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2018 NFL Free Agency

Unless Saints Sign Injury-Prone Eifert, Finding a New Tight End Will Have to Wait Until the NFL Draft

While an overwhelming majority of Saints fans were happy yesterday when the news first broke that the team had re-signed franchise QB and future NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees to a 2-year contract, a large portion of those same Saints fans were disappointed just a few short hours later when the team lost out on bringing back former All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham.

But instead of the highly-anticipated "reunion" between Graham and the Saints that was expected to take place once NFL Free Agency officially begins later on today, the 31-year old star chose a different option and signed a 3-year , $30 million deal with the Green Bay Packers on Tuesday, according to reports by ESPN and NFL Network.

Graham was considered the top tight end on the 2018 NFL Free Agent market, and although the Saints organization expressed interest during the past few days over the possibility of bringing him back, the Packers were able to convince him to head up to the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

In the end, the Packers simply were willing to pay Graham more money than New Orleans was.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

It should be noted however that from the outside looking in, it would appear that the Saints didn't want Graham all that badly. It was either going to be the number that they themselves were willing to spend on getting Graham "back in the fold", or not at all.

What is still yet to be determined as of this morning is whether or not the Saints front office even feels that the tight end position is a huge "need" for them going forward (most observers feel that it definitely needs an upgrade), despite the questions surrounding the future of current starter Coby Fleener.

But whatever the Saints decide to do (or not do as it may eventually turn out) about the tight end position, their remaining options are now already down to either pursuing the only "good" tight end left remaining in the Free Agent class — Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert — or waiting instead and selecting one in next month's 2018 NFL Draft.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Eifert has never played a full 16-game season for the Bengals in his five-year career with the team. The only reason anyone is going to give Eifert a big contract in Free Agency is simply because of what kind of player he is when he is healthy: which is one of the best young tight ends in the sport of Pro Football.

There's no question that when he is fully healthy, it’s hard to find a tight end in this year's Free Agent market who is any more dynamic than Eifert, who will turn age 28 in September.

Eifert's biggest problem has been that he just can't seem to stay on the field long enough to make a lasting impact. 

The first-round pick of the Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft from the University of Notre Dame has spent more than half of his career on the sidelines, missing 41 out of a potential 80 regular season games due to a string of injuries, from a concussion, several stingers, a severe elbow injury (and a torn labrum repaired at the same time), an ankle surgery and, in the last two seasons, multiple disc repairs in his back and a cleanup in his knee.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Despite all the injuries, surgeries and rehabilitation, Eifert has never considered retiring.

“No,” Eifert said to Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Jim Owczarski recently. “No. If I didn’t think that I could get back to being a dominant player then yeah, I probably would. But there’s no question I can get back to where I’ve been.”

And as of now, “everything is fixed,” he said.

In 2015, he had 13 touchdowns and was virtually unstoppable in the red zone. But since that time in the last 2 seasons combined, Eifert has only played in 10 games (out of a possible 32) with 2 starts.

But with Eifert’s career seemingly in jeopardy should he sustain another injury, it means that he’ll likely be willing to sign a contract with minimal guarantees if he and an interested team can negotiate an incentive-based contract.

However, it just seems like too big of a risk for the Saints to take; and given how they just got "burned" essentially with the Fleener signing 2 years ago, it might be considered foolish of them by some observers to give Eifert a deal that he might not ever be capable of fulfilling.

There is actually one other "decent" TE in the Free Agent class besides Eifert in New York Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins; but since he is a recovering alcoholic, it's thought that any chance of him coming to NOLA and being able to resist the temptation of the New Orleans "night life" (and the famous party-like atmosphere of the French Quarter) would not be a feasible situation to be in.

Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

Which of course then leaves the Saints waiting until next month's 2018 NFL Draft, which is thought to be the deepest Tight End class in many, many years.

This year's 2018 Draft class is loaded, with at least 9 to 10 real quality TE prospects, with at least 3 of them that project to be "elite" caliber players at the position in the future.

And while most analysts and experts will project the Saints to take one with their first pick at #27 overall, they still could decide to take the "best player available" in Round 1; and wait to address the TE position in Round 3 or 4.

(Remember: the Saints don't have a 2nd Round pick this year, which they used in last year's Draft to get RB Alvin Kamara).

Photo courtesy of United Press International

Players such as Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki (pictured right above and the favorite among many Saints fans at the moment), South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews, South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst, and Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli are among some of the top names of this year's class.

We've been profiling a few of the players listed in previous articles here at the Saints News Network (click HERE), and we will continue putting out a few more profiles on Saints Draft TE prospects in these next few weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft itself (April 26th-28th at AT&T Stadium in Dallas).

But until that time, that's how everything is shaping up with regard to the TE position for the Saints at the moment.

Will the Saints surprise every one and give Eifert a "prove it" deal to see if he can be the same player he was just a few years ago? Or will they just wait instead and choose to target one in next month's Draft?

Photo courtesy of The University of Wisconsin

We should likely have our answer within the next few days.

Either way, by this time next month Saints fans are just hoping that the TE position is going to be filled by a player capable of providing an impact, instead of the insufficient production put up by Fleener and company last season......

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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