Packers Facing Tough Decision On Jace Sternberger

The Green Bay Packers have a tough decision to make after their Week 2 home opener against the Detroit Lions. Tight end Jace Sternberger will be done serving his two-game suspension then and GM Brian Gutekunst must decide whether to activate the former third-round pick to the active roster or let him go.

Sternberger has struggled since the Packers drafted him in 2019. He missed most of his rookie season due to a concussion and an ankle injury. The Packers activated him for the final six games of the regular season but he did not catch a pass and played only 60 offensive snaps that season.

In the playoffs that year, Sternberger caught three passes including his first NFL touchdown and many experts were optimistic he would play a bigger role with the team in 2020.

Unfortunately, the Texas A&M alum struggled again in his second year with the Packers. He was diagnosed with Covid-19 during training camp which slowed his progress and prevented him from truly competing for the starting tight end job. Robert Tonyan emerged as the starter and had a Pro Bowl-caliber season with 11 touchdown catches.

Sternberger did play in 12 games but wasn’t at full strength as he recovered from Covid. He finished the season with 12 catches for 114 yards and one touchdown. He was inactive for the team’s final four regular-season games due to injury and he did not play in the playoffs.

Then, during the offseason, it was revealed that the league had suspended Sternberger for two games to start this season because he fell asleep at the wheel of his car after taking anti-depressants and having too much to drink.  

Despite the suspension, Sternberger was eligible to participate in all of training camp and all three preseason games. Unfortunately, the third-year tight end continued to be inconsistent.

In the first preseason contest, Sternberger had the longest completion of the game, a 34-yard pass from Jordan Love that was a key play on a scoring drive. He finished the game with three catches for 35 yards.

While he had a long catch down the seam, tight ends coach Justin Outten was less than complimentary when asked about Sternberger. “That one play doesn’t really describe the player,” Outten said after the game. “It’s more consistently what you’re putting in day in and day out. With his consistency, it’s kind of been sporadic. Whether it’s still getting used to the playbook or feeling around the line of scrimmage, he’s still having some up-and-down days. With the extra reps that he’s getting, he’s got a handle it a little bit better in a sense of more video and doing the extra things outside. But that’s all fixable. Those things can come along. This is a huge preseason for him with these three games and being the guy and getting as much reps as possible in these live settings. He can grow from some lessons that he learned last night and then moving forward.”

Against the Jets, Sternberger had a touchdown pass and a key drop, again, showing more inconsistent play.

In the preseason finale, Sternberger missed a key block on a fourth-and-one running play that was stopped short of the first down by the player who the tight end failed to block. He failed to have much impact as a receiver.  

The criticisms of Sternberger have been his consistency, his knowledge of the playbook and his lack of blocking ability. While Sternberger is primarily a receiving tight end, he does have to know how to block adequately when called upon to see the field more often.

The Packers are deep at tight end and that is working against Sternberger. Tonyan is the established starter at receiving tight end with Marcedes Lewis acting as the primary blocking tight end. Josiah Deguara, who the Packers drafted in the third round one year after Sternberger, is expected to line up as an H-back, tight end and fullback. Dominique Dafney is presently the fourth tight end on the roster. He has been a solid special teams player and pitched in as a blocker and receiver late last season while Sternberger was out of the lineup.

Tight end is not an easy position to learn for young players. Rookie tight ends rarely make large contributions since there is a lot to learn at this position including pass routes and blocking assignments. Sternberger’s progress has been stunted by a spate of injuries but his lack of knowledge of the playbook is a big disappointment after three training camps in Matt LaFleur’s system.

Injuries may factor into the ultimate decision. If any of the four tight ends presently on the roster get hurt in the first two games, that opens the door for Sternberger to claim a roster spot. If they all stay healthy, the Packers will have a tough choice to make.

There are two questions the Packers need to answer before determining whether to keep Sternberger. First, has he shown enough potential to justify keeping him this year. If tight ends take a few seasons to learn their craft, the light could come on for Sternberger this season if he can finally stay healthy and get more reps.

The second question is whether there is room for Sternberger on the team. The Packers have four tight ends on the active roster and Bronson Kaufusi is presently on the practice squad. Would the Packers release a tight end to make room for Sternberger or would they sacrifice a player at another position? If they release Sternberger, would they try to stash him on the practice squad if he clears waivers?

Gutekunst has already showed he is willing to move on from former draft picks when he let linebacker Kamal Martin go last month. Is Sternberger next or does he return to the team and get one more chance to prove he can contribute to the Packers offense? In two weeks, we will all know the short-term fate of the Packers third-round pick in the 2019 draft. His career is clearly at a crossroads.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (46)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Demon's picture

September 09, 2021 at 12:14 pm

I don't see it as a hard decision at all. As soon as he is able trade or cut him. He has done next to nothing for the team other then draw a paycheck and take a roster spot. Easy choice next,

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

September 09, 2021 at 12:50 pm

Might not seem like a hard decision to you, but GMs don't give up on their 3rd round picks after just two seasons very often.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

September 09, 2021 at 02:32 pm

Yeah, the Packers probably regret giving up on Hyde and Hayward to early.

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TarynsEyes's picture

September 09, 2021 at 02:37 pm

Especially since they both produced in GB and where they went to.

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dblbogey's picture

September 10, 2021 at 12:20 am

Hayward was coming off two injury plagued seasons. I don't blame them for not paying him millions.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

September 10, 2021 at 11:02 am

Of course. But blame and regret are different things.

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dblbogey's picture

September 10, 2021 at 12:22 am

I love that you think somebody would actually trade for this guy. Otherwise, I agree, he was a 3rd round bust, it happens all the time.

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mnbadger's picture

September 09, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Good luck whatever lies ahead Jace, hopefully GBPrs can pick up another draft choice for him instead of cutting him outright. If he wasn't working hard to improve his craft while on the active roster, not sure what would motivate him to do it now. GPG!

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Lphill's picture

September 09, 2021 at 12:26 pm

He has had some bad luck I think they part ways with him but probably gets a fresh start somewhere else , I would expect the 3 other North teams to show interest .

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Packers0808's picture

September 09, 2021 at 12:37 pm

By all rights he should be a goner, hopefully get some value as a trade piece!

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jhtobias's picture

September 09, 2021 at 02:35 pm

If you got a conditional 7th round pick consider it a win.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 09, 2021 at 01:00 pm

Montravius Adams...Oren Burks...Jace Sternberger.

Let's hope Josiah Deguara reverses the trend of 3rd round flops.

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dblbogey's picture

September 10, 2021 at 12:28 am

I checked the last 11 years of 3rd round picks. Pretty bad. Morgan Burnett was the best of the lot. Hopefully Deguara and Amari will change the pattern.

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wildbill's picture

September 09, 2021 at 01:09 pm

Actually in spite of his shortcomings I see us finding a way to keep him as insurance in case we can’t keep Tonyan. He is really the only receiving TE on our team other than Tonyan.

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SpikeHyzer's picture

September 09, 2021 at 07:22 pm

I agree. The potential is too much to give up on since he has had a lot of missed reps.
Especially with Lewis likely to retire next year and not yet knowing what DD offers in the passing game.

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mbpacker's picture

September 09, 2021 at 01:10 pm

The key is what is happening behind closed doors that we can't see, ie. attitude, focus, knowing the playbook, being a good team mate, is he showing potential? The staff know him best and I think they will do what is best for the team. Maybe stashing him on the PS if he has shown improvement and see how it rolls.

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Gee's picture

September 09, 2021 at 03:46 pm

The question for me, is will he make to PS. No telling who may just make a claim, still if he could make it, it may give him time to reset.

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barutanseijin's picture

September 12, 2021 at 08:15 pm

He’s a dude who was beaten out by UDFAs. He’s making it to the practice squad if they’re crazy enough to keep him.

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jont's picture

September 09, 2021 at 06:16 pm

Yes, the key point is what is happening that we don't see. Other than being a higher pick, there's not much on the keep-him side of the scale yet they do. The bit about the anti-depressants points to something maybe... contributes to the apparent lack of focus, lackadaisical attitude?
I don't think so, but if I did it would be nothing but pure and not fair speculation on my part. I don't know anything other than this being a bit of a head scratcher from where I sit.
You're right, mb, we don't know.

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flackcatcher's picture

September 10, 2021 at 01:27 pm

Depends on how bad his concussion was, and what his recovery path was. Anti-Depressives are the usual tool in severe cases to help deal with the mood swings in post concussion. Severe depression is the norm, and must be closely watched for. The idea that one can just shake it off, has caused more harm in both the military and sports as seen by the Packer's idiot TE coach. In any case, it's a tough call for Gute.

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ricky's picture

September 09, 2021 at 01:31 pm

I had high hopes for Sternberger when he was drafted. I also am someone who says you should be patient with players. But sometimes you just have to admit you made a mistake and move on. Good luck at your next destination, Jace.

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splitpea1's picture

September 09, 2021 at 03:01 pm

So far, he struggles with too many things to be viewed as anything more than an insurance player. We have a lot of weapons on offense already, and I don't think we'd terribly miss whatever contributions he may make even if an injury occurred. Tight end is going to be on the list of needs come draft time, anyway. I'd only give Sternberger another chance if one of the tight ends or H-backs were to get injured in the first two games.

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stockholder's picture

September 09, 2021 at 01:55 pm

The only way he should be cut is if he's slowing down. Otherwise- I'd keep him. No matter what. Tonyan may not sign. Lewis may retire. ( Lewis isn't fast) Jace was a college stud. Can't miss prospect. So why was he drinking and depressed? Thats the real secret. Thats the real answer here. He couldn't have been happy seeing Tonyan move ahead of him. We know he had medical issues that put him back. The smart move is to keep him, after so many veterans/Rookies failed. Rodgers was slow and still found Life after the Packers. Sternberger will too.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 10, 2021 at 04:26 am

It is one of those beautiful mysteries...

Does Jace Sternberger posses upgrade, or what we saw of him in college is his plateau? If he has upgrade in himself, he might find that this season. If he reached his potential, than it is better to cut him and let him have opportunity somewhere else.

As I said, for us, fans, it is another beautiful mystery...

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jhtobias's picture

September 09, 2021 at 02:03 pm

Simple would he have made the team if he wasnt suspended ? If not he is cut cant see any trade value call the texans they would give up something.

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Vforrest's picture

September 09, 2021 at 02:25 pm

It’s still a results occupation and it’s unfortunate that there always seems to be a reason for him to miss time so based on what you have for your sample size, including things that we never see, practice, meeting rooms, strength improvement and personality…make a decision. From what we see I don’t see how they keep him.

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Razer's picture

September 09, 2021 at 02:33 pm

Like most of the commenters, I can't make a case for a guy who can't/won't make a case for himself. Our TEs need to be able and willing to block and Sternberger fails on both these fronts. Aside from the physical/skill underperformance, the mental side of the game seems to elude this guy. Maturity and attitude issues carried over from college don't belong at this level. I would hate to see us cut somebody who is committed and does contribute for a guy who just doesn't get it.

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ImaPayne's picture

September 09, 2021 at 03:18 pm

Why a tough decision? He cant block, he is always hurt, in three years he has impressed no one and is no longer that fan favorite from Wisconsin. Cut him and get it over with.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

September 10, 2021 at 08:31 am

Other than Hockenson, Jace Sternberger was my favorite tight end during his draft. He has size, adequate speed, and performed well in college.

What Big Bob Tonyan has done is what I expected from Sternberger. Why has Jace failed to deliver?
We packer fans are certainly at a disadvantage compared to the Packers front office, but we can speculate and pose a few questions and possibilities.

1. Does Jace struggle with the play book? The tight end coach alluded to that possibility while taking about Sternberger having the most reps during the preseason. Could he suffer from dyslexia or comparable problem which causes him to lag behind. I was unable to find any such malady on the internet.

2. Did he struggle with emotional depression prior to the draft and when did it develop?
The first indication that he has an emotional problem was when the news broke that Sternberger was arrested and suspended. If he needs help, he should get it. Is he getting help at the present time; the Packers organization should have the answer.

3. Drinking problem. Drinking is a problem when you lack the judgment to refrain while taking powerful drugs to treat depression. Was this an isolated occurrence or an addiction? Again questions to which we don't know the answer, but hopefully the Packers have a handle on it.

Bottom line: Jace Sternberger has the physical qualities and potential to cause the Packers to spend their highest draft choice on a tight end other than Bubba Franks (as far as I know). The potential is likely that Sternberger would be grabbed by a team willing to give him more time to develop should the Packers decided to waive him with the intention of adding him to the practice squad. I am ambivalent regarding to the answer, BUT, if the Packers have positive answers to the questions we have here, a decision should be apparent after the suspension is completed.

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dblbogey's picture

September 10, 2021 at 12:31 am

Jermichael Finley was a 3rd rounder. You sure are doing a lot of guessing and speculating here.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 10, 2021 at 04:29 am

Well, do you know anything as a fact? Please, share that facts with us so we can less speculate...

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

September 10, 2021 at 08:48 am

I did know that Finley had been selected by the Packers. He was pick number 91 in the third round and Sternberger was pick number 75. Perhaps I should have mentioned that, but I felt that I was being a little verbose with the length of the post to begin with. Thanks for the constructive comment.

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GregC's picture

September 09, 2021 at 09:32 pm

From what I've seen, I would cut Sternberger and put him on the practice squad if he clears waivers, which he probably would. I doubt that all 16 players on the practice squad have more potential than Sternberger. I think he has blocked reasonably well at times, and when he is on his game as a receiver, he is a lot like Robert Tonyan.

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BAMABADGER's picture

September 09, 2021 at 10:09 pm

A one year wonder in college. In three years he lacks strength, TE speed, no moves, poor blocker, easily goes down if he makes a catch. Other than those issues, the Pack Mgt will probably keep him.

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

September 09, 2021 at 11:42 pm

"he fell asleep at the wheel of his car after taking anti-depressants and having too much to drink."

Uh-oh... Depressed? Driving under the influence? Drinking until he passes out?
That does not sound like a story with a happy ending. I hope he gets some counseling.

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jannes bjornson's picture

September 10, 2021 at 01:10 am

Sounds like Many Packer Fans in the "Valley"

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croatpackfan's picture

September 10, 2021 at 04:30 am

Interesting and somewhat amusing observation JB...

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

September 10, 2021 at 12:15 pm

LOL, that is true.

But I think there's a difference between random suburbanites trying to dull the monotony of it all, and a star athlete drafted into the NFL, and now with his career on the line seemingly going down a dark path. Some people can't cope with the pressure in such a situation. If he was my friend, I'd talk to him, just to check if he's in need of help. Really hoping the front office is monitoring the situation...

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PhantomII's picture

September 10, 2021 at 05:48 am

Too bad Tonyan doesn't take Jace with him to work out with in the offseason, we would have a dual threat monster then. Hopefully ML has talked with his HS coach and A&M Coach and seen what buttons to push to right the ship. Normally some team mate love gets it moving in the right direction and motivated. I thought he would be very dominant by now, myself.

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

September 10, 2021 at 07:19 am

"The criticisms of Sternberger have been his consistency, his knowledge of the playbook and his lack of blocking ability".

The most damanging part is "knowledge of the playbook". Points to bad work ethic and lack of motivation. Also, it leads directly to consistency, or lack thereof.

I have no idea about other factors, but I would not be displeased if he is gone.

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nostradanus's picture

September 10, 2021 at 08:19 am

I don’t believe you give up on a 3rd round choice with obvious talent after only 2 seasons.
Heck they’ve kept Orin Burks around and he has done nothing but special teams.
They’ve got 2 weeks to figure it out, I predict he sticks around, especially with Tonyan in a contract year.
Go Pack

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HarryHodag's picture

September 10, 2021 at 08:58 am

As others have said this is not a tough decision. I would let him go. I don't know his status for the practice squad, but that might be a possibility.

Another fine lesson in what I refer to as the public being "Kiperized", named for the first widely known draft guru Mel Kiper.

Kiper and others have convinced an entire nation that draft picks are the be-all and end-all for the National Football League.

Sternberger is a good example of being "Kiperized". The kid can't block, has hands of stone and has been hurt. Oh, yes, he also got nailed for an illegal substance. He was beaten out by a free agent. This is a tough call? No one who is drafted is guaranteed to be any good. Packers fans only have to look as far as Tony Mandarich, D. Randall, Datone Jones, Nick Perry, Derek Sharrod and Justin Harrell to name a few top draft pick busts.

You can also look at a bevy of really good players in the top slot. About half of the first round picks work out.
Same is true for the second round and the percentage of those making a success falls off sharply after the third round.

But if you listen to Kiper and the gang every person drafted is far better than anyone else out there while history has been proven over and over that drafting means you were good IN COLLEGE, but that is no sure-fire indicator that you will be any good in the pros.

So hold onto Sternberger because he was a high draft pick? A better question is: can he play ball? The answer in no. Two former free agents have beaten him out--Tonyan could be a Pro Bowler--so what's the tough call?

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PAPackerbacker's picture

September 10, 2021 at 12:21 pm

I think it's up to Sternberger himself about his future in Green Bay to prove he has what it takes. If he continues down the path he has taken so far then the choice will not be a hard one to make. Could there be a spot for him on the practice squad? Again, it will be up to him and how he plays. If he gets traded or released it's no big loss. Not a hard decision at all.

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Harold Drake's picture

September 12, 2021 at 02:15 am

Sternberger = bust = cut. I am doubtful that he would even command a 7th round pick in a trade.

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ScottW's picture

September 12, 2021 at 10:20 am

Great overall summary. I could see this going either way. Maybe trade to a team that has an injury at TE in the first few weeks. Let’s see what happens to the team injury wise the first fewxeeeks.

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barutanseijin's picture

September 12, 2021 at 08:22 pm

Nobody is trading anything for Sternberger.

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