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Finding a TE to stretch field will be as challenging for Ravens as overhauling WR corps

The NFL posed a fill-in-the-blank question Monday afternoon on its Twitter account.

__ is the best free-agent landing spot for Jimmy Graham?

Ravens pending free-agent tight end Benjamin Watson was quick to weigh in. “The team that wants the most dynamic playmaker at the position the most,” Watson responded on Twitter.

Could that be the Ravens?

Graham, who played the past three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, heads an underwhelming free-agent tight end market that also includes the oft-injured Tyler Eifert, the once-released Austin Seferian-Jenkins, fellow 37-year-olds Watson and Antonio Gates, and the touchdown-throwing Trey Burton, who started five games in four seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles but will always have his “Philly Special” throw to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl.

At 6 feet 7 and 260 pounds and with freakish athleticism, Graham is the most desirable option for a tight end-needy team despite a 2017 season that was disappointing by his standards. The 31-year-old caught 57 passes, the third fewest of his eight-year career, and had 520 receiving yards, the second fewest. His 9.1 yards per reception was the lowest of his career. However, he did catch 10 touchdown passes, and his dip in production has to be attributed to some extent to the Seahawks’ inability to run the ball or protect quarterback Russell Wilson.

Graham, though, has been durable — he’s missed just seven games in his career — and productive with 69 touchdowns in 120 career games. In a free-agent market awash with cash, Graham will be able to pretty much name his price.

The Ravens will likely have enough salary cap space to make one reasonably big free-agent expenditure, and that player will almost certainly come on the offensive side of the ball. They’ll explore a free-agent wide receiver market that could include Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins.

Given Joe Flacco’s past success in throwing to players such as Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, and the state of the team’s roster at tight end, it makes sense for the Ravens to at least kick the tires on Graham.

With Watson hitting free agency and potentially retiring, and with continued uncertainty about the suspended Darren Waller, the Ravens lack a pass-catching tight end who can stretch the field and be a red-zone target. Nick Boyle is a quality blocker with good hands, but he’s not quick or elusive. Injuries have hindered Maxx Williams’ ability to run past defenders. Vince Mayle was used mostly on special teams last year. All of them are solid blockers, but the missing piece is a big and fast tight end who teams have to account for down the field.

Graham could be that guy, but he figures to have plenty of suitors, and the Ravens aren’t equipped to win a bidding war. Eifert, who has missed 40 games over the past four seasons, might be worth a flier, but his injury history makes it difficult to count on him. Seferian-Jenkins is an intriguing player coming off a bounce-back season, but he has some baggage, too.

As for the draft, there’s no surefire first-round pick, though it’s considered a pretty deep class, led by Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert.

It hasn’t worked out so far with the oft-injured Williams, who was a second-round pick by the Ravens in 2015. However, Day 2 of the draft has produced many of the league’s best tight ends. Rob Gronkowski, Kyle Rudolph and Zach Ertz were all second-round picks. Graham, Travis Kelce and Jason Witten were taken in the third round.

If the Ravens don’t get Graham, they’re going to have to mine the middle rounds and find a pass-catching tight end of their own.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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