We won’t know the answer to this question until training camp is complete, but the Green Bay Packers have a logjam at tight end after drafting Andrew Quarless in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
Joining Quarless is starter Jermichael Finley, Spencer Havner and Donald Lee, who opened 2009 as the starter.
Unless the Packers make an idiotic decision to keep four tight ends – like they did by keeping three fullbacks last season – one of these guys will be out of a job.
Finley, who emerged as Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target in the second half of last season, is guaranteed a spot. In his second season with the Packers, Finley racked up 55 receptions, 676 yards and 5 touchdowns and appears to be on the verge of becoming one of the best tight ends in the league.
It would seem Quarless is almost guaranteed a spot, as well. Although he slid to the fifth round because of some off-the-field incidents (read: immaturity), Quarless has the tools to play the NFL game. He finished his senior season with 41 catches for 536 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The biggest question surrounding Quarless is whether he can keep his focus on football. If he can, he’ll make the team.
Quarless is likely to take a year to fully grasp the game, much like Finley (6 catches, 74 yards in year one) did.
It’s not unprecedented for the Packers to cut a fifth-round draft pick. They did just that with tackle Jamon Meredith last season. Meredith was re-signed to the practice squad and later plucked by the Buffalo Bills, where he started four games (nice move Ted – good thing you kept three fullbacks instead of the extra offensive lineman!).
However, it would be hard to imagine the Packers cutting Quarless before he played two seasons, considering the development time at the position.
That brings us to Donald Lee, who totaled 37 receptions for 260 yards and 1 touchdown in 2009. Lee has talent and would make a hell of a No. 2 tight end, but may be the odd man out in this group.
Lee had a monster season in 2007, when he grabbed 48 balls for 575 yards and 6 touchdowns, but his production has declined each of the past two seasons. It seems pretty clear what the issue is. Lee doesn’t have the rapport with Rodgers he had with Brett Favre, who helped Lee reach his career season in 2007.
Lee makes more ($2 million) than the rest of the group and will have to show he’s clearly better than Quarless and Havner to make the team.
That is, of course, unless the Packers consider Havner’s off-the-field antics too unbecoming.
On the field, Havner came into his own as a legitimate red zone threat in 2009. Rodgers found Havner for four touchdowns and the tight end totaled 7 receptions for 112 yards two seasons after being drafted as a linebacker out of UCLA.
Lee used to be a solid special teams contributor, but Havner has taken that roll from him. The biggest negative on Havner, if you ignore the drunken incident, is he’s playing under a one-year exclusive rights free agent tender this season. While he’ll be a restricted free agent next season, that’s not a guarantee the Packers will have him in 2011.
With all of that said, it certainly looks like the deck is stacked against Lee, unless he returns to his 2007 form. The good thing about that from the Packers’ perspective is Lee is tradeable.
Lee could start for another NFL team or, at the very least, provide quality depth. It’s probable the Packers can acquire a late-round pick or even a young second-tier player, much like they did in acquiring Derrick Martin last season.
Sure, the Quarless pick could have been used to address one of the Packers’ weaker areas, but it wasn’t. On the positive side, there will be a real competition at the tight end spot during training camp and the Packers may be able to turn that into another quality player.