Arizona Cardinals 2013 in review and looking ahead: The tight ends

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Our position-by-position series continues

The tight end position was supposed to be a big part of the Arizona Cardinals offense in 2013. Rob Housler was supposed to break out and be an impact player. Carson Palmer said in the offseason that Housler could be an 80-catch guy.

Actual production was a different story.

Housler was disappointing overall. He started the season injured and, when he returned, he struggled with routes, awareness and catching. He later would put together a string of games that made people think that he had turned the corner, but then he got hurt and, upon returning, struggled. He did, though, finish strongly against the 49ers. After an early blunder, he made some big catches down the stretch when the offense drove down the field twice to tie the score.

As for stats, Housler led the group in catches with 39 catches for 454 yards and his first professional touchdown. Jim Dray became the most reliable player of the group for the offense. Arians called him "as trustworthy a ballplayer" as there was on the team. He was not stellar at either receiving or blocking, but he was reliable at both. He had the most playing time and caught 26 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns.

Jake Ballard was brought on late in the season and gave the team some production. He caught seven passes for 75 yards and two scores. The coaching staff raved about Ballard since his arrival.

The team spent a seventh round pick in 2013 on D.C. Jefferson, but he didn't find much playing time and was cut before he even caught a pass. Kory Sperry caught a pass, but was inactive for much of the season.

In a nutshell, the position was a disappointment. Bruce Arians is known for his love of double tight end sets. You need production from the position and that didn't happen.

Looking ahead:

2014 will be interesting because there could be a lot of turnover. Jefferson was cut and has a future contract with the Jaguars. Dray and Sperry are both restricted free agents. Ballard is a restricted free agent.

The guy the fans dislike the most these days is Rob Housler, and he is under contract for one more year.

The team has already made some moves to try and infuse talent. Darren Fells, a former basketball player, was on the practice squad almost all last season and will return for the offseason and training camp. They added a pair of tight ends, Brett Brackett and Andre Hardy, to future contracts. Hardy is another former basketball player. The team seems to be trying to find their own Jimmy Graham.

Who will be here in 2014?

I don't think Housler is gone. With his third round rookie contract, he isn't expensive. I would expect either Ballard or Dray to return. I don't think either will be hot commodities around the league. Having both return would not surprise me.

Sperry will be gone, in my opinion.

Will they draft a tight end? That is very possible. However, with the young, raw talent they have brought in, they might forgo that. It will depend on who is on the board when their selections roll around.

Would a group of Housler, Dray, Ballard and a rookie be enough to turn the position around? That would depend on Ballard's health I think. If healthy, he should make at least a modest impact.

Do they look to outside free agents? That is the question. I think Dray and Ballard are the most likely options because of familiarity with Arizona's offense and the team's familiarity with them and their skills.

What do you think? Will there be an overhaul? Will there be some status quo? Discuss it!

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