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Saints can right a wrong by signing Cameron Brate (if he’s available)

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The Saints need another tight end, there’s a guy who could fit in nicely if he becomes available.

TAMPA, FL:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) goes up to make a catch over New Orleans Saints safety Vonn Bell (48) during a game at Raymond James Stadium.
TAMPA, FL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) goes up to make a catch over New Orleans Saints safety Vonn Bell (48) during a game at Raymond James Stadium.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

You hate to see good players get away, but that’s what happened to the New Orleans Saints with tight end Cameron Brate. He briefly appeared on their 2015 practice squad and has since flourished for the cross-division Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen spoke highly of Brate in a 2016 interview with the Times-Picayune’s Herbie Teope:

“When they split him out - when you take a tight end and you split him out on the backside of a three-by-one formation knowing that you are going to get single-high safety and run isolation routes for that guy, you know they feel they have something special there,” Allen said. “He is a big target on third down. He is a big target, especially down there in the red zone. I think he has played really well for them.”

Name, position: Cameron Brate, tight end (26-years old until July)

Measurements: 6-foot-5, 245-pounds, 32-inch arms. 4.77-second 40-yard dash

Injury history: Brate was listed on the injury report with minor ankle, knee, and back designations during November and December 2017, but did not miss any games

Experience: Brate has played four years, appearing in 45 of his last 48 games

2017 snap count, key stat: The Bucs liked fielding Brate at the same time as rookie first-round pick O.J. Howard (Alabama Crimson Tide), with Brate appearing in 582 snaps to Howard’s 608. Over the last two years, only Jimmy Graham (Seattle Seahawks) and Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings) have scored more touchdowns among tight ends than Brate.

Originally an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, Brate bounced between the Bucs and Saints practice squads before joining Tampa Bay’s active roster following an injury to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Since then Brate has solidified himself as a starting-caliber tight end, completing 105 receptions of 158 targets (66.4-percent) for 1251 yards. He’s been mildly productive while standing out in big spots, which leads me to believe Brate could elevate his game in a bigger role.

He may not have the raw speed to pull away vertically, but Brate is smart and knows how to weave between zones and get open. He’s a sure-handed option on critical downs, converting 33 targets on third down into 17 first downs last year, tying Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) to lead the league’s tight ends. Brate also saw the second-highest share of his snaps from the slot (20.2-percent) among starting tight ends, trailing only Dallas Cowboys great Jason Witten (20.6-percent). That reliability and versatility should be highly-valued by the Saints and other teams that struggled to keep drives alive on third down.

Brate’s value is continuing to rise as we get closer to free agency and his career is put under more microscopes. He does carry a restricted-free agent designation, which means the Bucs will have the right to match any contract offers Brate receives, but it’s unlikely Tampa tenders him at a level that requires draft pick compensation. Pewter Report’s Trevor Sikkema estimates Brate’s average-per-year number at $6.5- to $7.5-million annually, while Spotrac.com’s algorithm suggests a slightly higher number of $7.9-million. That’s not much more than the mid-level salary the Saints agreed to with Coby Fleener two years ago ($7.2-million), and would rank Brate the fifth highest-paid tight end in football. If he continues to produce at his established rate, that’s well worth the investment.