Raiders In A Tight (End) Spot
By Bess Shapiro
The Oakland Raiders have a tight end problem. They don’t have a lot of healthy ones. They need to sign Jermichael Finley. This concern was mounting, which is why the team signed Kyle Auffray, a 2013 undrafted free agent. He is a big guy at 6-5 and 254 pounds, but since being first drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and then having bounced around to other teams, he has taken no NFL snaps.
This doesn’t bode well for an important position. And it’s odd that Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie hasn’t tried for something a little better. Thinking they were probably solid enough at that position, the Raiders didn’t take a tight end in the draft. David Ausberry was coming back and last year’s rookie sensation Mychal Rivera was looking in good in practice. Then there was second-year man Nick Kasa, who didn’t see much action, but looked promising. Then there was Brian Leonhardt, an undrafted free agent from last year and still considered a sleeper by many. He’s looked good in practice this week, catching three passes.
Ausberry got hurt again and is out indefinitely after having knee surgery. Kasa tore his ACL and is out for the year. This puts pressure on Rivera to produce exactly how he did last year without much guidance from a more seasoned player. Leonhardt has floundered this preseason, dropping some key passes. One bright spot was the play of Jack Murphy, who caught a touchdown pass from Derek Carr last Friday’s preseason win over the Detroit Lions. But he’s a rookie, too, and there is no telling how he’ll do against a high-caliber roster when the regular season begins. The addition of Auffray can’t hurt, but the Raiders really need some veteran experience at this position, just like the experience they have added on defense and at wide receiver.
Finley, the former Green Bay Packer, is still available. He is currently a free agent after spending six years with Aaron Rodgers and racking up some impressive stats. He has 223 career catches for 2,785 yards and has averaged 12.5 yards per reception. He is still relatively young at 27, so it’s odd that he hasn’t been snatched up. The New England Patriots passed on him when it looked like Rob Gronkowski was going to be ready for the season opener. Finley had to be carted off the field with a career- threatening neck injury after only six games last year. While a neck injury is concerning, Finley has recovered nicely and is ready to play.
As pointed out by Paul Gutierrez of ESPN, it has been noted that even with a hole at tight end, there are others who can step in, including Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece. He has proven reliable in short yardage situations. But Gutierrez says, Reece is only 6-1 — short for a tight end: http://espn.go.com/blog/oakland-raiders/post/_/id/5390/raiders-painfully-thin-at-tight-end.. Finley is 6-5, which gives him the height to win battles against defensive backs. Finley is waiting for his next shot, and the Raiders have a lot to gain by giving it to him. They certainly have nothing to lose.