The Green Bay Packers added one of the biggest free agents on the market this past offseason in Martellus Bennett, but the signing of his backup may prove to be an even bigger deal.
Ted Thompson set off multiple earthquakes throughout the United States the day he signed Bennett away from the New England Patriots. The star tight end had just finished a productive season in New England, hauling in 55 passes and scoring seven touchdowns. When this signing occurred, the Packers only had one tight end currently on the roster, Richard Rodgers.
The un-athletic, slow, and inconsistent tight end has had an up and down career as a Packer to this point. After a decent rookie year that included a strong playoff showing, Rodgers has seemingly regressed due to his below-average athletic skills. Despite having the best hands on the team according to Aaron Rodgers, Rodgers has seen his stock on the team slide all the way down to third on the depth chart for this coming season.
Jared Cook‘s only year in Green Bay was the best season of his career. While his numbers weren’t as large as some of the lines he had put up in Tennessee and St. Louis, the Packers finally got a taste of what it is like to have a tight end who can actually stretch a defense and beat opposing linebackers. But what the Packers still lacked, was the dirty stuff.
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In 2010-2011, the Packers won their fourth Super Bowl title and 13th championship in large part due to the greatness of Aaron Rodgers, the strength of their top five defense, and the best receiving corp in football. But what was forgotten that year was how solid the Packers were at tight end. Despite losing their top tight end, Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee and rookie Andrew Quarless stepped in to give Green Bay a strong mix of capable pass catchers and strong run blockers.
Donald Lee not only helped Green Bay recover from the loss of Ryan Grant that season, but he also helped in a major way when the team lost Mark Tauscher for the season. Green Bay’s long-time starting tackle was no longer there to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blindside which thrusted rookie Bryan Bulaga into the starting lineup. Lee consistently picked up blitzes from the edge that season, and made several huge protection adjustments throughout that playoff run.
The four foes that Green Bay muscled through to hoist another Lombardi trophy all featured stellar pass rushers. In the wildcard round, the Eagles threw Trent Cole at Aaron Rodgers all day, but Lee and Bulaga withstood his patented bull-rush.
The next week in Atlanta, John Abraham was consistently humiliated by Aaron Rodgers’ elite scrambling ability, but the tape clearly shows a consistent, effective use of the chip technique by one Donald Lee. In the NFC title game, Mike McCarthy had to game plan for Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, but yet again the protection was up to the task. And of course, two weeks later, Donald Lee stymied Lamarr Woodley, James Harrison, and the rest of the Steelers pass rush.
This is finally what the Packers are getting. Since Finley’s career-ending injury, Ted Thompson has struggled to find his replacement at tight end.
Quarless proved to be better suited as a rotational tight end, and Richard Rodgers has regressed since his decent rookie year in Packers News. To be clear, Lance Kendricks is not suited to be a starting tight end in the NFL. Martellus Bennett is however, and this makes the Kendricks signing that much better.
Having the former Ram as the number two tight end is going to help McCarthy tremendously. This will allow Bennett to stretch the seam and be a valuable cog on critical third downs. Kendricks’ shear athleticism and blocking experience will help Ty Montgomery complete his transition to running back and be the new Donald Lee when protecting for Aaron Rodgers.
One problem the Packers ran into this past season was picking up blitzes. While Montgomery actually finished as the league’s best pass-protecting back at season’s end, the Packers were not able to give Rodgers a consistent check-down option to throw to.
When it comes to catching passes out of the backfield, Montgomery has the potential to be Roger Craig. Montgomery’s experience as a wide receiver will make him an elite receiving threat out of the backfield. Now that Kendricks is aboard, the Packers can revert back to some of their two-back shotgun formations, when Donald Lee would pick up an unblocked rusher, and Brandon Jackson would leak out of the backfield into the flat.
This signing was a massive deal for the Packers. Not only did it provide depth and allow Green Bay to focus on other positions in the draft, but it made the Bennett signing that much better. For the first time in five seasons, the Packers can consider their group of tight ends a true strength.