The Green Bay Packers had their worst offensive season last year since Aaron Rodgers took over at quarterback in 2008, and one of the many reasons that was the case was due to a lack of production from the tight end position.
Richard Rodgers caught 58 passes and scored eight touchdowns, which on the surface are solid numbers, but his 8.8 yards yards per catch leading to only 510 yards tells more of the story. Rodgers is certainly a useful situational tight end — particularly in the red zone and on third downs — with his huge frame and strong hands, but his lack of athletic ability to threaten anybody down the seam or after the catch makes him a pedestrian option as your starting tight end. How many times did we see Rodgers run the slant/flat combo route last year, only to watch him get tackled by a much smaller corner for little gain? Rodgers also rates out poorly as a run blocker, despite his enormous size.
These are the reasons Ted Thompson went out and made what for him is a free agent splash with the signing of Jared Cook on a one-year, $2.75 million. Cook is the polar opposite of Rodgers with the speed and athleticism to challenge defenses vertically and after the catch. However, the flip side to that is he has far too many drops and mental lapses — according to STATS, Cooks dropped 10 of 69 passes last season.
There was more excitement for Cook’s signing than there would normally be for a player who was given up on by two teams and has been considered a let down for his whole career. The ideas behind the signing were that Cook had never played with a quarterback close to Aaron Rodgers’ ability, he fit exactly what the Packers were looking for from a skills standpoint and that playing for another contract would bring out the best in him.
This is why it was pretty surprising to see Bob McGinn write in his tight ends preview piece for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Packers may still be favoring Rodgers as their top tight end. Here is an excerpt from McGinn’s story:
“Veteran newcomer Jared Cook will be counted on for some Finley-esque splash plays, but third-year pro Richard Rodgers would appear to be the Green Bay Packers’ top tight end now and possibly for the next few seasons.
If Rodgers, who was noticeably trimmer this off-season, doesn’t seem to be a fan favorite, so be it. All that matters is the evaluation of the coaching staff.”
Sticking with players too long has been one of the few downfalls of Mike McCarthy regime in Green Bay, and we have seen it countless times over his tenure. If Rodgers doesn’t show significant athletic improvement from the weight loss, McGinn wrote that he played at 272 pounds for a portion of last year, then he could be added to the list of names like A.J. Hawk, M.D. Jennings, Mike Neal, Micah Hyde and Don Barclay who got way too much leeway.
It’s stunning that the Packers could not only see Rodgers as this year’s starter, but in upcoming seasons as well. The tight end draft class is loaded this year with Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Michigan’s Jake Butt leading the way, so Green Bay would be very wise to take advantage. This is another reason why signing Cook as a one-year stopgap made sense.
Cook underwent foot surgery in early June, which could represent a big issue for him. Even if Cook is healthy enough to practice by the start of training camp, it seems likely that he would be limited in reps towards the beginning. A veteran on a new team needs every snap he can get in training camp to learn the new system. This is especially true with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, who is notoriously known for being slow to develop trust in his pass catchers. Rodgers needs to know where you will be at all times and have the confidence in you to fight for the ball. This cannot be accomplished from the sidelines.
It seems like the best usage for Cook and Rodgers would be for Cook to play on first and second downs with Rodgers subbing in on third downs and red zone plays. However, McCarthy loves to run his no-huddle offense without making substitutes, so that would rule out this plan. McCarthy is more apt to give players one possession each in a rotation, which can make it hard for them to get in a rhythm.
Cook and Rodgers are certainly two of the most important players to watch as training camp opens up next week. Cook’s talent may still win out in the end, but it seems like Rodgers is not going down without a fight. There is nothing wrong with a little camp competition to bring out the best of everybody, and that is what this time of year is for.