GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 29: TE Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 267, 15th season, UCLA)
In 2018, general manager Gutekunst signed Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis as a tight-end tandem. Former coach Mike McCarthy featured Graham but practically forgot Lewis’ was alive. At season’s end, Lewis contemplated leaving Green Bay – and the NFL – forever. But Gutekunst talked Lewis into coming back for one more season to help the running game that new coach Matt LaFleur wanted to feature. It was a good move, with Lewis going from 190 snaps in 2018 to 487 in 2019.
“He’s a true professional,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said in December. “I just think last year was such a telling season. You’ve got a guy who’s been to Pro Bowls, who’s had a double-digit touchdown season and to have a very limited role in the passing game, but to see his attitude the entire year and his leadership opportunities taken the way they were taken was a thing of beauty. As an older player, I already had a ton of respect for him but it just went way up when I saw his approach every single day. And like I’ve said here many times, the key I think for him this year is really feeling like he has a role in the offense. When you give a role to somebody, you full them up with purpose and energy and you give them a direction, and it’s allowed him to be an even bigger leader and role model for the guys in this room.”
There will be a role for Lewis in 2020, as well, as he’s back on a one-year contract worth $2.3 million. And it could be a big one. Graham was released and signed with Chicago, and the trio of Jace Sternberger, Robert Tonyan and Josiah Deguara could hardly be more unproven.
Lewis, who turned 36 in May and is the league’s second-oldest tight end behind Jason Witten, was an asset not only in the running game but as a receiver (caught 15-of-19 targeted passes for 156 yards and one touchdown) and willing mentor. The leadership element is critical considering the rest of the tight end corps has a combined two career starts (one apiece by Sternberger and Tonyan).
“‘Cedes actually took me under his wing the first year, even though I wasn’t at the tight end position,” defensive lineman-turned-tight end James Looney said. “He was telling me about the saunas, hot tubs, cold tubs. I follow a lot of his routine to this day.”
Earlier this offseason, LaFleur called Lewis a “pro’s pro” and one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Unlike the end of the 2018 season, when Lewis was contemplating retirement, he spoke eagerly of 2020 as he cleaned out his locker a day after the NFC Championship Game.
“I think mentally and physically, I was in a really good place this year,” Lewis said at the end of the season. “Having this offense and knowing conceptually what they wanted, and (coach Matt) LaFleur and having Justin Outten as my tight ends coach, I got better every day. At 35 years old, I felt like I was getting better every day. My rep count went up to the mid-30s towards half the season. It was really dope. I’d love to come back. When I wake up in the morning, I still love it and I really think, physically, would 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 my life knowing that I’m older in the tooth. It has to be that way. There was not one game where I went into it feeling like I was at a disadvantage.”
Why he’s got a chance: Maybe Sternberger and Deguara will develop into stars. Maybe Tonyan will reach his potential. But at this point, Lewis is the closest thing to a sure thing in the position group. LaFleur wants to run the football and Lewis is the one proven blocker on the unit. “I still think he is playing at an extremely high level,” LaFleur said. “He consistently performed. You can never have enough guys like Marcedes Lewis on your football team.”