There is no getting around it. Last off-season, former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson botched the tight end position. After a very productive stretch at the end of the 2016 season, tight end Jared Cook looked like a lock to re-sign with the Packers. Cook gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers that down the middle of the field presence the Packers offense had been missing since former tight end Jermichael Finley was injured and forced to retire.
However, something occurred during negotiations with Cook’s representation, Thompson and the Packers top contract negotiator Russ Ball that caused the Packers to walk away from talks and instead having the Packers sign free agent tight end Martellus Bennett, which all Packers fans know, turned out to be a disaster. Bennett wasn’t the only failure signing of a tight end. Lance Kendricks, who was signed as a free agent from the Los Angeles Rams, only caught 18 passes for 203 yards and just one touchdown reception. New top personnel executive Brian Gutekunst has inherited a mess at this position from Thompson and it will be up to him, either through the NFL Draft or in free agency, to re-build the position. The Green Bay Packers tight end position should look a lot different next season.
The Green Bay Packers Tight End Position Should Look a Lot Different Next Season
The tight end position for the Packers needs a makeover. Last season, it had just 56 catches for 628 yards with only two touchdowns. Those numbers came from four different players, Bennett, Kendricks, Richard Rodgers (who will be a free agent this off-season and many expect not to be re-signed), and Emanuel Byrd. Kendricks and Byrd are the only players at the position under contract, but neither are guaranteed to be back with the team next season.
Rodgers makes other players look better because of his unbelievable talent, but you can only expect so much out of him if you don’t have players that can carry their weight. Gutekunst needs to build the tight end position back up and he can do it three ways, through trades, free agency, or in the draft. It wouldn’t be surprising if he utilized at least two of those options, most likely those being free agency and the draft.
The Packers and Gutekunst have some options if it is through the draft or in free agency this off-season. Here are three options, if they decide to go through the draft or in free agency, the Packers can choose from, hoping one or maybe even two can give the Packers an upgrade at the tight end position this season.
Free Agent Options
Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles
Burton backed up Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles this past season. Burton, who broke into the NFL as a special teams contributor for the Eagles, put up some solid numbers as a backup this past season, catching 23 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns. Burton’s receiving skills are better than his blocking skills, but Burton isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there and block. Burton would be a perfect fit in the Packers offense because of his ability to catch the ball. The Packers might have to open their wallet, the same wallet that Thompson and Ball have refused to open for so many years, to get Burton to come to Green Bay since he is expected to be the top free agent tight end target on the market.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets
Seferian-Jenkins is coming off a career-changing season, where he caught 50 passes for 357 yards with three touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins has incredible athletic ability and the size to be a big target in the middle of the field, being 6’5” and 262 pounds. There are a lot of questions that come with him though for teams looking to sign him. He has only had one productive season in his four year career and along with that, he has been cited for multiple DUI offenses, which caused the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that spent a second round pick on him, to part ways with him. However, if he has his life together and last season was just the tip of what he can do on the field, he might be worth the risk.
Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
If Graham was coming off his 2011 season, which he caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns while playing for the New Orleans Saints, it would be a no-brainer that he would be the top option in free agency. However, it isn’t 2011 and Graham, along with his achy knees, aren’t the same that they were back then. Still, he is coming off a season where he caught 57 passes for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Seattle Seahawks. The team that signs him has to understand, Graham is strictly a receiving threat, with having nearly no blocking skills to speak of. If the Packers bring in Graham, they are going to need to find a backup tight end who can block, something Kendricks, who is under contract, really isn’t known for.
NFL Draft Prospects
Don’t expect the Packers to sign a top free agent tight end and then use a first round pick on one. However, if they decide to turn their back on free agency, like they did for so many seasons with Thompson and Ball steering the ship, it wouldn’t be too far of a fetched for the Packers to spend a top round pick on one. Here are a few who are among the top prospects at the position in the draft.
Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
Yes, the experts will question the level of competition Goedert faced while at South Dakota State, but they can’t question his ability. The 6’5”, 255 pound prospect caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards with 11 touchdowns this past season for the Jackrabbits. Although he is far from a finished product for blocking, like most tight ends are now coming out of college where most teams run spread offenses, he has the skill set to become an adequate blocker. If the Packers are going to get Goedert, they might have to spend a high round draft pick to do so, since he has been moving up the boards pretty quickly as of late.
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Andrews does suffer from diabetes, but it is type 1 and very controllable. If you witnessed Andrews at Oklahoma, you wouldn’t even know that he has it. Andrews was the top target for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy this past season, catching 62 passes for 958 yards with eight touchdowns. Andrews was quite the weapon in the red zone, using his body to shield off smaller defenders. Andrews doesn’t have the athletic ability Goedert has and isn’t a blazer. Just like every tight end in this draft, blocking will be a work in progress.
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
We like Fumagalli over Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki for this last spot because of Fumagalli’s knack for creating space on his pass routes. Although not blessed with blazing speed, it seems that he has a knack for getting open and his route running is above Gesicki’s. He isn’t a road grader when it comes to blocking, but playing for Wisconsin, a school known for its running game, he had to be doing something correctly to take care of his man. Fumagalli is projected go in the third to fourth round, so if the Packers did sign a top tight end, Fumagalli could be brought in to develop behind whomever they sign.
Tight End Position Needs Attention
The Packers have to do something at the tight end position, but it seems like the best path to upgrading the position would be to sign a free agent like Burton and take a tight end like Fumagalli in the middle round and develop him. If they were to do this, they would also still have Kendricks who might not be a starting caliber tight end but can contribute in the passing game. Gutekunst was left with a mess and now it is up to him to upgrade the tight end position. No matter how he does, it just needs to get done.
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