GREEN BAY, Wis. -- General manager Ted Thompson’s ultra-selective approach to free agency is nothing new: He’s been judicious about his spending on the open market ever since he took over the Green Bay Packers' personnel department in 2005.
And in most instances, his selected moves worked out in his favor.
The next case study is tight end Jared Cook, the first significant signing since Julius Peppers in 2014. Thompson gave Cook a one-year, $2.75 million contract after the Rams released him in February, with the hope that it gives quarterback Aaron Rodgers a big target down the middle of the field in the passing game, something the Packers have lacked since Jermichael Finley’s career ended in 2013 because of a neck injury.
Between now and the Packers' first training-camp practice Tuesday, we will break down each position group.
Next up, tight ends:
Gone from last season: Andrew Quarless.
New this season: Cook (veteran free agent), Casey Pierce (street free agent).
Position coach: Brian Angelichio (first season, spent past two seasons as tight ends coach for the Browns).
Biggest issue: Aaron Rodgers' yards-per-pass-attempt average in 2015 was his lowest (6.7) since he became a starter, and one of the reasons was the lack of a downfield threat at tight end. Richard Rodgers caught 58 passes -- 12th among all NFL tight ends last season -- but averaged just 8.8 yards per catch, and that included the 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown against the Lions. It’s why Thompson pursued the more athletically dynamic Cook, who brings in a 12.8-yard career average per catch. At 6-foot-5 and with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time, the Packers hope he can help open things up down the middle of the field.
Player to watch: As a rookie last season, Backman barely got on the field. He played only 11 snaps on offense and was inactive more often (10 times) than he was active (eight), including playoffs. However, he’s more natural and fluid in space than the plodding Richard Rodgers, and with a year of practice under his belt, he’s a candidate to break out in Year 2.
Medical report: Cook underwent foot surgery in early June and missed the second half of organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp. He’s expected to be available for the start of training camp.
Help wanted: Even though the Packers like Backman’s potential, he’s going to have to fight off Perillo and Henry for the No. 3 spot behind Cook and Rodgers. Once Perillo was promoted from the practice squad in Week 6, he played ahead of Backman. In 121 snaps on offense, Perillo caught 11 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Henry caught the ball well last preseason and spent the first month of the regular season on the Broncos roster before he was released and re-signed by the Packers to the practice squad.
Quotable: "Jared is able to stretch the field a little bit with his little bit [of] extra speed," Aaron Rodgers said this offseason. "I'm excited to get him up and going and get to these installs and see what he can do even more."