This is the fifth in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2017 draft. The series continues with the tight ends.
GREEN BAY — The opening days of free agency uncovered one of the Packers’ chief objectives for the offseason.
Infuse the offense with tight ends.
Within a span of 24 hours, General Manager Ted Thompson added former Pro Bowler Martellus Bennett and Milwaukee native Lance Kendricks to an offense that finished in the Top 10 in scoring, yards and third-down offense in 2016.
In pairing the two free agents with returning veteran Richard Rodgers, the Packers took what could have been considered a position of need entering this year’s draft and quickly turned it into an area of strength for the offense.
Bennett and Kendricks bring a wealth of talent and experience with them to Green Bay. The two have started 179 of the 228 NFL regular-season games they’ve played in, catching a combined 607 passes for 6,419 yards and 47 touchdowns.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters at the owners meetings he sees big things ahead for the tight ends and plans on making a few adjustments to the offense to welcome them.
The most visible change McCarthy predicts will be playing tight ends closer to the line of scrimmage, a blueprint that should play to Bennett’s strengths. In the past, the Packers frequently displaced tight ends outside or in the backfield.
Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns this past season with New England, but he’s also regarded as one of the best blockers at his position.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound tight end has played the Packers nine times during his nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.
Even when a trade to New England took him out of the NFC, Bennett still wondered what it might be like to play with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers instead of against him.
Now, he’ll get the chance to find out.
“I want to be in a situation where I could win again right now,” Bennett told packers.com last month. “With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Jordy Nelson outside, Randall Cobb and all the talent on the team, I thought it would be a great place for me to come in and just try to add onto what they already have.”
Kendricks, a Rufus King High School alumnus and former University of Wisconsin standout, returns to his home state searching for the playoff appearance that’s eluded him during his first six seasons.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end caught a career-high 50 passes for the Rams in 2016, starting all 16 games for the first time in his career.
Only 29, Kendricks still possesses the versatility and explosiveness that made him a second-round pick in 2011. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Rams teammate, Jared Cook, who ended his own seven-year playoff drought in Green Bay last season.
Along with the new additions, the Packers also return veteran tight end Richard Rodgers, who has caught 108 passes for 1,006 yards and 12 touchdowns since entering the league as a third-round selection in 2014.
A sure-handed catcher, the 6-4, 257-pound tight end has played more than 2,000 offensive snaps during his first three NFL seasons.
This year’s draft class is considered one of the deepest in recent memory at tight end with three or four possible first-rounders.
The Packers, who have drafted five tight ends since 2010, finished the season with Cook and Rodgers as the only ones on the active roster.
However, they also carried a developmental prospect, Beau Sandland, on their practice squad. A seventh-round pick by Carolina a year ago, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound tight end finished his rookie year in Green Bay after signing Nov. 11.
A transfer from Miami (Fla.), Sandland flew onto the radar of NFL scouts after catching 37 passes for 632 yards and nine touchdowns during his senior year at Montana State in 2015.
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