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Packers 2019 TE Acquisitions: Is Jace Sternberger the future at tight end?

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The rookie from Texas A&M spent half the season on injured reserve and is still very much an unknown product.

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. Today we continue this series by looking at the tight end position.

After the Green Bay Packers saw what Jimmy Graham could and could not do during the 2018 season, the conclusion was easy to reach. The team needed its tight end of the future and the future was sooner than later.

With no viable free agent options, general manager Brian Gutekunst turned to the draft. With arguably bigger needs on offense, Gutekunst opted not to draft better prospects like former Iowa standouts T.J. Hockensen and Noah Fant in the first round and instead picked Texas A&M standout Jace Sternberher in the third round.

The team also decided to bring back veteran run blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis as new head coach Matt LaFleur wanted a renewed emphasis on running the football. The addition of Sternberger plus the return of Lewis on paper gave Green Bay arguably its best tight end group since 2013.

Marcedes Lewis

How Acquired: Re-signed as unrestricted free agent
Contract: 1 year, $2.1 million total

Jace Sternberger

How Acquired: Third-round draft pick (#75 overall)
Contract: 4 years, $3.865 million total

Unfortunately, as is often the case in the NFL, things don’t always go as planned. Sternberger was placed on injured reserve before the regular season opener and was not activated until November. He didn’t record a single catch during an abbreviated regular season, though he did get two receptions including his first career touchdown in the NFC Championship.

Lewis meanwhile was a crucial part of Green Bay’s resurgent rushing attack. He’s so good as a blocker he’s pretty much just as good as having another offensive lineman and Aaron Jones should be very grateful. Lewis also saw more action in the passing game catching 15 passes (way up from only three in 2018) and a touchdown. It’s also worth noting eight of his 15 catches went for first downs.

As the focus turns towards 2020, Sternberger was injured far too long for the Packers to get a sufficient read on his talents but he at least looked the part of a starting tight end in the postseason even if it was in short spurts. With Graham’s status very much uncertain, the Packers could choose to ride with Sternberger going forward and bring Lewis back as a backup on another likely short-term deal. Aaron Rodgers spoke volumes during the season about the veteran’s leadership in a not-at-all-subtle sign he’d like to see number 89 on the roster again in this upcoming season.

Sternberger’s limited experience should force Gutekunst to keep at least one veteran around and it would be much smarter on the field and in the bank account to keep Lewis around over Graham. Another lower priced veteran in free agency shouldn’t be ruled out either.

While the tight end position wasn’t a major liability, it wasn’t a strong asset either. With San Francisco and Kansas City both with great tight ends on their roster, it should be clear to Green Bay the path to the Super Bowl goes through that position.

Will the Packers assume the same path or will they take the road less traveled?

Only Gutekunst has that answer and the decision on Graham will quickly reveal his plans.