Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2015 season. Today, we examine the tight ends. Follow along with all of our positional breakdowns here.
A quarterback's best friend is a solid tight end. Green Bay Packers fans can all recall how nice it was to have a Mark Chmura running down the seam or, more recently, having Jermichael Finley breaking open across the middle. Neither of those men are walking back through the door, but how much should the Packers be hoping to see current free agent tight ends walk back through the door? Ted Thompson has shown an affinity for tight ends. Tight ends, linebackers and fullbacks are great because they provide the extra benefit of special teams depth.
The Packers have decisions to make regarding Andrew Quarless and Justin Perillo. These two men are on very different ends of the spectrum. Quarless is a veteran with six accrued seasons and Perillo has just two. Perillo has only spent one season actually playing on an NFL field and has 11 receptions to his name. Quarless has been stable, if unspectacular, but he has had his injury issues over the years.
Years in NFL: Two
Status: Exclusive-Rights Free Agent
Expiring Contract: One year, $510,000 deal
2015 Stats: 11 receptions, 102 yards, one touchdown
The question now is what should the Packers do with these two free agent Tight Ends? Perillo is an easier answer so I will start with him. Since he is an Exclusive-Rights Free Agent, the Packers can keep him in Green Bay with a qualifying contract offer. Most of the film and evaluation of Perillo to this point has been on the practice fields East of Lambeau Field. The Packers have a pretty good idea what Perillo is and what he might project to be. Perillo has appeared to have good hands and has been able to get open on occasion, but he is the third tight end option on this team, all things being equal. Perillo is likely looking to get a deal in the area of $600,000 to $700,000. If Ted Thompson wants to invest in him, he might offer a progressive contract of something like three years with a salary starting at $650,000 and building to $850,000 in the third year. It would be something a bit ahead of the league minimum. He is a solid player to have as a second or third guy. He would not be pulling in starter money even on the open market.
Years in NFL: Six
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Expiring Contract: Two years, $3 million ($350,000 signing bonus)
2015 Stats: 5 games played; 4 receptions, 31 yards
Andrew Quarless is a much bigger question mark going forward. It is hard to find a "comparison" around the league. Quarless has missed time with injuries several times in his career and it hurts Quarless that he spent most of the year on the IR. Even when he was cleared to come back to play, Quarless did not see the field much in the final weeks of the season. If we use the numbers from his two healthy years (2013 and 2014), we are looking at someone who gets about 30 receptions, 350 yards and 2-3 touchdowns. This makes him comparable to tight ends like Anthony Fasano, Scott Chandler and Virgil Green who were all free agents last year. These tight ends all signed multi-year deals where the first year was $2.0-$2.5 million and roughly $3.0 million in the second year. Virgil Green's contract might be the most informative. Quarless has better total numbers than Green, but Green lacks the injury history. Chandler and Fasano had more of a starting role in the seasons before their newest contracts while Quarless and Green were clearly secondary choices on their teams in their contract years. Richard Rodgers has moved past Quarless and in 2014 Green was behind Julius Thomas. Green signed a new deal before the 2015 season, a three-year $8.4 million deal (progressively paying $2.2 million, $2.9 million and $3.3 million). Green and Quarless are the same age, same basic size, and have the same number of accrued seasons.
Personally, I like Quarless. I am not among the voices demanding his release every year. He has been a stable player. He blocks well, he has been around, and had experience in the system. Still, in his career he catches 62.6% of his targets. Rodgers caught 68.2% last year. Rodgers has also managed to pick up 735 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons. Quarless has 940 yards and six touchdowns in the five seasons he has been on the field. Quarless is never getting back to the top of the depth chart, and $3 million for a 30-year-old Tight End who is good for maybe 30 catches is not a good deal. If Quarless tests the market and finds no takers, he could find his way back onto the roster if he is willing to accept money closer to his last deal. A two-year deal paying $3.5 million ($1.5 million in the first year and $2.0 million in the second) might be upper limit of what Quarless can expect. The league minimum would be $760,000 this coming year and $885,000 the following year. I would think, given the injuries that have kept him away and stunted his growth, a two-year deal worth $2.0 million would be a fair going rate for Quarless. Yet, Quarless might find himself in a B.J. Raji situation where a one-year $1 million "prove it" deal could make sense.
Here is the reality. Ted Thompson has a number in mind right now. Thompson always sets a ceiling and will not go above it. Someone out there might overpay for an experienced tight end. Beyond this, Thompson has something else beyond the money. We know Thompson would rather release someone a year too early than a year too late. Quarless might already be a year too late. With the injuries, we have likely already seen the best of Quarless. The replacement cost of a rookie to serve as a second or third option at tight end is much lower. Also, a rookie would provide a higher talent ceiling and add greater special teams value. Here is my bottom line: Quarless did not play in enough games in 2015 to make the market take notice of him. I think the Packers should offer a one-year "prove it" deal and see what he can do next year. It will give another season for Kennard Backman, Perillo and Rodgers to develop and keep a stabilizing presence in the tight ends meeting room. I think it will be easily done as there are several bigger name tight ends on the market this year.
Editor's note: Acme Packing Company is pleased to welcome J.E. Barnett as a new writer on our staff. Please give him a warm welcome!