Of the foreseeable position battles on the Packers’ roster, tight end may be the most high profile and the least consequential.
It has all the makings of a high profile battle: an oft-injured veteran with Super Bowl start under his belt (Andrew Quarless), a relatively high pick from this year’s draft (Richard Rodgers), an athletic mystery (Brandon Bostick), and a troubled upstart with an uncertain future (Colt Lyerla).
But for all the intrigue, it may not really make a world of difference who the first Packers’ tight end off the bench is this year, and that’s the case for several reasons.
First, the Packers are deep enough at the position that it seems unlikely that any one player is going to be the be all, end all on the field. It’s precisely because the Packers have such a diverse skill set at the position that it will be hard to name a top dog. Brandon Bostick offers an entirely different package on the field than Andrew Quarless, and Richard Rodgers offers a third, completely different option. This suits Mike McCarthy’s package-driven offense well, but it’s going to make the position battle less exciting than it could be.
Secondly, the battle may be decided for reasons other than pure performance, especially on the bottom of the depth chart. The Packers, like every team, will weigh upside versus actual performance when making their roster moves this year, but it will especially be a factor at tight end because of the depth and relative quality of the players being considered. We saw this very scenario play out last year when Brandon Bostick stuck in Green Bay over Matthew Mulligan. While Mulligan would almost certainly have made bigger contributions than Bostick did last year, Bostick’s upside is far greater than Mulligan’s.
The same could be true this year when the Packers weigh decisions about their longer tenured tight ends like Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor as compared to younger players like Colt Lyerla, Jake Stoneburner, and Justin Perillo. True, the more experienced players may be more productive in the short term, but it’s also entirely possible that they’ve become all they’re ever going to be. The allure of potential is difficult to overcome.
Finally, I’m not convinced that tight end will be as big of a factor in the Packers’ offense this year as it has in seasons past. Jermichael Finley was clearly a cut above every other tight end on the roster over the past few seasons, but with each passing day it seems less and less likely that he will return to Green Bay. For that reason, it seems reasonable to assume that the Packers may structure their offense in a way that focuses less on a big tight end down the seam. Regardless of who wins the position battle, they may not be a featured part of the offense.