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

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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.

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. They were confident enough in their top four to not add a fifth.

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Sternberger had a promising third preseason last month, playing 98 snaps in three games. He caught five of his eight passes for 40 yards, including a 34-yard reception from Jordan Love down the right seam against the Houston Texans that flashed his athleticism.

"It was awesome to see him get back going again," tight ends coach Justin Outten said. "Just him running the route the way he should've, and Jordan connecting with him and standing in there and delivering a great ball. It was good to see him in the open field with the explosive pass for sure."

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.

If he doesn't re-sign to the practice squad, Sternberger will close his chapter with the Packers playing 18 games. He was limited to only six games as a rookie in 201 because of a concussion. Sternberger caught 12 passes for 114 yards, and his lone regular-season touchdown came last season at the Texans.

He was never able to build any momentum, however. Even with his splash play in this year's preseason opener.

"That one play," Outten said, "doesn't really describe the player. It's more consistently what you're putting in, day in and day out. With his consistency, it's kind of been sporadic. Whether it's still getting used to the playbook or feeling around the line of scrimmage, but he's still having some up-and-down days. With the extra reps that he's getting, he's got to handle them a little bit better in the sense of more video and doing the extra things outside."

This article originally appeared on Packers News: Green Bay Packers release Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-round pick