The Madden cover, defense against the dark arts professor, and the Green Bay Packers tight end position all seem to have one thing in cover, it is cursed.
One player in the last 20 years. That is how many pro-bowl tight ends the Packers have had on their team. Bubba Franks made the pro-bowl in 2001-2003 with Brett Favre under center. Zero. That is the number of pro-bowl tight ends Aaron Rodgers played with in his career.
Tight end for the Packers has been filled by many players since Jermichael Finley’s career ended with an injury in 2013 and continues to be an area of concern in the 2020 offseason. The Packers have tried to fill the need with veterans like Jared Cook who was on the receiving end of one of Aaron Rodgers most iconic passes, Martellus Bennett who did not make it through a full season with the Packers, and most recently Jimmy Graham who was just released this offseason. They combined for $32 million, 1,693 yards, and six touchdowns over four seasons. That is an average of $8 million, 423.25 yards, and 1.5 touchdowns per season. The numbers are not what you would expect for the money that was given out. The Packers will need to continue to find ways to revitalize this position.
That brings me to my question, are the Packers set at tight end for the 2020 season?
The Packers currently have three tight ends on their roster. Second year player and 3rd round pick Jace Sternberger, veteran Marcedes Lewis, and Evan Baylis. Robert “Big Bob” Tonyan is an exclusive rights free agent which means he will most likely end up back on the Packers this season which will give them four tight ends. Last season the Packers went into the regular season with three healthy tight ends; Graham, Lewis, and Tonyan.
The Packers could be more than comfortable heading into next season with the tight ends that they have, but what are the risks?
Besides Lewis, the Packers’ tight ends have very little experience. Sternberger is entering his second year on the team, and missed most of last season after being placed on IR before the start of the regular season. Evan Baylis appeared in just five games for the Packers last season, but it was exclusively on special teams, and Big Bob Tonyan appeared in 27 games over the past two seasons for the Packers but only had 14 receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns. As mentioned before Lewis is a solid veteran, but he is known more for his help in the run game rather than a threat in a passing attack.
If the Packers do decide to roll with the players they have there is some potential for production from Tonyan and Sternberger. Tonyan earned praise from Rodgers this past offseason:
“He is a sponge,I think every great player that has ever played in this league and has not been given everything right away or been a starter since Day 1, they’ve been like Robert. Just soaking up everything you can from the veterans in the locker room. . . He’s just been a great teammate and a great pro. He’s the kind of guy you don’t have to worry about.”
He has also flashed big play potential since his first catch in the NFL which went for a touchdown.
He is a big, 6’5”, and athletic offensive weapon for Rodgers, and with a healthy season could be a real threat in the passing game. Sternberger also brings a lot of potential and talent to the Packers. Sternberger was chosen for All-Team SEC tight end which is considered the best conference in the NCAA. He is quick, athletic, and hard to bring down. Sternberger’s rookie year was knocked off the rails by an injury, but he can easily bounce back this year and show that he was worth the 3rd round pick. As Sternberger recently said, he didn’t sign up to hand out water.
If the Packers did want to make a move at tight end, what are their options?
The top tight ends are off the market already in the first week of free agency. Austin Hooper earned the highest tight end contract in NFL history from the Browns. Former Saint, Seahawk and Packer Jimmy Graham signed a 2-year $16 million deal with the Bears. Eric Ebron is headed to the Steelers on a 2-year $12 million contract. Other tight ends available are Tyler Eifert, Delanie Walker and Jordan Reed. They all bring baggage with them. Eifert, Walker and Reed all battled injuries last season and struggled staying healthy. The Packers have been tied to Walker, but with their history of signing veteran tight ends, they need to be cautious.
The draft this year is stacked at offensive positions like QB and WR, but the tight end position is one of the weakest in the draft. The Packers might not have the most proven talent on their roster, but they have few options to add to the team. If they want to explore trades, the Browns might be willing to let Njoku walk with this signing of Hooper, but he is also an unproven player.
I believe the Packers are going to start the season with the tight ends they have now and trust their development much like they did last year at WR. Did it work out last year? No, but they could be impressed with what Sternberger and Tonyan have shown on the field and in practice.