The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
Free agency never really ends
Two free agent players have been signed by the Commanders over the past week (with two other players released to make room for them). First, the team added offensive tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith, and a few days later LB Ferrod Gardner. To make room for them, the team released OT Drew Himmelman and LB Nathan Gerry. Both Jones-Smith and Gardner had just completed stints in the XFL, though both had been under contract to NFL teams prior to that. Jones-Smith actually has 4 NFL starts on his resume, while Gardner was in training camp with the Commanders last year, making this something of a ‘homecoming’ for him.
The Commanders suddenly need a tight end
Washington’s tight end depth has been questioned all offseason. In fact, a lot of mock drafters had the Commanders drafting a tight end 16th overall. In the end, Washington did not draft any tight ends at all, and brought back 6 players (including FB/TE Alex Armah) who were all under contract with the Commanders in the 2022 season. Interestingly, they did not opt to bring in a UDFA tight end to supplement the unit. On Tuesday, Armani Rogers tore his Achilles tendon on the first day of voluntary OTAs, bringing his ‘23 season to an end before it really started.
After Rogers had lost much of his 2022 rookie season to injury, many people were projecting the converted former UNLV quarterback to have a breakout sophomore season.
With only 5 healthy tight ends currently on the roster (again, counting the FB/TE Alex Armah in the group), the Commanders are very thin at the position, and will almost certainly need to bring in another player before training camp.
While the team could bring in a college free agent who went undrafted and unsigned, anyone still available would almost certainly be a practice squad-quality rookie at this point. The team seems more likely to bring in a player with some NFL experience.
Should the team be looking to the XFL?
Given that the last two players signed by the Commanders were former XFL guys, perhaps that’s where they should look for a veteran tight end.
When I fired up Google to see who the top tight end in the XFL was, one name kept popping up — 30-year-old Cody Latimer. Appearing in 8 games this season, Latimer pulled in 43 receptions for 523 yards and 4 TDs.
If his name sounds familiar, that shouldn’t be a surprise; Latimer was on the offseason roster of the Washington Football Team in 2020 — Ron Rivera’s first year as head coach of the team. After being arrested in May for assault in the second degree, illegal discharge of a firearm and reckless endangerment, Latimer was put on the Commissioner’s exempt list. He was released by Washington in August 2020.
Latimer’s best season in the NFL was 2019, when he reeled in 24 catches for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns for the NY Giants. He lost his NFL opportunity because of his arrest, but he seems to have moved past that. Latimer pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an incident involving a poker game argument in May 2020. He was given 2 years probation, but no jail time. Latimer had 9 other charges, including four felonies, dismissed.
Obviously, Ron Rivera liked Latimer as a football player well enough to bring him to camp in 2020, but Latimer’s dismissal from the team and the circumstances that prompted it seem like pretty substantial obstacles to a return to Washington. Fans may remember that newly-signed LB/S Ferrod Gardner was arrested while he was in college, and coach Rivera seems to have accepted that as an obstacle that the young man successfully overcame, so perhaps Latimer’s situation will not automatically disqualify him. When you read about the incident that led to his arrest, it certainly appears to have been quite complex.
Another former-WFT, former-XFL tight end who is available is Eli Wolf. He was at the bottom of the depth chart when he was here before, but Ron Rivera knows him and is likely comfortable with him.
Other NFL veteran free agent options
As we approach the end of May, there simply aren’t a lot of veteran free agent options available at any position, and those players that remain unsigned are most likely to fit the mold of bottom-of-the roster/practice squad players, and many of them are 30 y.o. or older. One has to sift through the list looking not so much for a potential starter, but for a player who can provide legitimate depth during training camp, and possibly make the team at #2, #3 or #4 on the depth chart.
This list probably comprises nearly the entire universe of veteran NFL tight ends capable of making an NFL roster in 2023.
Source: Over the Cap
When I first read through the list, I was a bit excited. Some names like Maxx Williams and Jesse James were guys I remembered as being top prospects coming out of college. As I did a bit of quick research on the list of players, however, my enthusiasm waned.
I have divided the list into 3 tiers, which should be understood, roughly speaking, to be:
- Tier 1 - capable of earning the #2 spot on the depth chart
- Tier 2 - has a reasonable chance to make the 53-man roster as a backup/depth/special teams player
- Tier 3 - Long shot for anything more than practice squad
My Tier 1 player is Cameron Brate. Brate played 9 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and has a championship ring from Super Bowl LV. Physically, at 6’5”, 245 pounds, Brate fits the mold that defines most Commanders tight ends. He has 2,857 career receiving yards, with 33 touchdowns, and has 392 career special teams snaps. Statistically, Brate’s two best seasons were 2016-17, when he averaged more than 60 catches, more than 600 yards, and 7 touchdowns per season. He has typically been healthy, active for every game from 2017 to 2021. Last season, he missed time with a neck injury & concussion from a scary hit by Myles Jack in Week 6. Brate ended up playing in 11 games.
At 39 years of age, Lewis is ancient by NFL standards, particularly for an offensive skill position player. As recently as 2021, Lewis had 23 receptions on 28 targets, and last year he scored two TDs on 6 receptions, so he may have something left in the tank.
Swaim is 6’4”, 260 pounds. He has played 827 special teams snaps, including 126 in 2022. In 8 seasons, he has 100 receptions for 752 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is an average blocker. He was healthy for every game of the ‘21 & ‘22 seasons, and has a career catch rate of 78%. In 2021, he hit his career high in receptions and had the 2nd highest number of yards in his career.
6’6” and 255 pounds, Griffin was drafted in the 6th round in 2013.
(Note: all NFL statistics in the article come from ProFootball Reference)
I don’t imagine I need to tell any NFL fan who Kyle Rudolph is, but he’s played for three teams in the past three years, so let’s look at what his production has looked like from 2020-22:
Anderson is a bit smaller than most of the tight ends on the Commanders roster at 6’3”, 230 pounds. He entered the league as a UDFA in 2016, and has been on the rosters of 4 teams.
Anderson is a special teams player (1,082 snaps) and an in-line blocker on offense (1,181 snaps) who has the ability to catch a pass now and then (27 receptions on 37 targets; 16 first-downs).
Firkser is a smaller tight end in the mold of Alex Armah; he is 6’2”, 246 pounds. Firkser has 1,271 career offensive snaps, and just 389 special teams snaps.
Prior to the ‘21 season, Pruitt was cut by the 49ers. He ended up with the Titans, first on their practice squad, and later as part of the regular roster. In Week 17, he suffered a dislocation and fracture of his right ankle, requiring season ending surgery. He finished the season with a career-high 14 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns through 16 games and nine starts.
In 2022, Pruitt spent the first 5 games on the practice squad. With an injury to Casey Hayward, Pruitt spent the rest of the season on the active roster. He finished with new career-best numbers of 16 catches for 160 yards and 4 TDs in 13 games.
You can see that PFF likes him.
Tomlinson was undrafted in 2015, and has been on the roster of 8 different NFL teams. He played for 3 teams in 2019 and 2 teams in 2020. In his 8-year career, he has 27 receptions for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns. At 6’6”, 263 pounds, he is primarily a blocker.
Wilcox is the youngest free agent on this list at 26 years old. He was signed as an udrafted college free agent by the Bengals in 2020. He has been a very active special teams player, logging 481 special teams snaps in 2 years. At 6’4”, 250 pounds, he fits the mold of a Washington tight end. Although he’s been targeted only 23 times in regular season games in his career, he has 20 receptions, and caught 17 of his 18 targets in 2022 at a respectable 8.2 yards per reception. He has also been active for 7 playoff games, including the super bowl at the end of the 2021 season. Of the players on this list, Wilcox probably offers the most career upside
Shaheen was traded from the Dolphins to the Texans ahead of the 2022 season, but the trade was cancelled when he failed his physical due to a preexisting knee injury. At the time, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said that Shaheen would undergo surgery after getting more opinions on his knee and that the organization was “100% supportive” of his decision. Shaheen did not play in 2022, and I’m unclear whether he is healthy enough to play now.
The Ravens’ 2nd round pick in 2015, Williams is 6’4”, 252 pounds.
Steelers 5th round pick in 2015; 6’7”, 261 pounds.
Rogers had a pretty good career in Green Bay, but he doesn’t play a lot of special teams (13 snaps in 2019; 24 snaps in 2021; 48 snaps in 2022), and over the 5 seasons from 2018-2022, he was active for just 35 games, and had 28 receptions for 367 yards and 2 TDs.
Would you be in favor of re-signing former WFT and XFL player, Cody Latimer?
This poll is closed
Of the Tier 1 & 2 players I reviewed in the article, which one would you prefer to see signed by the Commanders to replace Armani Rogers?
This poll is closed
I don’t like none of ‘em!