Two years ago, the Packers' biggest free agent acquisition from another team was a tight end. Unfortunately, Matthew Mulligan ended up being released in the final round of roster cuts in favor of homegrown products like D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor.
A year later, those two players were also given their release. The Packers go into free agency with just three tight ends on the roster: veteran Andrew Quarless, 2014 third-round pick Richard Rodgers, and last year's undrafted free agent signing Justin Perillo, after Brandon Bostick made his way out of town about two weeks back. It seems logical to assume that the team will look to upgrade the depth at the position either in the draft or in the free agent market.
Therefore, we have put together a few names to keep an eye on as potential Ted Thompson targets. While Julius Thomas from Denver and Jordan Cameron of the Browns will likely make noise as the top free agent options, both of them could very well price themselves out of Thompson's consideration, leaving a few bargains to be had as the white wizard digs through the scrap heap.
Of course, each of these players comes with noticeable flaws; after all, if they didn't they wouldn't be potential bargains.
2014 team: Baltimore Ravens
Expiring contract: one year, $1 million
2014 stats: 15 games played, 13 starts; 48 receptions, 527 yards, 4 touchdowns; -4.0 run block grade (Pro Football Focus)
Never much of a blocker, Daniels had a resurgence following Gary Kubiak to Baltimore in 2014 after missing much of 2013 due to injury. The former Wisconsin Badger has averaged almost 4 receptions and 45 yards per game in his career, and has a knack for getting open in the red zone. He could also be a solid veteran presence to help Richard Rodgers' development as a receiver, and he drew some level of interest from the Packers' brass a year ago, meeting with Thompson and company before signing with the Ravens.
Of course, with Kubiak heading to Denver and the Broncos' top two tight ends hitting free agency, there's a very good chance that Denver will make a run at Daniels in free agency.
2014 team: Denver Broncos
Expiring contract: four-year, $2.1 million rookie contract
2014 stats: 13 games played, 9 starts; 6 receptions, 74 yards, one touchdown; +4.4 run block grade (PFF)
Green is very much in the Matthew Mulligan mold - he's a very good blocker on the line and can contribute in the backfield as well from the fullback position. Green might actually be an ideal replacement if John Kuhn and the Packers do not come to an agreement - he could be a lead blocker in the I-formation or inverted wishbone in that case, as well as helping out in-line.
2014 team: New York Giants
Expiring contract: one year, $730,000
2014 stats: 16 games played, 9 starts; 16 receptions, 188 yards, 4 touchdowns; +3.9 run block grade (PFF)
See Green, Virgil above. Fells is a blocker, no two ways about it. However, he brings a bit more to the table in the passing game than Green does. After being out of football in 2013, Fells signed with the Giants and played a relatively substantial role, taking the field for about 37% of the Giants' offensive snaps. He also caught 80% of the targets thrown his way, and earned positive grades from Pro Football Focus as both a receiver and a blocker.
2014 team: Philadelphia Eagles
Expiring contract: 3 years, $12 million (released after two years)
2014 stats: 16 games played, 2 starts; 3 receptions, 59 yards, 2 touchdowns; +3.9 run block grade (PFF)
Casey is another player who has tight end/fullback versatility - he was used widely at both positions in Houston before signing a big deal with Philly two years ago. Now on the market as a street free agent following his release, he will undoubtedly look to recapture some of the success he had in Houston with Daniels and Kubiak, where he topped out with 34 catches for 330 yards and 3 scores in 2012.
Casey only played about 15% of the Eagles snaps in 2014, though he did contribute heavily on special teams.
2014 team: Arizona Cardinals
Expiring contract: four years, $3 million (including performance-based pay)
2014 stats: 15 games played, 7 starts; 9 receptions, 129 yards; -6.2 run block grade (PFF)
Housler, like Daniels, is not a blocker. His best assets are his athleticism as a receiver. However, he has been hamstrung by poor quarterback play for the last several years, and actually put up the worst numbers of his four-year career in 2014. Get him in rhythm with a good quarterback, though, and things could change, as he is one of the more athletically gifted tight ends out there. Check out his numbers from the 2011 Scouting Combine: 6'5", 248 pounds, a 39" vertical, and a 4.46-second 40. That's right, he ran under 4.5 at almost 250 pounds.