An underrated subplot of Super Bowl LVI is that the Rams entered the game with little help at the tight end spot due to Tyler Higbee getting hurt in the NFC Championship game and when Kendall Blanton went down they wound up with next to nothing. The Ram’s tight end room was also short Jacob Harris. He was injured in the middle of the season and he’s only legally a tight end.
It became a bigger problem when Odell Beckham went down and the running game got shut down like Moe Szyslak at a singles’ bar. The Rams’ offense became Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and a shaky Van Jefferson. They then had to pray Brycen Hopkins remembered how to play football considering he’d been on a Kree spaceship with Nick Fury for two years.
Tight end is an area the Rams refused to address this off-season. With how last season transpired one would think the team might have spotlighted it. Especially with Higbee’s struggles to stay healthy in recent years.
Tyler Higbee is a solid tight end and if he had a few more highlights/stayed healthy he’d be a regular on top-ten lists. He’s a decent blocker and has a knack for extending drives. 57 percent of Higbee’s catches were for first down. Stafford made great use of him allowing him to rack up 61 catches, 560 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
Higbee missed time due to COVID and while he came back for the playoffs he injured his knee in the NFC Championship. His future with the Rams is murky. On the one hand, he’s far and away the best tight end on the roster, but next year is the last year in the four-year $29 million extension that he signed in 2019. His cap hit is $7.6 million next year and while there is the possibility Tony Pastoors does his Stephen Strange-level sorcery to extend him in a way that doesn’t impact the cap until 2040, he could be a cap casualty.
If he is cut he’d only have a dead cap hit of $1.4 million so if the Rams needed to make room for some huge free agent they won’t blink twice. In the last two off-seasons, his name was floated in trade rumors but ultimately that never came to pass. If the Rams choose to move on from him be it next year or the year after, there isn’t a clear line of succession. This is odd for the Rams, who are now famous for grooming the next man.
Currently, the next man up is Kendall Blanton. Blanton famously stepped in for Higbee against the Cardinals on Monday night. Higbee missed the game due to Covid. While he didn’t light up the scoreboard he DID make some clutch catches and had a tight end screen come his way. He would score a touchdown against the Buccanneers in the playoffs and had decent yardage against the Niners. That’s not much of a resume but it’s also not bad for an undrafted free agent who spent most of his career on the practice squad.
Blanton is a so-so-blocker and it’s possible he gets a lot of snaps in camp so there’s room for improvement. His only other real competition is Brycen Hopkins and until the Super Bowl he was believed to be hiding out on a farm because he accidentally challenged someone to a duel. His 47 yards in the Super Bowl were instrumental to the win (no really) as he took just enough pressure off Kupp for him to make clutch plays.
He’s not known for his blocking but he did do it a little in the Super Bowl so maybe he can be more than a poor man’s Jimmy Graham. Jacob Harris will be used as a receiver only once he comes back from his ACL tear. So what do the Rams do if neither works out long-term?
The Future of the Rams Starting Tight End
In a perfect world, the Rams would simply trade for a tight end. But who? The big guns aren’t going to be available. The 2023 free agency market is also not much of an improvement. The two marquee names available, Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz will most likely be resigned and then after that, the next names are Evan Engram, Austin Hooper, and Robert Tonyan.
The next option would be the draft and while Les Snead and company are adept at finding diamonds in the rough (one of them being Higbee), it isn’t clear there would be a tight end available that could immediately take over in case they’re put in a scenario where they have to drop Higbee like third period French.
The Rams’ front office is capable of anything so this could all be moot. It’s strange that there hasn’t been much thought put into the position given that Sean McVay is a former tight ends coach and he preferred to run a 12-personnel. But tight end hasn’t been a priority for the team. The Rams have had over 50 draft picks in the McVay era and have only selected two tight ends. Gerald Everett was one of those draft picks and was the heir apparent, but he is no longer on the roster.
Former running back coach Thomas Brown is taking over the tight-end department this season. They must feel good with the horses they have or is there a chance that Brown will implement a new way of using them.
The Rams are always great about restocking a position of need before they absolutely need to and now they need to start rebuilding the tight end position. Tyler Higbee is likely not long for this roster barring some cap magic. Kendall Blanton and Brycen Hopkins aren’t proven entities and there aren’t clear options in a trade or free agency.
It’s possible they keep Higbee at a team-friendly rate and use the draft to find another option or two as Blanton and Hopkins are entering contract years of their own. The Rams have a great offense but if they had another tight end opposite Higbee they’d be borderline impossible to stop.