After a Scouting Combine hiatus, Packer Report continues its position-by-position preview of free agency with the tight ends. The deadline to name franchise players was Feb. 19, and free agency begins on Friday.
The Packers' needs:
The Packers are lucky they don't have a big need, because tight end is among the worst positions in this watered-down class of free agents.
With Tennessee having franchised Bo Scaife, the top unrestricted free agent, and with the Texans likely to give restricted free agent Owen Daniels the highest tender (first- and third-round picks), it's slim pickings.
Fortunately, with Donald Lee, Jermichael Finley and Tory Humphrey (a restricted free agent), the Packers are OK — not great, but good — at tight end. Lee's production in 2008 (39 catches, 303 yards, five touchdowns) was down from 2007 (48, 575, six), but he caught touchdown passes in three of the final six games. Finley turned a brutal rookie season into a promising one with a couple big plays late in the year. And Humphrey flashed occasionally after his first two seasons were ruined by injuries.
— The Titans' Scaife, who will be entering his fifth season, ranked seventh among tight ends with 58 catches and is a capable blocker. Imagine the production Scaife would have if he had a better quarterback than Kerry Collins.
— Daniels, a former University of Wisconsin receiver, ranked fifth among NFL tight ends with 70 catches. He showed his speed with his long catch and run to set up the winning field goal at Green Bay.
Pricey, but a good deal:
— Arizona's Leonard Pope is a restricted free agent who might attract a second-round tender from the Cardinals. He had just nine catches as a reserve, but he stepped up in the playoffs when starter Stephen Spach went down. At 6-foot-8 and 258 pounds, he'd be an attractive target, but his receiving skills were lost in Arizona because of its big-time receivers.
— Like Pope, Carolina tight end Jeff King is a restricted free agent who might get a second-round tender (thus, their inclusion in the "pricey" category. He started 16 games in 2007 and caught 46 passes, and started 15 games with 21 grabs last season.
— Last season, the Eagles' L.J. Smith played under the franchise tag. Big mistake. He had 37 receptions for 298 yards and three touchdowns. The sixth-year pro, however, did catch 50 passes in 2005 and 61 in 2005. With Brent Celek's emergence, Smith will be shopping for a new team.
— One intriguing name for the Packers would be the Vikings' Jim Kleinsasser, who is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Plus, he's a two-for-one player in that he can play fullback, and the Packers love players who can do more than one thing. He's blocked for the league's top-rushing offense three times.
— The Buccaneers' 6-foot-7 Jerramy Stevens has a checkered background, but some team will take a chance on him. He had 36 catches in sharing time with Alex Smith.
— The Cardinals' Spach tore an ACL in the playoffs, ruining his value as a restricted free agent. He caught two passes in the regular season but three against Atlanta in the playoffs.
— The Falcons' Justin Peelle started 11 games and had just 15 catches, but he has value as a blocker.
— Former Packer Bubba Franks just completed his ninth season, but he caught only six passes from good-buddy Brett Favre in New York last season. His career might be over.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.