Perhaps second only to the quarterback position, the tight end has become the best weapon on the football field in today's NFL offense. Some would argue for the benefit of a bruising running back or field-stretching receiver, but the most bang-for-the-buck comes from the big guy on the end of the line of scrimmage.
The right kind of player in that role can create the worst mismatches on the field at any given time. And the more creative coordinators can take a truly, talented tight end and use him at any position on the offensive side of the ball.
Just look at what Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Whitten, Rob Gronkowski, and Jimmy Graham have done to opposing defenses in their careers. While Gonzalez and Gates were two of the first truly weaponized tight ends in the league, Gronkowski and Graham have become the faces of the new NFL. They are the cream of the crop at the most dominant position on offense.
With Gronkowski out with a season ending (and possibly career altering) injury, Graham is the top-dog now. He is poised to take over as the league's premier game-changer. Few can do what he is able to do. And his services will be highly sought-after when the 2013 season closes.
Here are the best possibilities for utilizing his immense talent.
5. Atlanta Falcons
This will probably be the last we see of the great Tony Gonzalez. It has been a great ride, but he will ride off into the sunset, leaving a huge void... one that would perfectly suit Graham. He would add a potent dimension to the Falcons' attack and might help to revive Matty Ice.
4. Buffalo Bills
E. J. Manuel is going to need all the help he can get transitioning to his sophomore season. A big, fast, reliable target is just the ticket. This team needs a big boost if they want to have a shot at the perennial, division-leading Patriots.
3. Houston Texans
They need a lot of things, but tight end is a glaring need. To complement their two outstanding wide receivers (Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins), a high-caliber tight end like Jimmy Graham would go a long way toward making this one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league... settling on the QB of the future would help. too.
2. Minnesota Vikings
This is another team that needs a lot of things, but a huge talent like Graham would make a huge difference. He would be a great starter for rebuilding the team around and they play in a dome.
1. New England Patriots
Talk about a team that knows how to build and sustain success, but with the loss of Aaron Hernandez in the offseason, and another catastrophic injury to cloud the future of Rob Gronkowski, a virtual clone of their statistical production is a smart move. This might even be a no-brainer. Whether Gronk returns to form eventually or not, having the most-talented TE on the roster with Tom Brady covers a multitude of deficiencies.
I could name every team in the NFL as potential landing spots for such a talented tight end; it is the most important position after the QB as far as production is concerned, especially when the extra blocker is needed. Jimmy Graham fulfills everything an OC could want... maybe more.
If the Saints are crazy enough to let him walk away, any team would be equally crazy to not pay him whatever he asks. Graham's choice just may hinge on where the best potential for a ring lies.