Packers’ 2019 Tight End Makeover: Part 2

This Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams will take on the ‘underdog’ New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. While I’m sure we’d all rather see the Green Bay Packers repping the NFC, watching other teams can be rewarding. For me, seeing tight ends Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, and Eric Ebron in action really hypes me up for what the Green Bay Packers can do with the position in 2019.

As mentioned last week, since losing Jermichael Finley to injury in 2013 the Green Bay Packers haven’t had a dominant tight end. Since then the Packers have drafted exactly two tight ends. If the position was a sinking ship, general manager Ted Thompson tried to repair the hull with Hello Kitty band-aids.

In lieu of draft capitol, Thompson operated outside of his comfort zone and dove into free agency to fix the position. In 2016 he signed Jared Cook, who would be replaced in 2017 by Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. His predecessor Brian Gutekunst followed suit, replacing Bennett with Jimmy Graham and adding Marcedes Lewis.

This revolving door of free agent tight ends obviously has yet to fix the problem. But its worth asking, could any of 2019’s free agent tight ends be the answer?

Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
Age: 32
2018 stats: 68 receptions/896 yards/6 TDs
PFF Grade: 75.7 (9th overall)

This name should be familiar to Packers fans. During the “Run the Table” era of 2016, Cook was a massive part of the team’s success. He and Aaron Rodgers really clicked during that stretch. Cook’s best play was a ridiculous catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the Division Round to set up a game-winning Mason Crosby field goal. Despite being the best tight end the Packers had in years, negotiations went south in 2017 and Thompson brought in Martellus Bennett instead. The less said about that the better.

In 2018, Cook was one of the few bright spots on an abysmal Raiders team and made the Pro Bowl. He’s a free agent again and its worth asking whether Green Bay should look his way again. He’s an upgrade in the blocking game, a solid receiver, and has established chemistry with Rodgers. But he’s getting older and would Cook want to return to the team that let him walk away? However if Jimmy Graham does get cut and the Packers can work within that cap space I would love to see him in the Green and Gold again.

Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers
Age: 24
2018 stats: 30/423/2
PFF Grade: 66.4

Despite having one of the coolest names in the NFL, James hasn’t done a ton with Pittsburgh. His most famous play was a controversial no-catch against the Patriots in 2017. He has ideal size and has been a good blocker, but hasn’t broken out as a playmaker. While I don’t see him as a TE1, he could be a reasonably priced, high upside signing for Green Bay. The outlaw namesake is someone to keep an eye on.

Demetrius Harris, Kansas City Chiefs
Age: 27
2018 stats: 12/164/3
PFF Grade: 60.5

Harris is the backup to Travis Kelce, a top 3 tight end in the league, so he’s a relative unknown to most fans. A former basketball player, he has great physicals and could potentially flourish in a new environment. However, drops have been an issue and at 27 he could be a “what you see is what you get” situation. Should the Packers want an athletic rotational player for a low cost, Harris could be in play.

Maxx Williams, Baltimore Ravens
Age: 24
2018 stats: 16/143/1
PFF Grade: 71.6 (16th overall)

Williams is another relatively unknown player, but has a ton of promise. In addition to being a top 20 PFF tight end, he was their 7th highest ranked run blocker. From what we know about Matt LaFleur’s offense, that’s a godsend. Williams has also looked good in small bursts of action in the passing game. Baltimore will build a new offense this season. Williams will likely be available and cheap and would be a great addition as a rotational player.

Of these options, Cook is the only true TE1 of the bunch, but the rest could have roles in Green Bay’s new tight end room. I would love to see Cook and Williams considered, but I’m adamant the Green Bay Packers’ future at tight end is in the 2019 draft. Next week, we’ll look at who the Packers could get from this rich draft class.

Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.
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