Just shy of exactly one year ago, the Packers finally appeared to shore up the tight end position that has sorely lacked talent since Jermichael Finley‘s career ended in 2013. After Jared Cook, 2016 Divisional Round hero, and the Packers broke off contract negotiations, Ted Thompson uncharacteristically went out and signed the biggest-name option on the tight end market in Martellus Bennett. As if that wasn’t enough, the following day he also brought in Lance Kendricks, the athletic Wisconsin alum who never had the opportunity to play with an All-Pro quarterback in his six-year career. These two moves were believed to inject new life into the offense, giving Rodgers dynamic options over the middle to pair with Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams on the outside. Unfortunately, this never materialized, as Bennett’s short time in Green Bay was a circus, and Kendricks was wildly inconsistent with Hundley at the helm. Just one year after the tight end position was believed to be a major strength, new General Manager Brian Gutekunst needs to go back to the drawing board this offseason as it is arguably the biggest need on the offensive side of the ball.
2017 Stats: 16 games, 18 receptions, 203 yards, 1 touchdown
Contract Situation: Signed through 2018 season
Kendricks signed a 2-year, $4 million contract last March to be the #2 tight end behind Martellus Bennett throughout the 2017 offseason. As mentioned before, Martellus Bennett didn’t last on the Packers roster for the full season and Kendricks was thrust into the starting role with an inexperienced Brett Hundley behind center and definitely did not live up to expectations. As the year went on, Kendricks looked worse and worse, routinely dropping passes and never showcased his athleticism that was so often on display throughout his tenure with the Rams. The bright side to Kendricks’ situation is that he never really got an extended opportunity to connect with Rodgers; the first five weeks of the season he was stuck at the #2, sometimes even #3 spot on the depth chart (behind Bennett and Richard Rodgers). One game in which he did get the opportunity to make a play was in Week 3 against Cincinnati, where Kendricks snagged two of his three targets, one for a go-ahead one-yard touchdown pass, and the other for a gain of 51 yards on the first play of the second half. While Kendricks’ first season with Green Bay was an utter disappointment, he is under contract for next season for a modest price tag of $2.25 million and fits the bill as a solid backup tight end with potential to make a game-changing play with Rodgers at quarterback.
2017 Stats: 15 games, 12 receptions, 160 yards, 1 touchdown
Contract Situation: Unrestricted Free Agent this March
At this point in Rodgers’ career, it’s safe to say that the former third-round pick is a bust. However, that’s not to say that he does not have a place in this offense. He may not be the best blocker, and he won’t make shifty defensive backs miss, but he’s got some of the best hands in the game and the trust of his quarterback, which goes a long way in Green Bay. Best known as the recipient of the “Miracle in Motown” Hail Mary against Detroit during the latter half of the 2015 season, Rodgers may never develop into a dynamic threat but surely is capable of being a solid redzone target, as evidenced by his 8 touchdowns that season. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Green Bay allow Rodgers to walk this offseason, but I believe that he won’t have many suitors on the open market and that he will return for a one- or two-year deal at or near the veteran minimum. If he does return, expect him to contribute on special teams and push Kendricks (or any new additions) for the #2 tight end job.
2017 Stats: 1 game, 2 receptions, 31 yards
Contract Situation: Signed through 2018 season
A late season practice squad promotion, Byrd never got the chance to play until the final week of the season despite the shortcomings of the guys ahead of him. While Byrd did show some athleticism in his limited opportunities, I find it hard to believe the Packers are banking on the undrafted first-year player to be the answer to their tight end woes. This training camp will be very important for Byrd, as he does have a realistic shot to stick on the practice squad for a second year in row, or if he plays very well he may stick on as the fourth tight end, assuming Green Bay carries that many next season. Either way, Byrd needs to play some of his best football to stand out among what I assume will be a very different looking positional group come preseason.
Position of Need: High
The Packers have no real starting tight end on their roster, in fact they haven’t had a starter since Finley went down halfway through 2013 (save for Cook’s lone season). In hindsight, allowing Cook to leave for Oakland on a deal cheaper than the one Green Bay gave Bennett was a huge mistake, one that may haunt the Packers for seasons to come. In the aftermath of that deal, the Packers are left with just a pair of backup tight ends coming off disappointing seasons. Expect Gutekunst to be active this offseason at the tight end position, both signing a veteran to come in and start day one, as well as drafting an athletic tight end to develop into a long-term starter. Free agents such as Trey Burton, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Gary Barnidge (who’s best season of his eight-year career was in 2015 under current Green Bay tight end coach Brian Angelichio). Assuming the Packers sign a veteran to be the starter, I would expect a rookie or two to be drafted at any point on day three. This would leave said rookie(s), Kendricks, Byrd, and potentially Rodgers to duke it out for spots behind the veteran starter in what would no doubt be an exciting camp battle. If the Packers do not bring in a veteran, I would not be shocked to see take a tight end as high as round two in the upcoming draft.