signing of rookie tight end Andrew Quarless. If you'll recall, Quarless was considered a great natural talent and receiving threat out of Penn State, but fell to the fifth round due to character concerns and trouble with the law. He's also been accused of having the worst tattoo in college football, but I don't think that had anything to do with his draft day tumble.
Signing a fifth round pick isn't that big of a deal, in and of itself. However, Quarless' signing does raise this important question: With three already proven TEs on the roster, what do the Packers do next?
Back in April, many questioned management's decision to add yet another tight end to the mix. With the up-and-coming Jermicahel Finely, veteran Donald Lee, and surprising Spencer Havner already on the roster, spending a draft pick on such a deep position seemed wasteful, especially considering other areas of need (see: OLB). However, given Ted Thompson's steadfast adherence to the practice of drafting "the best player available," regardless of need, Quarless' selection makes perfect sense.
Although it's been well-documented that the tight end has evolved into a difference maker in today's NFL, it's still highly unlikely that the Packers will end up carrying four players at the position into the regular season.That means someone's gotta go.
Of the four, Jermicahel Finley is the only sure lock to make the team. Why, you ask? Because he can do the following:
Simply put, Jermichael Finley is a rare talent who provides the Packers with plenty of opportunities to create mismatches due to his combination of size and athleticism. Safeties can't handle his height, and linebackers can't deal with his speed. More or less, he's uncoverable. Despite only playing in 13 games last year, he posted 676 yards and 5 TDs on 55 total catches. It's scary to think of what he's capable of doing this coming year.
So with Finley out of the picture, our attention turns to the other two veterans on the team, Lee and Havner. A year ago, Lee was the starter at the position, and arguably the only reliable TE on the roster. However, following the emergence of Finley, as well as poor play by #86 himself, Lee was relegated to a supporting role and barely factored into the passing attack. It's already been made official that he's been demoted from his starting status, and it looks like he'll be trying to make the team in part as a contributor on special teams. The phasing out of Lee from the passing game comes for good reason: He dropped 15% of the balls thrown his way, one of the highest percentages in the league. Factor in his age (30 in August), and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that he's expendable.
Havner appears to be headed in the opposite direction. After serving primarily as a special teams player in his first two seasons, Havner transitioned from line backer to tight end during the 2009 off-season. He wasn't exactly a featured player in the Packers offense, but when given the chance to fill in for the injured Finley, he shined, or at least proved that he wasn't just some stone-handed yahoo, only useful for covering kicks. Here's one of his four touchdowns from last season.
Ignore the fact that he probably ran the wrong route (he's almost standing on top of Kuhn) and that they're playing the Browns, and it's actually pretty impressive.
But Havner certainly isn't without kinks in his armor. This past March, after (allegedly) boozing, he lost control of his motorcycle, crashed, and broke his scapula. Legal issues aside (I believe the charges have been dropped anyway), the shoulder injury suffered in the accident was enough to keep Havner out of all pre-training camp team activities, possibly giving his competition a leg up. And even aside all of that, the fact remains that Havner just isn't an extraordinary TE. Yes, he made some plays last year, but he makes his mark on special teams, and if he wants a spot on the 2010 roster, covering kicks and providing punt protection will still have to be his bread and butter.
With Lee now shifting his focus to special teams as well (an area where he made a name for himself as a younger player), it will be interesting to see which of the two is able to establish himself as the more useful, multi-dimensional player. Their roster spots could depend on it.
Of course, Andrew Quarless has to prove he's a valuable enough prospect in order for Havner's or Lee's job security to even come into question. Although the Pack spent a 5th round pick on him, it's not completely out of the question for them to cut him if he's not up to snuff, or at least attempt to shuffle him over to the practice squad, a la last year's 5th rounder, Jamon Meredith (who's now with the Bills). While Quarless doesn't necessarily need to establish that he's better than Lee or Havner at this point in time, he does need to convince Packers management that he has the ability and aptitude to contribute in the near future. Judging by early observations (Greg Bedard has commented that Quarless appears out of shape and drops easy balls), he's got his work cut out for him.
With three weeks left until the start of training camp, it's pretty foolish to attempt to predict who amongst the bubble players will make the team and who will be axed. All of that will be determined in August. However, with that said, here's what I can state with confidence. If Ted Thompson decides Quarless has got some potential, it becomes a two man race between Lee and Havner for the final spot, with Lee at a slight disadvantage given his age and recent problems with catching the ball. The ability to contribute to special teams will be one of the most important factors considered in this position battle. And if you don't think TT considers special teams of the utmost importance...well, ask yourself why he keeps Jarret Bush around.