More Uncertainty at Tight End Heading into 2020

The Green Bay Packers have struggled in recent years to find consistent and reliable production from the tight end position, and now as we look ahead to 2020, there once again appears to be more uncertainty. 

For the Green Bay Packers, finding a reliable tight end in recent years has proven to be incredibly difficult. Jermichael Finley's career ended in 2013 and since then Green Bay hasn't had any sort of consistent production from the position. 

Now, to the credit of former GM Ted Thompson and current GM Brian Gutekunst, they've worked hard to try to solve the issue and they've invested quite a bit of capital into it, which shows the importance of the position. However, up to this point, it just hasn't worked out. 

Richard Rogers was an okay player, and Jared Cook has probably been the best of the bunch but even he only appeared in 10 regular season games during his one season in Green Bay.

Then there was Martellus Bennett, which ended horribly. The following year the Packers would bring in Jimmy Graham and make him the highest-paid tight end on a per-year basis in the NFL. Along with the additions of Marcedes Lewis and Lance Kendricks. And finally, just this past offseason we would see the Packers spend some early-round draft capital on the position with the selection of Jace Sternberger in Round 3. 

On paper all of these moves seem like they should have worked, or at the very least, one of them should have hit. But that hasn't been the case and as we look ahead to the 2020 NFL season, once again, there are still question marks surrounding the tight end position in Green Bay. 

Heading into this upcoming season there is certainly a lot of excitement around Sternberger, and rightfully so. Shortly after the season ended, Lewis told Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com "he's going to be a good one," when talking about Sternberger. In a separate interview, Gutekunst would go on to say that, "he's a matchup problem for linebackers and safeties." Certainly high praise for the soon to be second-year player. 

Although limited, in 2019 we saw that Sternberger is a willing blocker, he's able to get open, and he flashed in the passing game as well, even though he wasn't targeted very often. And much of the same can be said about Robert Tonyan, who is an exclusive rights free agent but is likely to be back in Green Bay. 

With that said, the transition from college to the NFL for a tight end is one of the more difficult jumps that there is. In addition to just becoming acclimated to play at the NFL level, young tight ends have to understand the blocking techniques and responsibilities of an offensive lineman, while also being well versed in the routes and responsibilities that wide receivers have. This is a big reason why we rarely see rookie tight ends make a big impact and even in Year 2, there is certainly no guarantee.  

So with Graham now officially cut and Lewis a free agent, that just leaves the Packers with Sternberger and Tonyan, who between the two of them, have only three combined starts in their careers. While the potential is certainly there, is fully relying on a second and third-year player with limited experience something Green Bay should be banking on? I say no. 

Now having said that, I certainly don't think that Sternberger should be stashed away on the bench. I expect him to play a much bigger role in 2020, but having a veteran alongside of him as he continues to develop could prove to be very valuable. And even if Green Bay doesn't land prized free agent Austin Hooper, who they have been linked to, bringing back a veteran like Lewis, or signing Charles Clay, or Eric Ebron for example, and having someone else to lean on if Sternberger is going through a rough stretch would be ideal.

A veteran presence is going to help provide stability at the position in what could end up being an up and down season for the young Sternberger.

Of course, the draft is always an option as well but for the reasons that I mentioned above about the transition from college to the NFL along with this year's tight end class not being very deep, I think a veteran addition would be the more appropriate move. 

The tight end position in Green Bay is one that needs to be solved, it just can't continue to be a yearly issue that is addressed every offseason. The good news is that with Sternberger they appear to be on the right track but I don't know that they should be putting all of their eggs in that basket at this point in his career. So when the free agency period begins, let's get him some help and get this position right this time. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (27)

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Lare's picture

March 13, 2020 at 01:15 pm

I agree with getting some veteran help at the TE position, I just don't think they need to spend $15 million per year on Hooper to do it. Hooper, Graham & Sternberger were all 3rd round draft picks.

IMO, let's give Sternberger a chance to show what he can do and bring in Marcedes Lewis to help.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 13, 2020 at 07:30 pm

I agree with getting veteran help. I, too, would like to keep Lewis for another year on a modest contract.

That would leave us with no starter at RT, and we need another TE, especially if we want to run a lot of double TE sets. IMO, you draft the tackle and look for a second tier TE in FA.

That leaves more than $20 million to use on our defense. Plus our draft.

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PatrickGB's picture

March 13, 2020 at 01:23 pm

Just because a TE is available as a FA doesn’t make him superior to what we have already. Esp with the cost involved. I could see us going with Tonyan and Sternberger and maybe Lewis along with a draft pick. Or maybe even somebody off a practice squad somewhere. At one time draftnics assumed that Lazard would be a good TE. While I don’t believe that to be the case, he could still take some reps that a TE might take. I guess that after being burned with over payed/underperforming FA TEs I don’t see the value in doing it again.

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AgrippaLII's picture

March 13, 2020 at 01:30 pm

After all of the free agent TE whiffs by the last two GM's. I hope Gutekunst stays away from signing another high dollar TE and goes after Defense in Free Agency. If you're going to whiff on a TE then make it a draft pick...it's cheaper!

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stockholder's picture

March 13, 2020 at 02:05 pm

I just don't see the uncertainty. Sternberger, Tonyan, Lewis, all work. And really Lazard at TE is a No brainer. Tony Gonzalas weighed 20 pounds more. Shannon Sharpe, 1 pound more, at 228. During MMs rein. 4 TEs were on the roster. Richard Rodgers would fall down after a catch. He even lined up at Wr. I believe the packers just don't know how to use Lazard. And making a case for a another Rookie TE won't work. Since we have Sternberger and Tonyan. The cost for another veteran Te is to ridicules now. So whats wrong with Lazard TE? Especially if Gute wants better WRs.

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taarons420's picture

March 13, 2020 at 06:30 pm

I can't stand the Lazard to TE stuff.
Almost as silly as the Gary to ILB stuff.
Can anyone name a single college WR who converted to TE in the NFL and made any sort of impact at all?
I can think of 1... Waller for the Raiders. And he never puts his hand on the ground. EVER.

Lazard would get bent in half if they lined him up in a three point stance next to a tackle.

The benefit of a legit two-way TE is the unpredictability that having one creates.
Lazard at TE screams "THIS PLAY WILL NOT BE A RUN!"

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Leatherhead's picture

March 13, 2020 at 07:44 pm

Tell it. Let Lazard be a big, good blocking WR who catches a couple of passes a game. He’s a physical mismatch on most DBs and he’s already shown he can make big catches in the clutch.

Get a legit two-way TE and pair them with Lewis or Sternberger. Lots of matchup problems, plus you’ve got quite a few good blockers on the field.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 13, 2020 at 08:09 pm

Lazard can catch ten balls a game if he's open. Four-year starter at Iowa State. Dominated Oklahoma and A&M.
He will only get better.

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Stroh's picture

March 14, 2020 at 01:53 pm

Lazard is about as good as he's going to ever be. He has limited athletic ability at a position where athletic ability is more crucial to success than most positions. He has one good trait and that is his size which he already knows how to use. He's not going to get quicker or faster. He's a nice player who should be no better than #4 on the depth chart. That conference Lazard played in is notorious for poor defense.

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stockholder's picture

March 13, 2020 at 10:43 pm

So you'd rather see Lazard get Cut again. You know Warren Sapp switched to DT.?? Anything can happen. But I was comparing the weight and height. Lazard would be bent in 1/2? Then why expect Jones to block at RB? You expect him to block at Wrs. And a DE in todays 4-3-4 is much lighter. So yes; he could play TE against the right DL.

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dobber's picture

March 14, 2020 at 05:49 am

If you've got better players with better demonstrable upside, then YES. Cut him. I don't see what's so hard about that. In this case, he's shown himself to be better than most of the WR on this roster. The Packers aren't going to bring in 4 WR better than him. He's safe.

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stockholder's picture

March 14, 2020 at 10:30 am

I believe they will bring in 4 WRS. If they don't, Gute will waste picks, and protect his first draft. ( with MVS and St. Brown.) So far I see them going defense in FA. That leaves WR rd1. (Prefer slot) Even a TE in 3. Then 2 of the 6s Slot WR. And 1 WR in the 7th. The others are OL/RB. It would be stupid to trade Picks with the value/ Depth at WR. No other position can generate a position that could start. Who can he land late. Thomas slot Mia. Pollard C, Heck OT, HighTower Wr, Watkins slot WR, Rb.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 14, 2020 at 12:50 pm

When you pay big money for starters at some positions, that means you have to economize on others. Lazard is a good blocker who made big catches for us and he’s cheap.

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Packer.Pockat's picture

March 13, 2020 at 08:59 pm

Right on. Lafleur says he considers Lazzard a tight as well. Lazard has more upside than people expect. He is also dangerous as a receiver as a right end of wide out.
If we can tap into a good wife receiver in the first and third rounds combined with our current group should help. Nothing wrong with Lazzard as a TE, in fact may have the most t talented TE Green Bay has had for 20-50 years. Best part is With him you don't have to bring replacement on third down. If he's TE1, consider Sternberger TE2 and with resigning Mercedes Lewis and Tonyan give you a good TE Corp with room for additions with 10 draft choices.Tight end is the least of our worries. Save your money for defense in free agency.
Living in Seattle my dream which wouldn't happen is signing Clowney. He played with an outside linebacker covering him, Clowney would play with his hand on the grass dominating his side of the line interrupting runs and send sending the quarterback running into the hands of someone else. Start had one of the best defenses ever, Favre had Reggie White and players wanting a ring like Sean Jones, Seth Joined and Eugene Robinson signed for less than they could have commanded. Rodgers needs his Reggie White. He makes players around him play better and that is a sign of greatness. The advantage Green Bay would have is Clowney is looking for money but more importantly he wants to be in a Super Bowl team and joining a 13-3 team with Aaron Rodgers has to have appeal.

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Bear's picture

March 13, 2020 at 04:38 pm

Packers really don’t’ use their TE. Many people talk about Finley like he was the greatest. His career stats are nothing. He averaged 39 yards per game, 3 touchdowns a season!

We need to concentrate on positions of need and TE isn’t one of them....

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cheesehead1's picture

March 13, 2020 at 05:05 pm

Couldn’t agree more about Finley. Average at best (many dropped passes) and not a team player. We won the SB without him as he was injured early on.

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jannes bjornson's picture

March 13, 2020 at 08:10 pm

A big wide, he was never a true TE.

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mbpacker's picture

March 13, 2020 at 05:31 pm

To me it's simple- bring back Lewis and keep what you have. Lewis most likely can be had on team- friendly terms, plus he was great in the locker room as a leader. He knows he Packer culture already and I felt he did as well if not better than Graham when his number was called. I like their young talent at TE. Tonyan has shown flashes when he is healthy. I agree what others have said and have Lazard play some sort of hybrid TE. He is physical and a willing to mix it up. And Sternberger is ready to go, he just needs reps.

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Slim11's picture

March 14, 2020 at 11:22 am

Agreed! There is no reason Marcedes Lewis can’t be the veteran presence everyone is demanding.

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Stroh's picture

March 14, 2020 at 09:39 pm

Lewis is absolutely a veteran precence. I don't know anyone who is saying otherwise. And he's a good blocker too. But he's missing the single most important aspect of playing TE in the NFL at this point. He's not even considered a legit receiving threat by defenses. They pay almost no attention to him when he's on the field. For LaFleur's offense to really work you want 2 TE that can both be receivers and blockers. That way you can keep them both in for a power run look and split them both out and create mismatch nitemares as receivers. If one either one can't do both is severely limits the mismatch aspect as well as removing a viable receiver threat.

Hooper and Sternberger at TE creates all kind of problems for D Coordinators! Sternberger and Lewis doesn't even begin to do that.

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CoachDino's picture

March 13, 2020 at 07:08 pm

Just echoing what most have said... You have (2) GOOD receiving TEs. One with 1 yr experience and the other with even more. They are ready and this is what they have been groomed for. I agree with bringing back your plus run blocking TE in Lewis. Done!!! Move to OT, ILB, IDL, CB, IOL, WR with 4mil more in your pocket. Draft your next run plus TE with a feel for soft spots and good hands. LATE in the process or even a UFA project. Both our Rec TEs are better than Hooper - the reason I say this is that Hooper does not present any sort of Mismatch to opposing Defenses. Both of ours do. That is the new key to the TE position.

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mbpacker's picture

March 13, 2020 at 08:07 pm

Nothing against Hooper, but he will just take reps away from Sternberger and Tonyan who need to get experience with #12.

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dobber's picture

March 14, 2020 at 10:42 am

I agree in that I don't think Hooper is the route to a better Packers offense in 2020. I disagree in that I don't think that we can--right now--say that either Sternberger or Tonyan are good receiving TEs. I think there is HOPE than Sternberger can be that guy with time. With Tonyan, even as his snaps started to increase last season, he was a zero in the offense: not much of a blocker and virtually a zero in the passing game. All we can hope for in his case is that his hip injury robbed him of any amount of effectiveness and that he'll spring back in 2020.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

March 13, 2020 at 07:38 pm

Delanie Walker and Jordan Reed got cut due to injury history. Love to see one signed on a 1 year prove it deal.

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dobber's picture

March 14, 2020 at 05:50 am

Don't want anything to do with Jordan Reed. Too many head injuries.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

March 15, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Better cut Davante Adams as well then. For the right price I'd give Reed, Ebron, or Walker a 1 year prove it deal.

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wildbill's picture

March 13, 2020 at 08:34 pm

Sign Lewis and with Sternberger and Tonyan we will be fine. Nobody gets better sitting on the bench and practice speed is different than game speed so let the two young guys get some reps. Use our resources on bigger needs, OT, DL, ILB, and CB

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