After losing Jordan Cameron in free agency, the Cleveland Browns were seemingly left without a player to fill the “pass catching” tight end role in their offense. During free agency, names like Charles Clay and Jermaine Gresham were thrown around, but Clay’s price was far too high and the Gresham rumors have quieted since the beginning of free agency.
With many projecting the Browns to look to the 2015 NFL Draft to fill the void, it appears they will take another crack at one of the free agent tight ends. According to reports, former Arizona Cardinals TE Rob Housler will visit the team on Wednesday.
The Browns interest in Housler is nothing new, as it was reported by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN back on March 23rd that the team had interest in the 6’5” and 250-pound free agent. At that time Fowler stated, “The Browns have had discussions with Cardinals tight end Rob Housler, according to a source, and mutual interest exists but nothing is imminent and no visits are planned as of now.”
At 27-years old, Housler has had an intriguing career to this point. Taken in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, his freakish size and speed (4.55 40-yard dash at the combine) pushed the Florida Atlantic product up a number of draft boards. With the athletic tight end craze in full effect, his athleticism pushed the Arizona Cardinals to select him—ignoring his deficiencies in the blocking game in the process.
Housler’s rookie season would be pretty disappointing, as he finished with just two starts in 12 games on the season. He would catch 12 passes for 133 yards and zero touchdowns from the dynamic passing duo of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton that season, as veterans Todd Heap and Jeff King would draw more attention in the passing game.
However, things would change over the course of the 2012 and 2013 seasons for Housler. In 2012, he was the fourth highest targeted player on the team—finishing with 45 receptions on 68 targets for 471 yards. He continued that pace in the 2013 season, catching 39 passes on 57 targets (tied for fourth on the team) for 471 yards and one touchdown.
With the growth he experienced over his second and third seasons in the league, many expected the 2014 to be his official “breakout” season. Instead, Housler found targets hard to come by in the Arizona offense—recording just nine receptions on 17 targets for 129 yards. Between the emergence of rookie WR John Brown and the presence of veteran TE John Carlson, Housler would finish ninth on the team in targets.
The lack of usage in 2014 has driven Housler to seek other opportunities, and he may not find a better one than Cleveland. Thanks to the vacancy created by Cameron’s departure, Housler would only have to compete with Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray, currently, for targets next season. With his options seemingly limited since he has been on the market so long, he could likely come at a low cost for the Browns as well.
It is hard to disagree with the assertion that the upside is there for Housler based on his measurables and flashes in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. On top of that, he did not exactly have the greatest play at the QB position over the course of his first two seasons in the league. But one does have to be concerned about two areas of Housler’s game.
First, his inability to find the endzone as he recorded just one touchdown in 55 games. Most teams like their “pass catching” TE to be a big player in the redzone, and that is something he has not proven to be during the first four seasons of his career.
Secondly, the inability to firmly cement himself as the tight end of the future for the Cardinals. Despite being drafted in the third round to fill that role, he was seemingly lost in the offense for half of his career there. Granted, the team did invest heavily in wide receiver targets—the intent was obviously there for him to emerge as a real threat on the team. Whether that is because of the offensive system, other receivers or quarterbacks on the roster is another question, but the failure to emerge is still concerning to say the least.
For the Browns, adding Housler with a “prove it” one-year deal could not hurt at this point in time. The 2015 NFL Draft is not exactly ripe with pass catchers ready to contribute from day one, so a one-year deal buys the team a year to develop a rookie from this class—if they want to carry four TEs on the roster.
At the end of the day, Housler would be a low-risk, high-reward addition to the roster for the upcoming season. But the team will still need to find a long-term option at some point, so signing him should not stop them from drafting a project later in the draft.