It seems more than likely that the Arizona Cardinals will be without tight end Maxx Williams for an extended period of time after he suffered a gruesome injury in the middle of Arizona’s Week 5 win against the San Francisco 49ers.
On Monday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the team is fearing the tight end will be lost for the rest of the season, although head coach Kliff Kingsbury said the team would know more over the next couple of days.
Williams’ injury is undoubtedly a tough blow for the Cardinals, who have been using the tight end more and more as quarterback Kyler Murray continues to spread the wealth among his pass catchers.
Through five games this season, Williams has recorded 16 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown. He has already surpassed his 2020 numbers and is tied for the second-most receptions in his career with 16. He’s been that security blanket when needed.
Now with the tight end likely on the shelf, how do the Cardinals fill his role? Do they stay in-house or expand their search league-wide?
As it stands Tuesday, the Cardinals have tight end Demetrius Harris on the active roster, Darrell Daniels on the COVID-19 list and Ross Travis and Bernhard Seikovits (International Player Pathway) on the practice squad.
Of the three currently not on the COVID-19 list, only Harris has the most live NFL action this season. After being used as mostly a special teamer, Harris saw a season-high 52% of offensive snaps (32) in Week 5.
The 30-year-old has 106 games and 45 starts of NFL experience in his career.
Travis, who has bounced around the league and has 26 game appearances, has only been up for one contest in 2021. He did find the end zone during the preseason.
“That’s just what they’d have to do is step up and continue to get comfortable in our offense and how we do things,” Kingsbury said Monday. “It’s unfortunate Darrell is still on the COVID list, which makes it even more tough. Thought Demetrius came in and did his job, and Ross has shown some real flashes in the pass game so we’ll keep bringing those guys along.”
Looking outside of the organization, there are a few players on other teams who might be worth kicking the tires with given their ability and current situation.
Per OverTheCap, the Cardinals have just over $2.3 million in cap space to work with, giving Arizona some wiggle room to take a swing. There is, however, the fact that the Cardinals may want to look at adding more depth to the cornerbacks room after dealing with a handful of injuries to the unit over the last two weeks.
For this exercise, I have taken out the three NFC West teams as well as the Cleveland Browns, who have appealing tight end depth but have utilized all of Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Starting in Florida, the Buccaneers currently have three tight ends on the roster, headlined by Rob Gronkowski with some Cameron Brate targets sprinkled in. That’s left O.J. Howard as the low man on the totem pole. Through five games, the tight end has caught four of his six targets for 51 yards, averaging 12.8 per reception.
While he’s seen his numbers dip due to injuries and usage since 2019, Howard’s first two seasons showed off his ability as a pass catcher, reeling in 60 grabs for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns. While durability concerns are there, Howard has shown he can block. He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears
No, the Cardinals wouldn’t be getting the New Orleans Saints version of the tight end, but the 34-year-old Graham showed last season he can still be a factor, reeling in eight touchdowns and 456 yards on 50 receptions (75 targets).
The year has gotten off to a much slower start for Graham, who has just one catch for 11 yards and is slotted behind Cole Kmet on the depth chart.
Graham is in the final year of his contract with Chicago after signing a two-year deal worth $16 million, with $9 million guaranteed.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons used their No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft to add rookie tight end Kyle Pitts to quarterback Matt Ryan’s arsenal. After a Week 5 coming out party, it’s likely the Falcons want to keep going his way.
So what does that mean for a guy like Hayden Hurst, who is in just his second year with the team after getting traded away from Baltimore two years into his career? Hurst has shown he can make plays, recording 13 catches for 103 yards and touchdown this season. There are, however, some questions surrounding his ability as a blocker.
But with the Falcons not picking up Hurst’s fifth-year option this offseason, the rental price tag could be relatively light compared to other tight ends on Arizona’s radar.
Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts
Known for his blocking, Alie-Cox has started to see more balls come his way this year, recording nine catches (15 targets) for 124 yards and two scores. Alie-Cox is in his fourth NFL season, all with the Colts, and is an unrestricted free agent in 2022.