The San Francisco 49ers would love to find a tight end to complement George Kittle in 2019. But if few options present themselves, veteran Charles Clay could be the grab.
Editor’s Update: ESPN’s Adam Schefter just reported the Arizona Cardinals are signing Charles Clay to a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million, citing a source, which unfortunately makes this possibility for San Francisco a moot point.
Aside from having to smash his already impressive single-season record for most yards by a tight end, Kittle is certainly going to draw the attention from the defenses San Francisco will face in 2019. What helps negate that, however, would be if the Niners add some serious offensive weapons this offseason.
While wide receiver is the most pressing need, finding a quality No. 2 tight end can be just as valuable. The last two years, this spot has been held by Garrett Celek. Yet Celek’s somewhat promising 2017 campaign didn’t carry over to last year, where he eventually finished with more penalties against him (six) than receptions (five).
The 49ers would ideally like an upgrade over Celek this offseason. There are a number of quality options in the 2019 NFL Draft, including Kittle’s former teammates at Iowa, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Niner Noise’s Jeremy Wohlfart even broke down how the latter could be an exceptional addition to San Francisco’s roster, if the draft pans out that way.
Yet the problem with either Fant or Hockenson is their draft projection doesn’t exactly pan out with the 49ers’ current selections. Likely to go either late in Round 1 (Fant) or in the middle of Round 2 (Hockenson), the Niners’ Nos. 2 and 36 overall selections probably aren’t going to be spent on tight ends.
So, free agency might be the route taken if this is a priority.
One name to watch here is veteran tight end Charles Clay. At 30 years old, Clay’s best days of football are likely behind him. The Buffalo Bills cut him this month after he managed a mere 184 receiving yards. But when considering the numerous offensive issues Buffalo had last year (a rookie quarterback and a shoddy offensive line), combined with the fact Clay had at least 500 yards receiving each year between 2013 and 2017, there’s probably at least a decent amount of contribution left.
Plus, Clay is a solid blocker in both the running and passing games. Second-string tight ends need to be particularly effective there, and Clay has already established that.
On top of that, Clay is far less a penalty liability than Celek. Clay has been flagged just five times over the last three years and only 14 times in his entire career. Celek, meanwhile, had those six penalties in 2018 alone and has 20 over a comparable career length.
For San Francisco, going after Clay would be a modest-yet-effective attempt to upgrade this overseen need on the roster.
Heck, in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Clay might even be able to rejuvenate his career a bit, too.