All of a sudden, the Packers don’t seem to have too many tight ends.
Last summer, when the Packers decided to keep five tight ends on their final roster, a lot of fans and media asked: What are they going to do with all of those tight ends? Well, the answer would be: Use them in a variety of roles.
The main pass-catching role belonged to star tight end Jermichael Finley. He was the Packers’ third-leading receiver with 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are impressive numbers, but the Packers believe Finley is capable of even greater heights, which begs this question: What are the Packers’ plans for keeping Finley on the team?
Finley is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13. The Packers could easily retain his rights by putting the franchise tag on him during the Feb. 20-March 5 tagging season. The franchise tag for a tight end is in the $5-$6 million range and might help trigger a long-term deal.
The Packers’ other four tight ends were role players in 2011: Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree served as in-line blockers, rookie D.J. Williams saw limited playing time in an H-back capacity, and rookie Ryan Taylor was a special teams demon that caught a touchdown pass late in the season and offered reason to believe he has a future beyond running down under kicks.
Quarless required knee reconstruction after sustaining a midseason knee injury. Recovery from ACL surgery usually requires the better part of a year. The hope is Quarless would be recovered in time for training camp but, even at that, return to action is often at a gradual pace.
Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy features the tight end position in his offensive scheme and would seem to have plans to grow the position to include an H-back role. As he relates to that role, all eyes will be on Williams in the spring practice season.
Summary—The Packers are expected to retain Finley, but that’s not to say the Packers wouldn’t like to increase competition at the position; that’s how fond McCarthy is of featuring the tight end in his offense. Quarless and Crabtree are physical, in-line types. Williams offers distinct pass-catching ability, but don’t go to sleep on Taylor as a pass-catcher. A seventh-round pick, Taylor came on strong late in last summer’s training camp and he has the potential to develop into a surprise player.
Position-by-position series: Wide receivers