Additions of Bennett, Kendricks and re-signing of Perr y among major moves by Packers
Jared Cook spent just one year in Green Bay.
But he reminded everybody around the organization just what the Packers’ offense can look like with a differencemaker at tight end.
Now, it seems unlikely that Green Bay will ever ignore one of Mike McCarthy’s favorite positional groups again.
The Packers signed veteran tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks in free agency last week when negotiations with Cook broke down. Now, Green Bay could have its best tight end duo since Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura were shredding secondaries more than two decades ago, and in a weird way, Cook is partially responsible.
In the 13 games Cook played last season, the Packers went 10-3 and averaged 28.2 points per game. In the six games Cook was injured, Green Bay was 2-4 overall and averaged 24.7 points.
Late in the 2016 season, McCarthy said, “I’ve talked about it since I got here. The fastest way to the end zone is through the middle of the field.”
If anyone had forgotten that lesson, Cook reminded them. Now, Bennett and Kendricks will give the Packers a potentially dynamic duo at tight end that could take Green Bay’s offense from good to great.
“I think we both have our own assets,” Kendricks said during an interview on the Packers’ website last week. “(Bennett’s) a very good down the field catcher. He’s a big target and I can work the seams, as well.
“With both of us out there, I think we’ll be able to create mismatches and things we’ll be able to take advantage of. There are so many weapons on this offense and to be able to contribute to it is a great feeling.”
McCarthy, a tight end himself at NAIA Baker University (Kansas), has always had an affinity for the tight end group. Remember in 2011, when the Packers kept five tight ends on their opening day roster? Green Bay also kept four tight ends in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Packers offense was never better than 2011, when a dynamic Jermichael Finley owned the middle of the field and Green Bay set a franchise scoring record with 35.0 points per game. In many ways it was similar to 1996, when the Packers also ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points per game (28.5) thanks in part to the two-headed tight end monster of Jackson and Chmura.
After Finley suffered a career-ending neck injury in Week 7 of 2013, though, Green Bay’s production from the tight end group fell off the map. But the emergence of Cook last season reminded everyone just how dangerous the Packers offense can be with a high-level tight end.
“He’s been a big part of our success,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Cook late in the year. “He’s done a great job for us. Not crazy red-zone stats or huge production — which I think he’s capable of — but just his presence out there has really meant a lot to us, giving us an option down the middle and an option splitting him out to his own side as well, which we haven’t had around here in a while.”
Well, the Packers could have it again in 2017. And they could have it from two people.
Bennett, 30, had four relatively quiet years in Dallas. Over the last five seasons, though, Bennett has averaged 63.6 receptions and 5.2 touchdowns per season.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Bennett is an enormous man who once ran a respectable 4.68-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Bennett also performed extremely well in the vertical jump (34 inches) and broad jump (9-9).
When New England lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski last year, Bennett stepped up and helped the Patriots win their fifth Super Bowl overall and their second in three seasons.
Bennett is known for his sense of humor and pranks. But his football skills are no laugh- ing matter.
“Well, I think with Marty, football absolutely is No. 1,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Bennett during Super Bowl week in February. “He has a high football IQ, and I have so much respect for Marty to come in — being in the different organizations that he has — and he came right in from OTAs, didn’t miss any practices all through training camp. He’s been available every game this season. He’s played several different positions, and he’s practiced almost every day, too. He’s got a lot of mental toughness.”
Less than 24 hours after signing Bennett, the Packers doubled down and also inked the speedy Kendricks to a deal.
Kendricks, a former standout at Milwaukee King High School and the University of Wisconsin, ran a 4.57-second 40yard dash at the 2011 NFL combine. He then averaged 34.0 receptions and three touchdowns during his six seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.
When the Rams released Kendricks in a cost-cutting move, the Packers happily signed him. Twelve months earlier, the Rams also released Cook, who then signed with Green Bay.
“I think they’re excited to be able to utilize me because I played in so many different formations,” Kendricks told the Packers’ team-controlled website. “I kind of line up all over the place. I think they’ll find something I’m really good at or a few things I’m really good at and they’ll be able to utilize that and implement that into the system.”
The days of heavy-legged players like Richard Rodgers or Andrew Quarless leading Green Bay’s tight end group in receptions appears to be a thing of the past. The Packers now have one of the more formidable tight end combinations in football — and McCarthy has more toys in the passing game than he’s had in years.
Cook reminded everyone in Green Bay what a tight end can mean to McCarthy’s offense. It doesn’t appear the Packers will forget that lesson any time soon.
The Packers and Brett Favre had excellent tight ends two decades ago in Keith Jackson (right) and Mark Chmura.