By JERRY TAPP
Packers fans seem to have an annual summer ritual of bemoaning the fact that their team has been rather “inactive” in free agency. Their angst seems to be targeted for the most part at G.M. Ted Thompson and his reluctance to spend money on the available free agents that fans think would help the team and push them into the Super Bowl each season.
This summer, however, Thompson went a little off-script and signed not one, but two, high-quality tight ends to help the Packers offense: Lance Kendricks and Martellus Bennett. Kendricks caught 50 passes and scored a pair of TDs with the Rams in 2016, while Bennett won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots after catching 55 passes and scoring seven TDs in the regular season for New England.
Some fans may look at those stats for Kendricks and Bennett and think, “Big deal, 50 catches is not that impressive for a season.” Consider this, however:
- The Packers have had only 10 tight ends that have caught 50 passes in the team’s history. Jermichael Finley leads the way with 61 catches in 2012. The others on that list: Richard Rodgers (58 in 2015), Paul Coffman (56 in 1979), Coffman (55 in 1981), Finley (55 in 2009), Finley (55 in 2011), Jackie Harris (55 in 1992), Mark Chmura (54 in 1995), Coffman (54 in 1983) and Bubba Franks (54 in 2002).
- The Packers have never had a pair of tight ends each catch 50 passes in the same season. In fact, they have never had two tight ends each catch 40 passes in the same season.
- The last season Green Bay had two tight ends each catch 35 passes in the same season was in 2009 when Franks had 54 receptions and fellow tight end Donald Lee had 37.
As mentioned above, Kendricks and Bennett combined for nine TDs in 2016 with their previous teams. Whether or not they can match those totals in 2017 will depend on how each is used in the Packers offense. The last season the Pack had tight ends account for 10 or more TDs in a season was 2011 when Finley had eight TDs, and Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor each added on TD reception. The most TD receptions by the Packers’ tight ends was 13 in 1984: Coffman had 9 TD receptions and Ed West added four.
One final note: In addition to Kendricks and Bennett, the Packers have a third option at tight end in Richard Rodgers, who noted above, had 58 catches just two seasons ago. He also had eight TDs that season. Just a fourth-year player, Rodgers was on the receiving end of the Hail Mary pass Aaron Rodgers tossed in Detroit, and he has scored 12 TDs with 108 receptions in those three campaigns.
Needless to say, tight end will certainly be a position to watch for the Packers in 2017.