This weekend, Green Bay Packers tight end dropped a bombshell by suggesting on social media that he plans to retire after the 2017 season. Bennett, the crown jewel of the Packers’ 2017 free agent class, was expected to bring a physical presence to the tight end position and be a high-level starter for the team throughout the three years on his contract.
Now, with the specter of his likely retirement looming this offseason, the Packers suddenly appear to have a gaping hole at the starting tight end position. Today, we’ll look at the internal options to replace Bennett, as well as a few players who could be interesting options in free agency and the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Packers signed Kendricks to a two-year contract this offseason, just a day after news broke of Bennett’s signing. That deal, worth $4 million total, will keep him in Green Bay at least through 2018.
Kendricks has shown a bit of big-play ability this season, with a 51-yard reception in week three and a 24-yard catch in week five. However, with Bennett as the primary option, Kendricks has been mostly limited to a rotational player, lining up for only around 20% of the team’s snaps so far and doing so mainly as a blocker.
Once the Packers’ starter, Rodgers is as good a #3 tight end as you’ll find in the NFL. However, Rodgers will be a free agent in March after his rookie contract expires. There’s a good chance he returns on an inexpensive deal, and he can still be useful as a #2 option at the position.
2018 Free Agents
Jimmy Graham — Seahawks
Graham would seem a highly unlikely player to come to Green Bay, given a price tag that will probably approach $10 million per year. However, Bennett was a shocker this offseason as well. It would certainly be fun to imagine Graham, who has four touchdowns in the last three games, playing with Rodgers; however, he is currently on pace for just 614 yards, which would be the second-lowest yardage total as a full-time starter.
Trey Burton — Eagles
Like Rodgers, Burton will be coming off a rookie contract. He is on the smaller side (6’3”, 235 pounds) and is therefore more of an H-back type, offering positional versatility in the backfield and in the slot. Still, he had a nice season in 2016, with more than 300 receiving yards, but he has always taken a back seat to Zach Ertz and Brent Celek in Philly. He’s a potentially useful depth piece, but not a likely #1 option.
Tyler Eifert — Bengals
Want a player who is talented but hurt constantly? I didn’t think so. Eifert has played more than 8 games in just two out of his five seasons, with seasons of just one game played (in 2014) and two (2017). Pass.
Ed Dickson — Panthers
An eighth-year veteran who traditionally has been more of a blocker than a receiving threat, Dickson broke out in week five with five catches for 175 yards. With Greg Olson on injured reserve, he’ll have more of an opportunity to show his ability as a receiver and could earn himself a solid payday.
Niles Paul — Washington
Like Dickson and Burton, Paul has always been a second or third option for Washington. However, he’s an even shorter player than Burton, listed at just 6’1” and 242 pounds. He did post a 500-yard receiving season in 2014, but has since been an afterthought since the addition of Vernon Davis as the #2 tight end behind Jordan Reed.
Troy Fumagalli — Wisconsin
Badger fans know Fumagalli’s production and ascent well, as he has gone from walk-on to one of the team’s top two receiving options. Fumagalli is also a very good run-blocker and route-runner, and although he occasionally has some issues with drops, they appear to be correctable.
Mike Gesicki — Penn State
Gesicki was one of the few tight ends in the country to exceed Fumagalli’s stats in 2016, recording one more reception but 99 more yards and a few more touchdowns. While not overly fleet of foot, Gesicki is a tall (6’6”) option who can run the seam or split out wide. Look for both of these two to be day-two picks if they continue on their current trajectories.
Marcus Baugh — Ohio State
If the Packers want a player who can block first and catch the occasional pass second, Baugh might be an option. The Buckeyes rarely use their tight ends in the passing game, but Baugh caught 24 passes a year ago and is on pace to match that this season. He could make for a good number 2 or 3 option, but is not likely to develop into a top-tier starter in the NFL.
Mark Andrews — Oklahoma
Andrews took a back seat to Dede Westbrook a year ago, but the junior has been the Sooners’ leading receiver this season. He has good size, runs well, and has the ability to split out in the slot as well as play on the line. If he declares for the 2018 draft, he may well be the top-ranked player at the position.