In the fourth installment of the 2020 Los Angeles Rams Positional Breakdown series, we will be taking a look at the tight end room. The 2019 LA Rams saw the long-awaited emergence of a legitimate pass-catching threat at TE, with Tyler Higbee producing one of the best months of December a tight end could possibly have (84 or more receiving yards in five straight weeks) after signing a 4 year/ $31M contract extension in September.
Furthermore, we will also be taking a look at the option to either keep the promising but seemingly gameplan-dependent Gerald Everett past 2020, or trade him and give TE3/H-back Johnny Mundt (or another TE?) a shot to play in more games as the TE2.
Finally, will the Rams be signing a tight end in free agency if they are not sold on Everett long-term, stick with the current three tight ends for the season, or even draft a tight end in the later rounds? Let’s dig in.
Potential Out in 2021 ($1.8M Dead Cap)
Going into the 2019 season, Los Angeles Rams fans had some concerns about giving Tyler Higbee the “big” four-year extension (the extension kicks in this coming season). Up to the point of the extension, Higbee hadn’t shown many signs of being the guy the Rams thought they stole in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL draft: the next Travis Kelce-level talent.
Even during the 2019 season, Higbee was playing behind Gerald Everett until Everett went down due to injury. But when December rolled around, Higbee would go on a run that many people, even most us Rams fans, will talk about for a long time.
In the span of five games in December, Higbee went for 522 yards on 48 receptions and ended the season only 16 yards shy of having five-straight 100+ yards games. He would finish the season with 69 receptions and 734 receiving yards (both being single season Rams records for tight ends). What a high note for the 3rd year tight end, proving the contract extension was actually a bargain.
Higbee will hope to ride the momentum that carried him through a spectacular December into the 2020 season, and beyond. Therefore, this will give the Rams, and the fans, a chance to see how a full season goes with him being an integral part of the offensive game plan week in and week out.
Expect a monumental 2020 for Tyler Higbee, where he could easily break the records he set in 2019 and pace the NFL tight end leaders in receptions and/or receiving yards.
The 2019 season saw Everett as the starting tight end for most of the season until he got hurt in week 13, after which we saw Tyler Higbee take his place. When involved in the passing game, Everett was actually productive for much the season, finishing with 408 receiving yards on 37 catches and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately, with Higbee going off in the last month of the season, this puts Everett in a peculiar situation. He’s going into the last year of his contract (he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season). Along with his contract status and Higbee’s emergence (plus Johnny Mundt having a good year on the special teams units and filling in admirably at TE2), the Rams have yet another tough decision to make.
Given that Everett was the Rams’ second round pick back in 2017, he does know McVay’s system and has shown to be a good player and true threat after the catch (his biggest strength). There has been speculation that the Rams could trade Everett prior to the 2020 season as a 1-year rental to a team looking for a “move” tight end, and recoup some draft picks.
On the other hand, unlike Everett Mundt doesn’t have a lot of experience in game situations, so there is a strong possibility the Rams keep Everett for the whole season. But will they re-sign him is another question that no one really knows outside of the front office.
Going into year four in the NFL, this is the season for Everett to prove that he can be a well established tight end in the league. Although, will it be with the Rams after the 2020 season, or with someone else?
2020: ERFA (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
Mundt appeared in 13 games last year, mostly on special teams and as the TE3/H-back, and in my opinion showed enough to compete for the backup tight end position moving forward. Mundt did start two games last year after Everett was sidelined, but only managed 26 receiving yards on four catches. His development as a pass catcher is not quite in Everett’s league, but he has plenty of room to improve.
He joined the Rams as an undrafted rookie back in 2017, McVay’s first year, so he does have the same knowledge of the offense as Higbee and Everett. Mundt saw 32% of the snap counts with the ST last year and showed that he can be a blocking/move tight end in heavy personnel looks to balance out Higbee, who’s finally developed as a receiver after primarily contributing as a blocker his first few seasons.
Although, Mundt is an ERFA, he did get a future contract deal with the Rams so expect Mundt to be back with the Rams in 2020 as the TE3 and heavy personnel specialist. But what will his role be down the line? No one knows for sure until Everett’s future with the Rams is decided.
Kendall Blanton was an undrafted rookie free agent that got picked up by the Rams in 2019. He only played in one game with four special teams snaps against Seattle in week 14.
The 6’6 262 pound tight end could potentially rejoin the Rams in 2020, since he is also an ERFA just like Johnny Mundt. Although, with him only playing in one game and logging four snaps, don’t expect to see a jump for Blanton on the depth chart with the Rams having Higbee, Everett, and Mundt in the room taking all of the playing time on offense, and on special teams.
Potential Free Agent Signings:
Charles Clay (2019 Arizona Cardinals)
$2M 40th ranked TE (Free Agent Forecast)
The situation in the tight end room makes it interesting to see if the Rams will even consider going for a tight end in free agency this year. It gets complicated with Tyler Higbee starting his new contract (cap hit of $7.1M), along with the situation of Gerald Everett still slotted to earn starter’s snaps. If the Rams move on from Everett, the smart solution would be to bring in a veteran to help guide Johnny Mundt’s development, especially if the Rams think he isn’t ready to play the TE2 role alongside Higbee.
Charles Clay would be a good option to help mentor Mundt, as he’s been in the league since 2011 and has extensive playing experience in multiple systems. Furthermore, due to his experience, Clay could be a good backup for Higbee in case he has to miss extensive time.
Last year with the Cardinals, Clay had 237 receiving yards on 18 receptions with one touchdown. The Rams could likely sign him to a short-term deal that would be less or equal to what Everett is getting now with the Rams ($1.923M).
Tyler Eifert (2019 Cincinnati Bengals)
$4M 27th ranked TE (Free Agent Forecast)
Now, if the Rams want to go all in on revamping the offense to make it as prolific as it was in 2018, getting UFA Tyler Eifert would make the league take notice real quick. Eifert was finally given a chance to leave Cincinnati, where he has been since he was drafted in 2013, and it is clear that he wants to go to a contender.
The Rams are building a new stadium, hiring younger and more relatable coaches, and vowing to be more balanced on offense; along with the the Los Angeles lifestyle, it all adds up for him to heavily consider LA as a potential landing spot. During his seven-year career, Eifert has over 2,000 receiving yards with 24 touchdowns. Last year alone, Eifert had over 400 yards with three touchdowns along with 10.1 yards per catch. The potential to have Higbee and Eifert on the field together, not including the wide receiver core, could really open up the McVay playbook to open up the field for not only the passing game but for the run game as well.
It is a long shot but if the Rams went to win a super bowl, adding a veteran like Eifert would be the next step to accomplishing that goal.
The 2020 season will be an interesting one just because of all the potential storylines when it comes to the tight end room:
- Tyler Higbee is looking to keep the momentum going after the end of the 2019 season. It remains to be seen if he can keep up that high level of play in 2020, but all signs are trending that way.
- The possibility of the Rams trading Gerald Everett away to save ~$2M and give Johnny Mundt a shot to be the backup/TE2.
- If Everett is moved, signing a free agent like Charles Clay or Tyler Eifert would be wise if the Rams don’t think Mundt is fully ready to be the TE2 in McVay’s offense.
The tight end room is certainly one to watch going further into the off-season and the 2020 season as well. What would YOU do with Everett heading into the 2020 season?