The Green Bay Packers will begin the 2021 season without third-year tight end Jace Sternberger available for their lineup.
The NFL announced Thursday it had suspended Sternberger, a 2019 third-round pick, for two games in 2021 for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse. He will be ineligible for the Packers’ season opener at the New Orleans Saints and their home opener against the Detroit Lions if he makes their 53-man roster coming out of training camp.
Sternberger tweeted out a response shortly after his suspension was announced, explaining how he had made “a horrible decision” in February drink while on anti-depressants and ended up falling asleep behind the wheel of his vehicle.
Sternberger caught just 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in 2020, a disappointing second outing in Green Bay after missing the majority of his rookie year with an injury. While he will still be allowed to participate in the remainder of the Packers’ offseason program along with training camp and the preseason, the suspension could push him closer to the roster bubble if the team’s other tight ends look good this summer.
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Will Sternberger Earn Another Shot?
Credit goes to Sternberger for his handling of an unfortunate situation. He owned up to his mistakes once the suspension came down and admitted some hard truth about his own personal challenges to fans and the internet at large, which is admirable. The biggest question now is how the young tight end will bounce back from a new low heading into a pivotal third training camp with the Packers.
The Packers aren’t necessarily looking for a new starter at the tight end spot. They signed Robert Tonyan to a second-round restricted free agent tender after a breakout season in 2020 and also locked down veteran Marcedes Lewis with a two-year contract extension that runs through 2022. At the same time, the Packers have invested a pair of third-round picks into tight ends over the past two seasons and would certainly be happy to find at least one of them has starting potential with Tonyan due to become an unrestricted free agent in about nine months.
Suspension aside, Sternberger should still have a legitimately good shot at making the Packers’ initial roster in early September. It is expected his biggest competition will come from second-year Josiah Deguara in the long run, but the 2020 third-rounder was still rehabbing during this week’s mandatory minicamp after tearing his ACL last October.
The Packers also have three other tight ends under contract for next season: Dominique Dafney, Bronson Kaufusi and Isaac Nauta. While Kaufusi and Nauta are both new signings for 2021, Dafney has some experience — and success — from his limited time in the system. He was signed to the Packers’ practice squad less than a week after Deguara’s injury and worked his way up to the active roster in exactly two months, catching two passes for 26 yards and scoring a touchdown in Week 16’s win over Chicago.