Overview: For a second-straight year, the Green Bay Packers face both change and need at this position. In 2013, they saw the mega-talented Jermichael Finley go down to a severe neck injury and lost a major part of their offensive game plan. In 2014, Brandon Bostick wasn’t able to reach his potential and become the top starter, despite high expectations. Due to an early injury, Bostick couldn’t get on the field on offense and knocked himself off the roster with one of the biggest gaffes in Packers postseason history. This forced the Packers to rely on rookie Richard Rodgers, who was a reach draft selection in the third round. Bostick’s departure leaves tight end razor thin for the Packers. Rodgers and Andrew Quarless remain and both provided enough of a boost to help the Packers win another division title and make a deep playoff run. Still, this is a position of major need for the Packers in 2015.
Where We Are Now
Here are the current suspects:
- Andrew Quarless (5th round, 2010)
- Richard Rodgers (3rd round, 2014)
- Justin Perillo (Undrafted free agent, 2014)
Andrew Quarless: Quarless, or “Q” as he is commonly referred to, had his best season as a Packer in 2014. He set career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns with the most memorable being the game-winner against the Miami Dolphins with six seconds left on the clock. While inconsistent at times, Quarless proved to be a reliable safety valve for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Quarless is signed through the 2015 season and is scheduled to earn just $1.3 million. Q did have a big drop late in the NFC championship game that might have helped the Packers keep the ball and run out the clock, but the team needs him in 2015. The tight end position is thin with the loss of Bostick and the inexperience of Perillo. Quarless knows the offense well and can contribute on special teams, which head coach Mike McCarthy has said he wants to see his starters doing more of this next season.
Richard Rodgers: Rodgers started off his rookie campaign slowly but became a regular part of the offense by season’s end. He caught just two touchdowns during the regular season but his scoring grab against the New England Patriots flashed some of his potential to get down field and be a deeper threat. Rodgers played a vital role in the week 17 win against the Detroit Lions that clinched the division and he also had a nifty touchdown grab against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC divisional championship game. The big question is what Rodgers can do this season to get himself in the type of shape that is needed for this offense. He’s listed at 257 pounds and if he can shed some of that weight and still develop his blocking, he can easily entrench himself as the hands-down starter. He earned quite a bit of praise and confidence from Aaron Rodgers by season’s end. The Packers surely want to see Rodgers become the team’s number one tight end this season.
Justin Perillo: Perillo was active in just two games in 2014. He came on in training camp and earned a roster spot, but was not able to find himself active on game day. Perillo’s role in the Packers’ offense depends entirely on how the team addresses the position during the offseason. The Packers surely will look to add some talent via the draft and there’s an outside chance that they look to free agency as well. With Perillo’s game being such an unknown at this point, it’s not a lock that he’s back in 2015.
Where We Want to Be
The Packers need to add more depth and get more production from the tight end position in 2015. They got by with what they had in 2014 and should have appeared in a Super Bowl, so it’s not impossible that they can do the same this next season with Quarless and Rodgers having similar seasons. That said, this is an area of the offense where I see the Packers needing to take a step forward if they want to exceed what they did last season.
Quarless has proven to be good on short routes and has gained some savvy with his five years in the league (including a lost season in 2012 due to injury). He’s said to be very vocal on the sidelines, letting Aaron Rodgers know what he’s seeing from the defense. Having a guy like this isn’t a bad thing, but Quarless doesn’t garner any extra attention from the defense and doesn’t really free anything up for the other receivers. Ideally, Quarless becomes a third option at tight end for the Packers in 2015 and they can decide to either move on from him in 2016, or keep him at a bargain-basement price.
Richard Rodgers should make a jump from year one to year two, based on what we saw at the end of 2014. He improved in his route running and showed very good hands. I mentioned Rodgers’ weight earlier and the work that he puts in during this offseason is going to be a big key to what he’s able to do this season.
Green Bay has carried as many as five tight ends in seasons past. Even if they are good with four, they would need to add two more bodies that stick in 2015. You can count on the Packers drafting at least one tight end, probably two. The issue with rookies is whether or not they can learn and develop on the job. That leaves free agency as another avenue the team could look to in order to bolster the offense and add some needed experience.
How Do We Get There?
With the tight end group being just three players deep and with one of those players not having had a single catch in 2014, we can expect to see some changes this upcoming season. The most likely place the Packers will look to add to the talent pool at tight end is in the draft. Last year, the Packers addressed a major need at safety with a first-round pick. That move ended up improving the safety group exponentially and general manager Ted Thompson may look to do the same thing this season if he sees the same need at tight end. The biggest factor in where tight end falls on the priority list is how the team also addresses the inside linebacker position. These two areas represent the biggest need and the Packers have some decisions to make in terms of how to adequately address both.
If the Packers agree with me that tight end needs attention sooner than later in this upcoming draft, they’ll have a shot at one in rounds one through three. Minnesota’s Maxx Williams is said to be the top prospect and has an outside chance of being available when the Packers pick at number 30 (provided they remain at that slot). In the next few rounds, Jesse James, Clive Walford and Nick O’Leary could become enticing options for the Packers. If they want a player that can likely get on the field right away, they’ll have to use an earlier pick and “trader Ted” may need to come out and play.
In free agency, there were some murmurs that the Packers could become interested in free agent-to-be Julius Thomas. Thomas was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2011 draft and emerged as a big part of the offense over the last two seasons. Thomas reportedly will reach free agency after attempts to re-sign with Denver haven’t produced a contract as of yet. In Thomas, you have almost the same body type as Richard Rodgers but with more savvy and ability to get down field. He won’t likely come cheap and could be signed as early as day one of free agency. That’s not an area where the Packers typically play nor pay.
Another option could be Jordan Cameron who was last with the Cleveland Browns. He’s an athletic player and 27 years old, which is an ideal time to grab this talent for immediate return. The Browns seem to want Cameron back, but at the right price, which would indicate that he may also see some good demand and money early in free agency.
I like Cameron’s fit into the Packers offense more than I do Thomas’s. For either to become an option for the Packers, however, their price tags would somehow need to drop from what both are likely to be initially seeking.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: