In 2010, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl win with a Pro Bowl receiver in his prime, an all-franchise receiver nearing the end of his career, an inconsistent but explosive veteran receiver, and two tight ends: a rookie, and a quality backup with limited skills.
Now, let’s see. In 2018, the Packers offense is scheduled to feature a Pro Bowl receiver in his prime, an all-franchise receiver nearing the end of his career, an inconsistent but explosive veteran receiver, and quality backup with limited skills (and that’s probably underselling Lance Kendricks’ talent.
So why then, are fans so insistent the Packers need to invest beaucoup bucks and draft capital in a tight end?
Maybe one example isn’t enough.
The last time the Packers were closest to again getting to the Super Bowl, when Rodgers won the MVP, surely then they had a great tight end right? In 2014, Richard Rodgers started on an offense that was the most balanced of Mike McCarthy’s tenure in Green Bay.
Would a good tight end make this offense better? Sure it would. Look at the splits in 2016 when Jared Cook was on the field vs. when he was off. Cook can’t take all the credit, considering Rodgers’ own struggles contributed to the offense’s inconsistent play, just as his virtuoso performance during the Run The Table stretch buoyed them.
One could make the argument this is the shallowest group of pass catchers since 2015 after Nelson went down, but this team has more balance with a deep stable of capable running backs, and a mismatch weapon in Ty Montgomery whose full potential is still waiting to be unlocked.
Not to mention Davante Adams is just entering his prime and could be even better next season as the team’s primary target. Don’t let anyone tell you this team is bereft of talent.
It needs speed to create more big plays, a problem most tight ends won’t be able to fix. Tight ends are useful for three basic reasons: in the red zone, to stretch the seam and working the middle of the field, and as a safety valve particularly on third down.
Rodgers and this offense doesn’t need help in the red zone, where he’s literally the most efficient quarterback in NFL history. It was to the point last year Rodgers actually said he knows before a play is even run that it will score.
Over the last few years, the Packers have been so much better on third down than early downs, and whispers that Rodgers calls those plays percolated. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, Green Bay doesn’t really need a boost there, plus they go for it on fourth down as much as any team in football.
The third of those three points is a reasonable one to argue here. When Randall Cobb possessed his prime athleticism, he was a terror in the middle of the field because the geometry of the offense made sense and he could get open against just about anyone. As injuries robbed him of his burst and change of direction, his ability to get himself free waned and the need for another player to take on that responsibility grew.
Enter Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett etc.
There’s a case to be made that mismatch slot player could be Ty Montgomery and I’m more than happy to make that case at some point. But assuming you believe the Packers need to go outside the organization to find that player, the quality of free agent tight ends should concern you.
Trey Burton has been hailed by much of Cheesehead Nation like he’s the second coming of Tony Gonzalez, a game-changer in the offense.
Let’s put the PBR down, folks.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is another name that pops up. Jimmy Graham. But these are big bodies who are best suited for red zone roles. That’s fine, making the life of the quarterback should always be a goal. ASJ will likely command upwards of $6 million per year. Graham will want over $7 million. For that amount of money, why not get a receiver who upgrades more than just the red zone?
A player like Donte Moncrief or Marqise Lee could produce all over the field, create deep shots, and be more versatile in their usage within this offense. It’s a question of opportunity cost.
Either one of those guys could be a legitimate 60-catch player in this offense as a third option, with gamebreaking ability. That’s considerably more value than any tight end on the market can provide. If the Packers don’t need a tight end, and the money they could spend on one would be better used elsewhere, why force it?
And they don’t even need to spend the money on an offensive skill player. Allocate those dollars to upgrading the secondary. The difference between those ‘10 and ‘14 teams and other Rodgers teams was the defense. It doesn’t have to be a 1:1 trade for offensive skill players.
All of this comes before we even consider that players in the draft like Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, Ian Thomas, and Mike Gesicki could all be seam-stretching, middle-of-the-field targets in addition to their red zone skill.
There are myriad receivers who could fill the needs of this offense as well, despite a lack of elite talent at the time.
Brian Gutekunst could find a legitimately dangerous pass catcher in the draft, spending a fraction of the cost of a free agent tight end, while also not endangering future comp picks by signing an unnecessary free agent.
The typical response would be, well they could do both. But why? Just because?
If the Packers get a tight end—particularly someone like Goedert—who can play inline and be a pass-catching weapon, there’s no need to throw resources at a free agent. Especially when the “veteran” is already on the team.
Don’t forget Lance Kendricks, in his last season with the Rams caught 50 passes for 499 yards in an atrocious offense. The Packers haven’t had a tight end do that since Richard Rodgers in 2015, when the Green Bay offense was a mess.
If Kendricks can just replicate the play of Richard Rodgers (a low bar to be sure) and the Packers draft someone, that should be more than enough to make this offense go, while freeing up them up to use resources to improve this team in other ways.
It’s understandable to pine for a solid tight end to wash away the taste of Martellus Bennett’s disappointing season and acrimonious departure. Fans are already trying to erase the memories of Richard Rodgers trying—and failing—to juke defenders rather than just running over them.
That doesn’t mean unnecessarily spending money to placate the fanbase. That could be the title of Ted Thompson’s biography. Don’t expect the story to change with Brian Gutekunst.