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With or without Jared Cook, Packers need another tight end to emerge

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With free agency less than three weeks away, it’s a good time to take a look at whom the Green Bay Packers have returning and what they might need to add this offseason at each position.

TIGHT ENDS

Under contract for 2017: Richard Rodgers, Beau Sandland.

Free agents: Jared Cook, Devon Cajuste (exclusive rights).

Position review: Cook was one of the catalysts for the Packers’ midseason turnaround. In fact, it was his return from a six-game absence with an ankle injury that, in part, prompted quarterback Aaron Rodgers to say he thought the Packers could run the table. Upon his return in the Nov. 20 game at Washington, Cook caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

With Cook on the field last season, including playoffs, the Packers went 10-3 and Rodgers threw 25 touchdown passes and just three interceptions with a passer rating of 115.4, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Richard Rodgers, in his third season, took a backseat to Cook. He had 11 games in which he caught either one pass or no passes, including playoffs. His yards per catch average (9.0) didn’t improve much over 2015 (8.8).

Justin Perillo was released on Nov. 19 because the Packers needed a roster spot for linebacker Carl Bradford. Perillo, who had just four catches for 35 yards, became expendable after Cook returned from his injury.

The Packers went with just two tight ends on the roster from then on.

Position outlook: Cook will turn 30 on April 7, but before this season, injuries had never been an issue. Aaron Rodgers said after the NFC title game loss to the Falcons that Cook "needs to be near the top of the priority list [to be re-signed], the way he played this year." It may take more than the $2.75 million the Packers gave him in last year’s one-year deal.

Rodgers has shown that he’s a sure-handed possession target but little else, which means the Packers are going to have to start the search for another tight end.

Sandland was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 11, two days after the Carolina Panthers released him from theirs. The Panthers picked him in the seventh round of the 2016 draft out of Montana State. The Packers liked him enough to re-sign him to a futures contract the day after last season.

Cajuste, who was signed to the practice squad Week 1, finished the year on practice squad injured reserve after he tore the ACL in his right knee in a late-season practice and almost certainly won’t be ready in time for training camp.

Level of need (low, medium or high): Medium.

By the numbers

4: Catches of more than 25 yards by Cook over the final seven games of the regular season, ranking No. 3 in the NFL among tight ends in that span.

13.5: Yards per catch average for Cook over the final seven games of the regular season, ranking No. 3 in the NFL among tight ends in that span.