Green Bay Packers release tight end Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-round draft pick

GREEN BAY - When Jace Sternberger began the season not on the Green Bay Packers' initial 53-man roster, but instead serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, there was always a chance he'd never again play for the team.

A former third-round pick, Sternberger already had fallen behind on the tight end depth chart. His inconsistency did not curry much favor on the coaching staff. When the league issued Sternberger's punishment for drinking alcohol while on anti-depressants in February 2020 and falling asleep behind the wheel, it was plausible the Packers might not return him to their 53-man roster.

The team made that decision to move on Tuesday. Instead of releasing a player to clear a spot for Sternberger on their active roster, general manager Brian Gutekunst instead waived his third-round pick from 2019.

Packers tight end Jace Sternberger was suspended for the first two games this season.

The Packers could sign Sternberger to their practice squad if he clears waivers, and perhaps that is a pathway for him to find the field again with the team that drafted him. But the Packers have four tight ends on their active roster and coach Matt LaFleur made it sound like the two were parting ways. 

“You know, it's always a tough decision.,” LaFleur said Tuesday.  Whenever you have a competitive room like that, it was just one of those deals where we appreciate everything Jason's done and you know, it just was a tough decision.” 

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Sternberger's release is another reminder of how quickly things unfold in the NFL. A year ago, it was a fair question entering the 2020 season whether Sternberger or Robert Tonyan would be the Packers' breakout tight end. Sternberger had caught his first career touchdown pass in the 2019 NFC championship game, a month before drinking and getting behind the wheel. Though Sternberger was raw and inexperienced, Gutekunst had drafted him because of his potential as a pass-catching tight end.

Instead, it was Tonyan who blossomed into a potential Pro Bowler. After tying the franchise record with 11 touchdown catches as a tight end last season, Tonyan has become one of the biggest stars on coach Matt LaFleur's offense.

And Sternberger is no longer with the team. He is subject to waivers and all 31 other teams will have a chance to claim him. If he clears, he becomes a free agent and can sign with any team, either on their 53-man roster or their practice squad. 

Sternberger will be looking for a new start, one source said, and so even if he has to begin on another team’s practice squad, he will.  

Sternberger will close his chapter with the Packers playing in 18 games. He was limited to only six games as a rookie in 2019 because of a concussion. Sternberger caught 12 passes for 114 yards, and his lone regular-season touchdown came last season at the Texans. 

The Packers made two minor roster changes.  

They signed safety Shawn Davis and defensive lineman RJ McIntosh to the practice squad and released defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson and offensive lineman Jacob Capra from the practice squad. 

The 5-11, 202-pound Davis is a rookie fifth-round pick who was cut from Indianapolis’ practice squad last week and the 6-5, 286-pound McIntosh is a fourth-year player who spent three seasons with the New York Giants and training camp with the New Orleans Saints. 

King’s debut inside

LaFleur wasn’t as hard on cornerback Kevin King as he could have been given a pair of big plays he allowed in his debut at slot corner. 

LaFleur gave him the benefit of the doubt of playing a new position after spending all of his previous four-plus seasons at outside corner. King played in the slot in the nickel package with rookie Eric Stokes taking his spot on the right side. 

King played all but one of the 57 defensive snaps and Stokes played 44.

“I thought Kevin, especially when he played inside – he hadn’t been doing it very long so there’s some teachable moments and some things we definitely have to clean up, “  LaFleur said. “But I thought by and large when he was inside, I thought he did a really good job. 

“I thought Stokes, coming in on the outside, he competed and had multiple pass breakups. So, I thought putting Kevin inside was good for us.” 

LaFleur said that on the touchdown to Quintez Cepheus on the first drive, King played it correctly for when the ball is outside of the 20-yard line, but in the red zone, it was his responsibility to go outside with Cepheus and Stokes’ to stay with the inside receiver. 

Both King and Stokes went with the inside receiver and Cepheus was left wide open. 

“I just think it was one of those deals where you just, obviously we got, we got to work it more,” LaFleur said, “and put our guys through those situations more, so we don't have that because you can't give up uncontested catches like that.” 

No pass rush

Under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the defensive linemen tried to get up the field to pressure the quarterback in almost every situation. 

Under new coordinator Joe Barry, the linemen have very specific run assignments, which means if a team is running the ball a decent amount, the linemen are not going to be racing up the field. The Lions ran it just enough to keep the linemen playing run and when they did pass it, quarterback Jared Goff usually executed a play-action fake. 

“I think early on, when you saw Jared having a lot of time in the pocket, a lot of those were play passes,” LaFleur said. “When you're running the football well, that opens up the play-action game. And that's why he had so much time. 

“We’ve got to make sure that when they do play action, we have to transition into a pass rush after playing the run.” 

Cobb, Rodgers barely seen

Packers slot receivers Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers hardly broke a sweat Monday. 

Cobb played 12 snaps and Rodgers played only on special teams. 

LaFleur had receiver Equanimeous St. Brown elevated from the practice squad and gave him six snaps, so there wasn’t much else available for the others, especially with a total of seven receivers dressed. Cobb did make the best of his situation, catching three passes for 26 yards. 

“We did dress seven receivers, so it's definitely challenging to get all those guys in, especially when we want to be not solely 11 personnel (three receivers), where we want to mix some 21 (two running backs, one tight end) or 12 personnel (one back and two tight ends)," LaFleur said.

“And sometimes we have two halfbacks in the game, so that limits some of those opportunities. But it (their usage) is kind of on a game-by-game basis.”