BEREA—Unless unrestricted free agent LeBron James chooses to join the Browns and be their tight end, it appears the Browns will have to settle for the likes of Benjamin Watson, Evan Moore, Robert Royal and Alex Smith.
With the Browns receiving corps as young and inexperienced as they are, it makes the tight end position even more key. Quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace will look to Watson, among others, to be key components in the passing game.
Watson is the key as he was targeted by the Browns as an unrestricted free agent to be the top tight end. Watson is a former first-round draft choice of the Patriots and the 6-3, 255 pounder played his first six seasons with the Patriots.
Watson was fifth on the Patriots last season with 29 receptions for 404 yards and five touchdowns. Watson caught six passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills on Sept. 14.
In his career, Watson has 167 receptions for 2102 yards (12.6 avg.) with 20 touchdowns. Watson's best season was in 2006 when he caught 49 passes for 643 yards and three touchdowns. He had six touchdowns for a career best in 2007. He had his best game in yardage, ironically, against the Browns on Oct. 7, 2007 when he caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
Watson has also played in nine playoff games with 19 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
Besides Watson, Royal returns along with Moore, Greg Estandia and Smith. Royal is known for his blocking skills, while Moore is known for his receiving prowess. Smith is hoping to resurrect his career after being a former third-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Bucanneers.
Heading into training camp, it would appear that Watson would be the front runner with Moore and Royal the early leaders to be the second and third tight ends. A good training camp and preseason by Smith and or Estandia could land either a roster spot.
Here is a capsule of the tight end candidates as the Browns head to training camp:
Benjamin Watson—Preparing for his seventh NFL season and first outside of the Patriots, the former Georgia Bulldog is counted upon to be the Browns starting tight end.
Robert Royal—Royal is in his ninth season and second with the Browns after signing as an undrafted free agent from the Bills last season. Royal had a disappointing season with just 11 receptions for 134 yards (12.2 avg.) with just one touchdown. Royal played in 13 games and had his best game receiving in the season opener with four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. Royal has 123 receptions for 1215 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. He had his best season in 2008 with 33 receptions for 351 yards and a touchdown.
Alex Smith—The 6-4, 258 pound former third-round draft choice of the Buccaneers in 2005 was signed as a free agent in May. Last season, Smith played I 16 games with five starts for the Eagles. He caught just three passes for 25 yards. He was released by Tampa Bay after Kellen Winslow was acquired from the Browns.
Smith has 48 career starts with 132 receptions for 1277 yards and 11 touchdowns. He caught 41 passes his rookie year with 367 yards and two touchdowns. His best year in receiving yardage was 2007 when he caught 32 passes for 385 yards. In three playoff games with Tampa Bay, Smith has seven receptions for 48 yards and one score.
Evan Moore—The 6-6, 247 pound Moore was on the Browns practice squad for just three weeks when he was activated for the final five games. He caught six passes for 80 yards in his first game. He finished with 12 receptions for 158 yards (13.2 avg.) for the season. Moore played at Stanford before signing with the Packers and spending the 2009 training camp with them.
Greg Estandia—Estandia (6-8, 266) joined the Browns in the third week of the season after being signed off waivers from Jacksonville. In four games with the Browns, Estandia caught four passes for 45 yards. Estandia was with the Jaguars for three seasons and had 19 catches for 249 yards and no touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Michael Gaines and Steve Heiden played in 2009 and were let go in the off-season.
The Browns will likely keep three tight ends and it could be one of the more interesting battles in training camp to see who makes the final roster.
(Next, we'll take a look at the offensive line.)