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Like in 2014, It’s Demand Over Supply as Packers Miss Out on Tight Ends

Wednesday's free-agent feeding frenzy wiped out the tight end class, leaving the Green Bay Packers few options to upgrade the position.

Two years ago, the Green Bay Packers entered the offseason in dire need of a safety. After Day 1 of free agency, just about every one of the top available safeties were signed in a breathtaking display of spending.

The Packers entered this offseason with a need at tight end — either a starter or a complementary piece to pair with Richard Rodgers. Similar to 2014, the top tight ends were swept away in a tsunami of spending as free agency opened on Wednesday.

— Antonio Gates: The 35-year-old Gates signed a two-year, $12 million deal to stay with the Chargers.

— Dwayne Allen: After a solid rookie year of 45 catches in 2012, Allen caught a grand total of 46 passes the previous three seasons. That was enough for the Colts, who kept him with a four-year deal worth $29.4 million that included $16 million guaranteed.

— Coby Fleener: The tight end the Colts didn’t want signed a five-year, $36 million deal with New Orleans. Half of that money is guaranteed.

— Ladarius Green: Gates’ backup signed a four-year, $20 million contract with Pittsburgh that includes a $4.75 million signing bonus. Green has caught 77 passes in his career, including 37 in 2015.

— Benjamin Watson: In his first 11 seasons, Watson had caught 50-plus passes only once. In 2015 with the Saints, Watson had a career year with 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns. The 35-year-old jumped to the Ravens on a two-year deal worth $8 million.

— Marcedes Lewis: The Jaguars, with tens of millions of dollars to burn, handed their 32-year-old backup tight end a three-year deal worth $12 million.

And with that, the tight end cupboard has been wiped mostly clean. Who’s left?

— Jermaine Gresham and Vernon Davis are the biggest and most accomplished names of the bunch. But they might have reached their expiration dates.
The Packers were interested in Gresham last summer but he signed with the Cardinals. He did almost nothing, finishing with 18 catches. He vanished down the stretch, catching all of one pass for 7 yards in two games vs. Green Bay. Gresham, who will turn 28 in June, had surgery to repair a herniated disc in March.
Davis, 32, caught a combined 38 passes for San Francisco and Denver last season. Once one of the most dangerous tight ends in the game, he also vanished down the stretch, with no catches in his final five games. In fact, he only played 19 snaps in the Broncos' three playoff wins.

— Owen Daniels, Scott Chandler and Jared Cook were released. Daniels, 33, caught 46 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns for the Broncos. He’s never not been productive during his 10 seasons. Chandler, who will turn 31 in July, caught 23 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns for the Patriots. Before that, he averaged 45 receptions in his previous four years with Buffalo. Cook, who will turn 29 next month, was released by the Rams to save about $5.7 million against the cap. In his first two seasons with the Rams, he caught a total of 103 passes and scored eight touchdowns, but he slumped to 39 catches and no scores in 2015.

On the bright side, in 2014, the Packers turned to the draft to find their safety and grabbed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who looks like a budding standout. That was a strong class of safeties, though. The same can’t be said about this year’s class of tight ends. Still, if the Packers strongly believe they need to do better than relying solely on Rodgers at tight end, they are facing increasingly limited options.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.

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