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Packers 2018 TE Acquisitions: Free agent splashes fell short of expectations

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Green Bay’s gamble in signing Jimmy Graham made far less of a difference than many had hoped.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company will break down the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 roster position-by-position, providing our grades for each spot and looking ahead to free agency. Today, we continue with the tight ends.

When the Green Bay Packers signed two veteran tight ends last offseason, visions of productive “12” personnel sets danced in the minds of many fans. While many could not expect the same level of chemistry between Aaron Rodgers and his new weapons as the franchise quarterback had with previously released Jordy Nelson, there was a sense that those connections would eventually form.

As seen in the roster grades earlier this morning, that simply did not happen. The Packers’ tight end group was especially abysmal in 2018 as their additions fell well short of expectations. This unit is one that should feature plenty of new arrivals once again before next season, but here is a rundown of Green Bay’s newcomers last season.

Jimmy Graham

How acquired: Signed March 16 as unrestricted free agent; 3-year, $30 million contract with $11 million guaranteed signing bonus

Regular Season Stats: 16 games, 12 starts; 55 receptions for 636 yards (11.6-yard average), 2 touchdowns

APC’s Peter Bukowski put it best earlier this week when he said “cutting Jordy Nelson was the right call for the Packers; the error was overpaying for Jimmy Graham.”

Green Bay tried to rejuvenate its passing game by adding a player they thought would create mismatches with his athleticism and re-kindle his Pro Bowl self in a green and gold uniform. Unfortunately for the Packers, Graham struggled to separate from defenders, displayed a remarkable decline in athleticism and quickness, and dropped a lot of catchable balls. Once a major red zone weapon, Graham found the end zone just two times in 2018 and was rarely a threat up the seam as this author had hoped. Signed solely for his skills as a receiver, Graham left something to be desired in all phases of his game despite satisfactory numbers on paper.

Reports leaked Tuesday that Graham is expected to remain in Green Bay next season, largely because of the money he is still owed. It would not be surprising to see the Packers part ways after the 2019 season when the dead cap money would be much lower and they can develop a suitable replacement for the position. Perhaps the new coaching staff can restore a resemblance of the receiving threat Graham once was, but optimism will be far lower heading into next season.

Marcedes Lewis

How acquired: Signed May 24 as unrestricted free agent; 1-year, $2.1 million contract with $500,000 signing bonus

Regular Season Stats: 16 games, 4 games started; 3 receptions for 39 yards (13.0 yard average), 0 touchdowns

The late signing of Lewis was seen as a potentially shrewd business deal. A fairly durable veteran with a fair level of red zone success in his career, Lewis was lauded for his in-line blocking. His signing in particular provided some belief that the Packers could discover dangerous two-tight end sets much like many of their playoff-contending counterparts.

While Lewis lived up to his billing as a blocker, his promise as a receiver was overblown. Whether it was his fault or the coaching staff’s, Lewis was targeted just four times over the course of 16 games. In fact, his usage was so minimal that when he was targeted it caught the defense by surprise, such as his 30-yard catch-and-run on third down against Miami.

Although his former offensive coordinator in Jacksonville now has the same title in Green Bay, Lewis figures to be leaving town in 2019 as a free agent. A surprisingly forgotten man, the addition of Lewis should have offered the Packers so much more.