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Cory's Corner: What Is Going On At Tight End?

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Cory's Corner: What Is Going On At Tight End?

Where are the Packers at tight end?

Green Bay has sniffed around and has put in numerous claims in on tight ends this offseason. On Monday, the Packers signed former Lions tight end Michael Roberts. I think it’s amusing because the Patriots initially made a trade for the 6-foot-5, 265-pound goal line target but that deal evaporated when his physical failed. 

The reason it’s a little odd is because Green Bay claimed former Jaguars tight end Pharaoh McKever on June 11. And let’s not forget that the Packers also used a third round pick on Jace Sternberger. He just inked his deal on June 10. 

So what does all this mean? Are the Packers planning on doing the unthinkable and cutting bait with the high-priced Jimmy Graham and his upcoming $12.6 million cap hit? Or do the Packers think they can move on from 35-year-old Marcedes Lewis?

I highly doubt any of those things will happen. First of all, Graham’s dead cap hit is still a mountainous $12.3 million. And you could make an argument that Lewis is the second-best blocker on the team right now. Getting rid of him, especially with coach Matt LaFleur about to stress the run even more, would make zero sense. 

I really like competition because more competition eliminates complacency and it heightens the overall product. But having eight tight ends currently on the depth chart seems a tad crowded. 

If I was Robert Tonyan, I’d be a little upset. He played 67 offensive snaps last year and he showed plenty of promise as a pass blocker. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound tight end showed he could get behind the Seattle defense last year as Aaron Rodgers found him on an absurd 54-yard touchdown that was completed on the run. 

So where do these recent moves leave Tonyan? He suddenly is a gerbil spinning wildly on a wheel. Either he will get into his groove during camp and remain comfortable with Rodgers or Roberts, McKever and Sternberger will steal his job and become Rodgers’ next short yardage trustworthy weapon.

That tight end group is suddenly on notice. Obviously, the Packers are going to give a much longer look to Sternberger because of rookie growing pains. But they aren’t going to put up with mistakes from veterans. And if Graham gets stung by the injury bug — he has missed seven games the last two years — this group is going to be asked to do big things. 

Not just by finding openings in zone defenses, but by creating running lanes for LaFleur’s new offense and philosophy. Adding this many tight ends is by design because LaFleur knows that he doesn’t have the horses to sustain an entire season. 

LaFleur knows exactly what he wants and last year didn’t provide the needed depth at one of the most important positions when it comes to running on the outside. Without a consistent tight end setting up a wall on the outside, things aren’t going to work. 

The only question is, who will LaFleur trust? 


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (70) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Guam's picture

It would appear MLF likes bigger TEs than Tonyan, probably for blocking purposes. Given that Lewis is likely done after this year, the search for another blocking TE is not surprising. That also indicates Tonyan's days as a Packer are numbered.

I like that Gute identifies a problem and then uses every avenue to fix it. Such a refreshing change from "only draft and develop" under the prior regime.

PeteK's picture

I agree MLF's history of liking to run the ball gives proof to his preference for a blocking TE. Should make for an interesting relationship with Graham. However, all will be forgiven when he scores 10 TDs.

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Coldworld's picture

I’ve given my take on Roberts in the a comment to the previous piece, but what I suspect is happening is a commitment to the TE position and to a blocking TE in particular.

As of next year certainly, Lewis will be gone. There is a reasonable chance Graham will be too. Arguably, Sternberger and Tonyan are the pipeline to replace Graham. Gute has been quietly restocking the roster with high upside potential and it seems the TE position is no exception. That is something that all teams should do, but had fallen off in GB in recent years.

If Sternberger and Tonyan are receiving TEs, Lewis as a blocker had no back up or competition. That stood out for me after the draft as an exception. That could be because they plan to use a full back, but Vitale didn’t impress as a blocker last year particularly. It could be that LaFleur isn’t as committed to that role as his history suggests.

Recent events suggest LaFleur is committed. With McKeever, we got a prospect for the future. I see him as competing for a PS place due to his rawness as a relatively new to the position type. In Roberts we got a player who could possibly play now.

Roberts has, from what I have read, some upside as a blocker and red zone receiver. He has good hands, is agile (very good 3 cone for his size) if not fast and can block. Presumably that’s why NE were interested.

He could be insurance for Lewis now if he is over the injury bug that prevented him becoming the starting TE for the Lions last year, which most expected going into camp. If Lewis were considering retirement (hypothetically) a healthy Roberts could credibly step in. Therefore he could be a viable roster candidate this year. which we did not have behind Lewis before. Alternatively, if we could try to stash him on the PS and hope NE is happy with its eventual depth, and groom him for next year.

Interesting. This guy could end up on the roster if the blocking role is important enough or Lewis is unavailable. He did not really play ST in college or with the Lions, but Lewis doesn’t either. It could also indicate that they aren’t comfortable with the fullback talent and plan to run block with TEs.

It could also be planning for the future replacement at TE. Generally, the more talent one doesn’t have to draft or sign in FA, the more opportunity to maximize buying power. I like the fact that Gute goes out to up the potential level with signings like this. We don’t lose anything if it doesn’t work out, and the upside is bettering the roster now or next year.

Rak47's picture

Graham and Sternberger imo are the only locks at TE, and the Packers keep bringing in big bodied blocking TE's who can also catch like McKeever and Roberts. This leads me to believe they are concerned as to whether Graham, Sternberger, and Tonyan can provide the kind of run blocking LaFluer requires from his TE's in this offense. Lewis on the other hand is old and is making a few million and if they can replace him with a quality blocking younger TE with a much lower price tag and also find another suitable blocker from among Sternberger, Tonyan, and the new signees then I think LaFluer and Gute will be comfortable with the group going into the season. I think the best thing that could happen is Sternberger surprises with his blocking. More than likely though Graham and Sternberger end up as receiving TE's while two others occupy the blocking roles. If Tonyan shows he can be an asset to the run game he will likely earn a roster spot.

stockholder's picture

I made the case for dumping Lewis. OLD! I made the case for Keeping Graham. Experience. We dumped Kendricks. I cannot make a case for Tonyan. He dropped a 1st down pass from Kizer , and laughed about it. Especially when Kizer got upset. So what if he caught a deep pass. He more then likely ran the wrong route. You guys wanted Hoek. I see why the packers are bringing in others. The Janis love comparisons have to stop. Hands of stone are not what this team needs. Catch it or catch the bus out of town. Kendricks was better then Tonyan and Lewis. Their playing time on the field, is a good gauge of why changes must be brought to the TE position.

Coldworld's picture

The TD was a broken play in which Tonyan improvised to get open across the middle. Rodgers later said he thought it was Graham when he threw.

I am not aware of Tonyan having hands of stone or even that he has been criticized as being weak in that area.

I agree, he is mostly unproven, but I think in part due to lack of opportunities. This is exactly why he should have been on the field instead of a one handed Graham after the season was effectively over, to get a greater body of knowledge of young players like Tonyan to assist with future decision making.

We will see in camp. However, Tonyan and Roberts do not strike me as similar players in any case.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Playerprofiler lists Tonyan as having one drop on six targets, with one target being considered uncatchable. Too small a sample.

I agree that Sternberger and Tonyan are the candidates for the move or receiving TE position, and that Roberts and McKeever (and perhaps Lewis is in play) might be in competition for the blocking TE position. Though I read a lot of articles about how Lewis is a great blocker, the film guys like our own Andy Herman did not view Lewis as a good blocker for GB, IIRC. I know I was surprised that Gute gave Lewis that much money overall and a $500K signing bonus (plus $50K workout, which I assume Lewis has earned by now).

Coldworld's picture

Lewis was used so little he never really had a chance to get into a groove. Until the F.O. Signed him up for this year, I assumed it was poor play that led to the lack of snaps, however, that points to the evaluators believing otherwise.

jannes bjornson's picture

It's called the McCarthy effect.

RCPackerFan's picture

It appears to me that they are wanting to do more with the TE position this year then in previous years. It seems like there will be more emphasis in the new look offense to use TE's more.

Perhaps this year we will see more TE's and less WR's used. Maybe we should be considering them to be keeping 5 or 6 WR's and 5 TE's? I some roster predictions where they have 7 WR's and 4 TE's. Maybe they will go with 6 and 5.

They definitely don't seem to be done with the TE position.

Slim11's picture

I tried to post this a few days ago but a site error prevented it.

WR, and now TE, present an intriguing set of combinations with respect to roster spots. The ability of Graham and Sternberger to line up outside might impact the number of WRs on the final roster.

IMO, Graham and Sternberger are locks for pass catching ability. Lewis is a lock for his blocking and familiarity with the offense MLF and OC Hackett are bringing to GB. That leaves Tonyan, Roberts and McEver (both waiver claims), and Evan Bayliss competing for one (?) spot.

I don't see the WR/TE group being more than 10. Adams, Allison, MVS, ESB, Moore and one of T. Davis, Kumerow, J. Davis, T. Redding, D. Shepherd and A. Lazard along with the TE group are competing for two(?) roster spots.

If no player other than T. Davis shows up as a capable KR/PR, then he'll probably be WR#6 and I don't like that. Hopefully, a capable returner shows up out of the RB/DB group who isn't a projected starter.

Because of needs elsewhere on offense, I think there will be 10 spots for WR and TE.

jannes bjornson's picture

Good analysis. That's how it should play out. Davis is unreliable at the PR job and Moore is a better KR.

PeteK's picture

When Davis came back from injury he did both.

Coldworld's picture


jannes bjornson's picture

Very briefly

PeteK's picture

Yes, but got the job after half the team had a chance. LOL

Coldworld's picture

Possibly they could be looking at TEs as run blockers over a full back too. We don’t have an established full back. Vitale wasn’t a great blocker last year. Does he bring more than a Lewis type? Does he limit or add to route tree when in?

greengold's picture

What kind of sample size can be used to determine Vitale wasn't a great blocker, based on how we really didn't run last year?

This is a whole new year and era for the Packers. It begins now. We shall see.

As for the TEs? Seems like Gutey just doing his due diligence. More TEs in camp than I can ever recall, with 7.

Coldworld's picture

I just was underwhelmed. He could be greatly improved this year as well and he does have decent hands. That said, with all the TE activity, the role of the fullback comes into question as does the question of relative value that individuals bring to the table as TEs or FBs

jannes bjornson's picture

They need a true Fullback to run counter motion. A FB gets lower than a TE
in the lead plays. Maybe LeFleur has enough brains to also bring back the
draw play and effective screens to the RBs.

flackcatcher's picture

All of this depends on what their run blocking scheme will be this year, and if they think their FB has the skill set necessary to run in their system. Last year showed the value the FB position in even a pass happy NFL. But college football has so few FB positions with the spread formations that feature mostly run pass option QB. Wisconsin is rare for having pro style offensive that feature FB in their systems. This is an issue that goes all the way back to the mid 90's. If you look at the Packer FB, they were converted from other positions, or played in one back systems.(KUHN!!!!!! and Henderson was a big RB in college.) So finding a big RB or even a true FB who is ready to play at the NFL level is hard today. (Off the top of head I could only come up with Watt from Wisconsin, I'm sure there are others.......)

greengold's picture

LaFleur found a FB essential last year in TEN, when Derrick Henry was mired in a 3.3 ypc average first 8 games of season. They signed a FB, and Henry's ypc increased to 5.88 the next 8 games.

Wasn't trying to bust your balls. Hell, not sure I even saw Vitale last season myself! Really. McCarthy had ZERO clue about running the football, and he sure did nothing to establish and stick with a running attack.

Coldworld's picture

But he was playing without his top TEs due to injury if I recall correctly.

jannes bjornson's picture

Ask Belichick how he won the SB and ground K.C. into the turf playing away from Home. Alec Ingold should have been drafted, but that's too little to cry about now. McVay's ground game was neutralized by the Bill and his TE
blocking scheme pinched inside. Gotta have a ghardcore Fullback. Johnson is the other guy Gutekunst brought in. Andy Reid learned a lesson and signed Ripkowski. It all gets down to basics when you get into the playoffs.

Coldworld's picture

Ripkowski was released in May. He is a free agent.

jannes bjornson's picture

Maybe he is a descending player. Thanks for the update.

carlos's picture

The guy is big, can block and is young. Maybe just a look - see to compare him to the other TE ‘s in the room. Nothing ventured- nothing gained. Tongan is tall, but not big. Moving defensive lineman is a daunting task.

jannes bjornson's picture

The Detroit sports writers say he is slow off the line and soft in the blocking game. Redzone post-up type of guy.

Packer Dave's picture

I think RC nailed it. This team is going to run the ball and we need people to pave some lanes (i.e. 5 TE).

Still a fan of the fullback though. It just gives us a wider playbook - and who doesn't want to smash some Vikings linebackers?

PeteK's picture

Me too, look what Pats did last year with their fullback. Love it

carlos's picture

Obviously I meant Tonyan. If New England was interested, despite their TE needs, makes me think he has something. They seem to find good players.

Jonathan Spader's picture

The trade fell through becaise he failed New England's physical. NE finds good players because they're selective.

dobber's picture

I think BB is always asking himself which players he'd like playing for him whenever he's scouting, building game plans, or just watching film. I agree in that I think he's very targeted in what he pursues. History shows us that very few HCs can be their own GM, but Belichick is probably the best at it in the modern era.

carlos's picture

5 TE’s seems high, but who knows?

ejr450's picture

I think another part of it this time of year is that they want camp bodies to run in practice. Graham and Lewis aren’t going to take too many practice reps at their age / injury situation. If all you have on the roster is Tonyan and Sternberger, you’re going to run out of viable practice players very quickly. They need 8 guys to cycle in/out of team reps and ensure the offense gets to practice what MLF wants to run.

I’d expect them to keep 4 - 80/89/87 and either Tonyan or Roberts at this point. Roberts is a cheap (read - minimum contract) flyer on a guy. No guaranteed $.

JakeDickerson's picture

This fan base has a problem with fixating on players. Remember Jeff Janis? Robert Tonyan has made ONE play, and you would think he was the second coming. Tim Boyle had 2 decent preseason games against 3rd string defenses and now he should be the backup QB. I’ve seen people talk about Ty Summers, who is a 7th round draft choice, making contributions on defense. Pump the brakes guys.
These players show lots of potential, (well, Summers hasn’t...yet) and I hope they become good NFL players for the Pack, but they’re not right now and we shouldn’t expect the Packers to hold on to players because WE think they’re someday gonna flip the switch, like Janis did remember.

PeteK's picture

Most like the underdog because many of us can relate.

nostradanus's picture

Hope springs eternal in the off-season, that is the enjoyable part of being a fan or “fanatic”
Finding the next Sam Shields or Tramon Williams is the bonus. Lighten up man

PeteK's picture

My favorite underdog Donald Driver 7th round 213 pick.

wildbill's picture

Or Bart Starr, 17th round pick

PeteK's picture

How could I forget. The lowest underdog of all time, lower than even Brady.

jannes bjornson's picture

The Fans need to get some edge to their game. They've become as complacent as the last regime after pulling off the SB in 2010. Nine long years ago, boys and girls. Most of the Key contributors to this team come from the higher rounds of the draft. The McGinn analysis hit the nail on the head last off-season when he noted the Lack of BLUE chip talent on the squad. That never changes. Let's hope these free agents on the defensive side maintain an ascending curve and want to win. With social media the fans seem to have another voice to break through to the management class at 1265 Lombardi Ave. and 15,000 empty seats at Lambeau zapped Murphy's awareness a bit also. Let's getting ready to rumble.

4thand1's picture

Looks like TC is going to be a war this year. Guys competing for a roster spot are going to go all out. Maybe we'll even see crosby in a fight, lol. Nothing like competition to bring out the best in people.

blondy45's picture

I am still a Sam Ficken fan, give him a legit chance, he will win.

PeteK's picture

He gave Penn St fans ulcers until his final season and did not fair well with the Rams. He is determined.

mnklitzke's picture

Except for Josh Jones. He just wants to be traded instead.. :)

blondy45's picture

IMO I think the Packers want to see if a TE can be their "FB". Danny Vitale is on the hot seat. If a promising younger player can provide depth at TE, play Special teams, and block from the full back position, he will be a Packer this year. Just the size of these lately acquired TE's shows me they want bulk to block.

Many people wanted the Pack to draft at the WR position this year. I never wanted them to do this. The Pack has 7-8 legit WR's on their roster now that can all play in the NFL. Training camp will determine who the best top 6 will be to make the Packer's roster. The weak link depth wise on this roster, is still at the Safety position. We will soon see if an up grade is needed for depth. As we have seen, Gute will go get guys he thinks the Pack needs. The Packers cupboard is well stocked, it is up to MLF and Mike Pettine to make a recipe for success. Aaron Rodgers is still the master chef though. He needs to follow the recipe!

PeteK's picture

Safety depth not that bad as we have Greene and can move Williams there, and Jones lurking by the exit dr. I'm more worried about CB depth, King very crucial player this year.

mrtundra's picture

I believe Tonyan is going to be a fan favorite. Jimmy Graham can be great for the Pack if he can stay healthy. His health issues are reason enough to keep Tonyan. I think the TE battle will be between Steinberger and Tonyan and should be a fun thing to watch.

nostradanus's picture

Gute has been true to his “leave no stone unturned “ promise and that is a good thing. Even if some of these guys don’t make the initial roster, it gives the Pack a chance to see what these guys are all about.

Each team has an emergency list when untimely injuries occur and the Packers are known to bring back their own.

Keep churning the bottom of the roster Gutey!

Love it!

Go Pack!!

dobber's picture

I think you're right and roster churn what's going on: two aging TEs--one with a fat contract--headlining the position and a whole lotta unproven behind it. TEs fit well on STs and you never know when you find a gem.

When rosters are 90 players deep, what does it matter if you have 6 TEs?

LambeauPlain's picture

Exactly. I would question if 6 were on the 53...but I can easily see 4. Maybe even 5 if they have good ST value...and position for a possible 2020 without Graham, Lewis or Tonyan.

flackcatcher's picture

I still want two fullbacks on the roster. (A man can wish, can't he....-:)

Coldworld's picture

I like fullbacks, but I don’t know that either Vitale or Johnson (listed as an RB but an HB/FB) bring more to the table in terms of ability and/or capability than members of the TE group.

LaFleur lost his top TEs early last year before turning to his FB with great effect, so I’m not sure that is much help as a predictor. Neither of the FBs and half the TEs are yet proven at the NFL level, so this could be about fluidity through camp allowing the players to determine how those positions and roles are assigned.

IceBowl's picture


That makes the most sense. Seems to me , whomever makes the roster will have to be interchangeable lining up. Even Graham can line up as a FB and get in someones way.

LambeauPlain's picture

The Packer TEs are an integral part of MLs O in both the pass and zone run schemes and it is highly possible Lewis and Graham are playing their last season in GB.

And Tonyan will be a FA and could also leave.

So this important position needs to be reloaded. Sternberger should be a good addition, but needs time. Tonyan may be re-signed, but not a guarantee.

This is a good time to evaluate new TE talent to position the team for 2020.

Since '61's picture

I think we should expect that Graham, Lewis and Sternberger be on the team this season. Graham because of his cap hit, Kewis because of his experience with the offense and Sternberger because he is a 3rd round pick.

Beyond that I think the best of Tonyan, Roberts, or Mckeever will also make the team. With Sternberger probably on board Tonyan is likely to be chucked.
There is a possibility that Lewis loses out to either Mckeever or Roberts but I’m not expecting that to happen.

For this year I see Graham, Lewis, Sternberger and either Roberts or Mckeever as our 4 TEs plus one TE on the PS, either Roberts or McKeever. TBD by the end of TC. Thanks, Since ‘61

porupack's picture

great question, Cory. It is curious that Gute is still swinging at available TEs on the market. Glad he's still bringing in candidates.
All speculation above about run/blocking packages are reasonable, but hard to read too much. As other posters, probably to keep 90 roster full, and compare to the others. Most likely, GB is back to 4 when the season starts, and move one to PS to compete once Graham or Lewis moves on.

ricky's picture

Time to settle down a bit. Right now there are a lot of TE's in GB. Which is good from a competition standpoint. Will Roberts pass the physical? We'll see in the next few days. Will Pharrell be a factor? Wait 'til TC. Fun to speculate, but if, for example, Roberts problem is something that can heal, then why not keep him around on the PUP and later IR. Or find out he's not that good and cut him. So, Tonyan might be upset? Good! Go out and win a spot on the roster, rather than think it's there as a given.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

There is no rush to take the physical. They could wait until late July in the extreme. TC doesn't happen until then. I suppose giving him the playbook would be handy and being able to use team facilities as well.

Coldworld's picture

Technically, do they even have to have him pass? Could he not go PUP to IR if the team wanted him to? Just curiosity.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Yes, a team can sign an injured player. Any team that makes a claim for a player who has been "Waived-Injured" just signed an injured player. Ian Williams is a prime example. See the link below.

I did check with NFL transactions and Detroit Lions transactions and didn't see the waived injured designation used on Roberts. It was listed as Waived - No Recall on the NFL site and just Waived on the Detroit site. It may be that Roberts can pass Detroit's physical but not NE's, or that he didn't take a physical with Detroit since it would be unnecessary: teams can release or waive players on IR after the league year in which they were injured has passed. Detroit never moved Roberts from the IR to the active roster.

We will see what happens. Frankly, I didn't think it worth the effort and thought most readers would be bored by a full explanation of the CBA. Roberts still looks like a long shot to make the team or even the PS. His RAS score stinks.

Bure9620's picture

Yes his RAS is not impressive, primarily due to 40 time, 4.86. Pretty decent 3 cone though for his size. A 7.06 at 270 pounds. Makes me believe he is a blocker or the Packers think he plays faster and has some suddenness to him. Those numbers are strange.

ricky's picture

Failed his physical. Gone.

Lare's picture

Nothing wrong with more competition during training camp. If Roberts or McKever can perform and beat out another TE then that's a good thing. This team needs as many quality depth players as it can get.

sonomaca's picture

Roberts gone. The quest to dump Tonyan continues.

IceBowl's picture

You guys do know that even if there are a lot of TE's in Green Bay now, non of them can do anything now.

It is a little baffling, to me, to bring in players that cannot work out.

The Pack must have a great player list.

In Guty I trust.

greengold's picture

It really is a matter of cycling through the bottom of your roster to see what/who is out there that might help in the future. Due diligence by Gutey as opposed to resting on his laurels.

Gort's picture

Sounds like just another warm body to be part of the hitting when the pads go on.

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