As the Green Bay Packers are in the midst of OTAs, we continue to take a close look at their roster. We begin this week discussing the tight ends. Many questions still remain at the tight end position heading into the 2013 season, and hopefully, the offseason workouts and training camp will provide some answers.
The status of Finley’s future in Green Bay is still in question. Maybe by the beginning of the 2013 season there will be some clarity. Jermichael Finley’s future with the Packers may not only depend on his performance on the field this upcoming season, but also on whether or not other playmakers emerge at the position. It’s a relatively young group, so there are still many unknowns, but hopefully, there’ll be plenty of surprises.
Will another offensive weapon emerge at the position? Will the tight ends provide a blocking presence in the running game? Who will emerge as Tom Crabtree’s replacement as the second tight end on the depth chart?
Let’s take a look to see if this group of young players will provide some answers.
Tight End (7)
Good Bet – Jermichael Finley, 6-5, 247 pounds
What will happen with Finley? This seems to be the question on most fans’ minds as Finley enters a contract year this season. Finley is due to make more than $8 million this year, and Green Bay neither extended his contract nor asked him to take a paycut this offseason. That tells us that the Packers organization is still waiting on what Finley has to offer on the field before they decide to fully commit to a lucrative long-term deal with the highly gifted tight end.
Finley had a rough start last season, struggling with drops and displaying an inconsistent effort on the field, but Finley fixed the errors and turned it on the latter half of the season. He finished the year with 61 receptions, 667 yards receiving, and two touchdowns. Not too bad for a starting tight end, but far below the level of play both the coaches and fans have been expecting out him for the past few seasons.
Finley seems to have all the physical tools to be a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end in this league, but it seems each year he fails to put it all together. So will this be the year he finally plays up to his potential? We have already written here at LombardiAve that Finley is due for a big year in 2013, which would be ironic considering this could be his last season with Green Bay.
Here’s part of the dilemma with Finley this season. If Finley has another mediocre season then he will be playing far below the $8 million salary he’s earning and the Packers may finally cut ties at the end of the year. However, if Finley comes out and has a monster season and puts up big numbers, then Ted Thompson and the Packers will be place in a tough spot. With a Pro Bowl-caliber season, Finley will have the leverage next offseason to ask for more money, and with other players on the roster to still re-sign (B.J. Raji, James Jones, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett), will Green Bay be willing to hand over the kind of money Finley and his agent will be demanding?
This will definitely be an interesting storyline to follow this season, but I’m not sure I see a solution with which everyone will be satisfied at this point.
Beyond Finley locking up the starting spot, the rest of the position is far from resolved. The second tight end position is wide open with Crabtree leaving in free agency, and there will be some heated competition at this position this offseason.
At this point, it seems Quarless is the frontrunner to man the second tight end spot. He’s returning after missing all of last season and a good portion of 2011 with a torn ACL. Though Quarless suffered this serious injury, he’s still young, at 24, and shows a lot of promise at the position. Before the injury, Quarless was Green Bay’s best blocking tight end, and during the 2010 Super Bowl run, Quarless proved to be reliable in Finley’s absence.
Quarless is reportedly looking sharp this offseason after returning from the injury, and has been one of the early standout players in OTAs so far. In his press conference, Coach McCarthy even stated that Quarless is “moving better than he did before the injury” and looks like a new player. Quarless can be effective in both the running and passing game, bringing a much-needed balance to the position. This could be Quarless’s breakout season. We’ll see how he holds up when the pads go on in training camp.
The remaining players of this group are young and unproven. Williams and Taylor are both entering their third seasons, and it is time for them to prove they can become key contributors to the team. Williams has flashed some receiving ability, but is undersized for the position and was inconsistent in the limited playing time he saw last season.
Taylor is tough and has been effective on special teams coverage units, but it remains to be seen if he can offer more than that. Bostick spent last season on the practice squad and possesses raw ability as both a receiver and run blocker, but Bostick has a lot to prove and must show coaches that he offers more than just physical talent. But if Bostick can put it all together this offseason, he may prove to be a surprise player who rises up the depth chart.
Mulligan was one of Green Bay’s only free agency signings this offseason, but the new tight end will have his work cut out for him to even make the roster. The Packers tend to prefer retaining players they’ve drafted and developed, and with Quarless, Williams, Taylor, and Bostick returning on this roster, Mulligan will have to have an impressive camp and really carve out a spot on the roster in a short amount of time.
Mulligan proved to be a good blocking tight end for the St. Louis Rams last season, but did little in the passing game. With his big body type, Mulligan could fill the void Crabtree left behind as the Packers’ primary blocking tight end, but Quarless, Taylor, and Bostick have also proven to be effective run blockers. Mulligan will need to find a way to separate himself from the pack in order to make the final cut.
Stoneburner is an interesting prospect. He’s an athletic player who can play in space and line up wide off the line of scrimmage. He was even used in the slot and spent some time at wide receiver for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Stoneburner’s collegiate numbers weren’t great, only recording 16 receptions for 269 yards and 4 touchdowns as a senior in 2012, but many scouts attributed his lack of success to the lack of opportunities in an inconsistent Ohio State offense. Due to how crowded tight end is with young talent, Stoneburner probably won’t make the 53-man roster this season, but if Green Bay retains him on the practice squad, he could prove to be an offensive weapon down the road.
Last season, Green Bay kept four tight ends on their 53-man roster (Finley, Crabtree, Williams, Taylor), one on injured reserve (Quarless), and one on the practice squad (Bostick). At this point, my early predictions at tight end for the upcoming season is the Packers will retain Finley and Quarless, two players from the group of Williams, Taylor, Bostick, and Mulligan, and place Stoneburner on the practice squad.
We’ll see how it shakes out by the end of August.
Let me know who you think will make the final roster cut at tight end.