The Cardinals will see if Jim Dray (left) or rookie Rob Housler (right) can emerge as a starting tight end.
Tight end has been an odd position for the Cardinals over the years, and even the arrival of coach Ken Whisenhunt – a tight end during his playing days – hasn't really brought stability.
As 2011 approaches, the Cards' current situation remains the same.
Free agency – whenever it occurs – should change the equation. Veterans Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach have expiring contracts, so on sheer numbers alone, the Cardinals will have to delve into signing at least a couple of players. As of now, however, the choices at the position are second-year man Jim Dray, the team's 2010 seventh-round draft pick, and this year's third-round draft pick, Rob Housler.
Housler, who spent a lot of time as an H-back at Florida Atlantic, is a pass catcher than some believe can emerge as Arizona's version of the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez had 45 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie, and that was as a second tight end behind fellow standout rookie Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots' offense has morphed toward tight end-centric of late, however, something the Cards' offense has not needed to do in recent years.
In fact, the Cards didn't need the tight end much at all in the Kurt Warner era, when Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston could join Larry Fitzgerald in three- and four-wideout sets and Warner could toss it down the field.
With Warner gone, however, and the Cards moving to a new quarterback, having a prime tight end target would likely serve the team better.
Dray (three catches for 47 yards) served as a blocker and a special teamer as a rookie. His progress was limited in his first season. It's possible the team could bring back Spach and/or Patrick. Spach is more of the physical blocker the Cards want. Patrick's upside seemed inviting for a while – his touchdown catch in the Super Bowl could've have been a harbinger of what he was to become – but he has not developed into the player the Cards hoped he would be.
During the draft, Whisenhunt noted the impact of tight ends over the past couple of years – not only did the Patriots' additions shine, but the Cards got an up-close look at how much Jermichael Finley stood out for the Packers in the teams' meetings two years ago.
Hopefully, Housler can evolve into that type of player. And the Cards can stop their constant search for an anchor at the position.
KEY PLAYER IN 2011: Housler. The decision to spend a third-round pick on a pass catcher at tight end would seem to mean both that the Cards know they need to get more offensive spark from the spot.
CONSIDER THIS: The Cardinals haven't had a tight end with more than 28 catches in a season since Freddie Jones had 45 receptions in 2004.
ROSTER CHANGE CHANCES ON 1-10 SCALE: About a 7. Time being short in free agency may make an impact on whether the Cards just bring back last year's guys, like Spach and Patrick. Regardless, the Cards will bring in at least one veteran – and maybe two – given the inexperience of Dray and Housler.