Chargers torpedo the tight end market by franchising Hunter Henry

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers don’t know who will throw passes to their receivers next season, but they are making sure Hunter Henry stays in town to catch them.

NFL teams desperate to upgrade their options at tight end this offseason received a cruel blow on Friday afternoon. The Chargers’ decision to place the franchise tag on Hunter Henry robs the free agent market of a dynamic pass catcher.

Los Angeles’ decision to place the tag on Henry allows them to keep him in the fold for at least one more season, but the hope is that the organization will be able to ink him to a long-term contract extension. At worst, Henry is slated to make $11 million next season if he plays under the tag.

It’s a solid piece of business for the Chargers. When healthy, Henry has the potential to contribute at a Pro Bowl level. The fact that he’s only played 12 games in the last two seasons is a concern for the team’s coaching staff, but his injury history wasn’t going to drastically impact his options in free agency. The Chargers know that franchising Henry was the only way they could prevent him from cashing in next week on the open market.

Removing Henry from the class of tight ends available this offseason is a massive blow to what was already a weak group. Now Austin Hooper unquestionably becomes the top tight end available via free agency. Look for him to reset the compensation market for his position group no matter who he signs with in the coming days.

Taking Henry off the market should also equal an uptick in offers for the next wave of tight ends available. Eric Ebron is a terrific athlete but some teams will take him off their board due to his inconsistent hands. Tyler Eifert has flashed All-Pro potential in Cincinnati, but his medicals are going to scare away a number of potential suitors.  Despite those red flags, look for those two players to capitalize on Eifert’s franchise tag.

In normal circumstances, teams would opt to address their tight end needs via the draft. Unfortunately, this year’s draft class is entirely devoid of star power. The first tight end might not be selected until Round 3. That means it will be very dangerous for any team to believe they can get a top flight starter as a rookie this offseason.

The only good news for teams looking for pass catching weapons this offseason is that the draft class is stocked full of talent at the wide receiver position. Teams more focused on value than positional needs will see a lot more upside in that group than in their counterparts at tight end.

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The Chargers will count themselves fortunate to be one team that doesn’t need to worry about finding a new starter at tight end this offseason. Franchising Henry is a big boost to their hopes of returning to the playoffs next season. In sharp contrast, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for many of their competitors.

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