Perhaps no word fit the Green Bay Packers’ tight end performance last season better than “disappointing.” In fact, that is exactly how APC described the position group in the roster grades at season’s end. While the Packers are counting on Jimmy Graham, their high-priced acquisition in 2018, to have a much more productive season in year two, Green Bay has been far from content this offseason as they seek upgrades at tight end.
The Packers have been active in the spring, deciding not to part ways with Graham after one season and eventually re-signing Marcedes Lewis, an under-utilized veteran last season. Lewis’ experience in Nathaniel Hackett’s Jacksonville offense and ability as a blocker should pay dividends in 2019 in both the running and passing games. Green Bay also brings back Robert Tonyan, who earned some first-team reps with the offense in the absence of Lewis during organized team activities a few weeks ago. Second-year player Evan Baylis from Oregon re-joins the team after arriving to Green Bay in late December.
Green Bay figured to have a decent trio of returners heading into next season, but they have continued to add to the roster.
First was the third-round draft selection of Jace Sternberger, a breakout performer at Texas A&M last season who is known primarily for his receiving skills. While Sternberger still is a bit raw in his development, he represents a long-term potential contributor to develop while Graham and Lewis are still on the roster. Yet, it would not be surprising to see him lined up in the slot or in red-zone situations, where he was a double-digit touchdown threat a year ago.
Green Bay then put in a waiver claim for former New York Jet Jordan Leggett on May 22 before ultimately losing him in the claim order to Tampa Bay. Even at the time, it seemed as if the Packers were aggressively searching for extra bodies at tight end, and that only continued as they signed Pharoah McKever on June 11. A second-year player whom Hackett got to see first hand as a member of Jacksonville’s practice squad in 2018, McKever was seemingly the kind of under-the-radar prospect who, at minimum, provided depth during training camp. From the outside, the move also made sense with the surprise retirement of undrafted signee Davis Koppenhaver at the end of May.
But Monday’s newest acquisition, Michael Roberts, adds yet another layer to the Packers’ expanded search for tight ends. Green Bay was successful this time around in the waiver claim process, bringing in a third-year player who spent his first two seasons in Detroit and almost became a New England Patriot last week. A former fourth-round pick, Roberts is coming off of shoulder surgery but might still have some upside as a young player. That has been a trend under General Manager Brian Gutekunst: taking a chance on former draft picks of other teams.
From here, it gets interesting for Green Bay’s tight end group. The Packers have not been shy about keeping four at the position in the past, but the handful of Graham, Lewis, Tonyan, and Sternberger seem to be a predictable crew for the final 53-man roster. But would Green Bay keep another? The Packers have not gone the unconventional route and kept five tights since 2011, but a mix of skillsets and ages at the position could play a factor as camp proceeds.
One thing is for sure: the Packers were just as uncomfortable with the play from their tight ends in 2018 as fans were. They certainly have beefed up the candidates for this year’s team, while adding potential contributors in the passing game. More competition is better than no competition, and the tight end position in particular is shaping up to be an intriguing storyline not only this spring, but throughout the summer.