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
Harris was an undrafted basketball player out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2013 spending a year on the Chiefs practice squad. Since then he’s been stuck behind one of the best Tight Ends in the league Travis Kelce. Now that Harris is a Free Agent, he may be looking to head somewhere that can showcase his talents more readily. And why not do so with a team that turned a basketball player into one of the league’s most dominant Tight Ends?
Harris stands at 6’7″ and weighs in around 230 pounds. He reportedly (according to Draftscout.com) recorded a 40 time in the mid 4.5’s at his Milwaukee Panthers workouts. Another tall, big-bodied, and athletic option for New Orleans here.
Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
2018 Stats: 16 Games (14 Starts), 68 Catches, 896 Yards, 6 Touchdowns
The 31 year old vet had a Ben Watson-like coming to last year recording his best stats in his tenth career season. Cook would be the biggest example of spending on someone’s most recent production in the hopes that they could repeat. The offs of Cook repeating 2018’s production are bolstered in the New Orleans offense that loves to throw the ball and keep the Tight Ends involved. His blocking capabilities, if they were to return to form, would be welcomed as well though not necessary with Griffin and Hill having been re-signed.
Cook’s 6’5″ 254-pound frame and 4.49 speed (10 years ago, at least) would fit in well in the vertical offense New Orleans is known for, but his sure hands (68.7% catch rate) and reliability fit the short to intermediate game that the Saints have evolved into. He’s cemented a +93.0 passer rating when targeted in each of the last three seasons according to PFF.
Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers
2018 Stats: 16 Games (1 Starts), 23 Catches, 333 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
I’m just being nostalgic here. Pairing the career Tight End receiving touchdowns leader and career completions and passing yardage leader together for their final year(s) would be a massive tug at the heart strings. They’ve both found ways to last in the NFL for an incredibly long time after starting the early years of their careers together in San Diego. Gates isn’t the Tight End he was back in Drew’s San Diego days, but he’s still a red zone and safety valve option with his skill and size. He’s found ways to put multiple scores up in each of his most recent years including 7 just two years ago. Could he have one last resurgence with Drew Brees in New Orleans if given the opportunity?
Not much older than Ben Watson who came back to New Orleans for one last stint last season at 38 years of age, Gates will be 39 going on 40. Last year, Watson gathered 35 catches for 400 yards and a pair of scores. If Gates can contribute along the same realm of numbers, he’d be serviceable but wouldn’t be adding the value that New Orleans is seeking from the TE position. Would be pretty dope to see he and Brees take a last ride together, though.
The Saints will have many options here in Free Agency, not to mention another deep class of rookie Tight Ends in the draft. Wouldn’t be surprise to see them grab one in each of these phases of the offseason. But where they select one in the draft will depend on who they land in Free Agency, so it all begins next month.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC