Packers youth movement at tight end could trump Marcedes Lewis' niche role

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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Fourth in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.

GREEN BAY - Marcedes Lewis’ bounce-back year as a receiving threat in the Green Bay Packers' offense consisted of 15 catches, 156 yards and one touchdown.

That isn’t cracking anyone’s fantasy football lineup..

But stats don’t fully reveal Lewis’ value in coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme.

Shortly after being hired as the Packers head coach last year, LaFleur made clear his offense would have a blocking tight end. In Lewis, he found what he was seeking.

Lewis played 487 snaps last season, a major increase from the 190 snaps he played in his first year with the Packers. Yes, Lewis’ production in the pass game increased — it would be difficult to produce less than his three catches for 39 yards from 2018 — but he wasn’t on the field to catch passes. The 6-6, 267-pound tight end was an important piece of the Packers' offense because he could block.

Green Bay Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis, top, is tackled by San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander during the first half of the NFL NFC Championship football game Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The Packers face a potentially major overhaul of their tight end position this spring, starting with the decision of whether to retain Jimmy Graham for the final year of his contact or (in all likelihood) release him at the cost of $3.6 million in dead money. The position needs a youth infusion, even with Jace Sternberger showing some promise in limited snaps as a rookie.

Part of how general manager Brian Gutekunst approaches the position this offseason will be a decision on what to do with Lewis, who will become a free agent. Lewis made it clear after the season he would like to return for his 15th year in the league.

Here’s a look at his situation entering free agency:

Age next season: 36.

Initially acquired: Signed as a free agent May 24, 2018; re-signed March 18, 2019.

Argument for: Lewis’ proven commodity is hard to find among tight ends, a willingness and ability to line up in a three-point stance next to an offensive tackle and move defenders. The Packers used Lewis as both a run blocker and pass blocker, allowing them to disguise their scheme. He didn’t set the field ablaze as a receiver, but unlike his first season with the Packers, the defense had to account for him. Even with an overhaul of the tight end position expected, there’s no guarantee any incoming tight end can block with Lewis’ proficiency. And the veteran who worked on a $2.1 million salary last season won’t break the bank.

Argument against: At most, Lewis has a niche role in the Packers' offense. Even if it’s a niche LaFleur prioritizes, Lewis won’t be a full-time player. The Packers need a youth movement at tight end, and the 36-year-old Lewis doesn’t contribute to that. While he was certainly serviceable last season and spoke of how well he felt physically and mentally at he end of the year, Lewis’ skills won’t last much longer. Better to move on a year too early than a year too late.

Quotables: “I think mentally and physically, I was in a really good place this year. Having this offense and knowing conceptually what they wanted, and LaFleur and having Justin Outten as my tight ends coach, I mean, I got better every day. At 35 years old, I feel like I was getting better every day. My rep count went up to mid-30s toward half the season. So, I mean, it was really dope. I’d love to come back. When I wake up in the morning, I still love it. And I really feel like physically will leave before mentally, as far as me wanting to come back and play. Physically, I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in, in my life. There was not one game that I went into it feeling like I was at a disadvantage.” – Marcedes Lewis

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