Packers Free Agent Primer: Jermichael Finley

Aaron Rodgers and Jermichael Finley

The Green Bay Packers will have an interesting offseason on their hands. Even if Ted Thompson keeps his usual aversion to unrestricted free agency, there are a massive amount of players who have contracts expiring. In total, the Packers have 21 players whose contracts are set to expire.

One of those players is enigmatic tight end Jermichael Finley.Finley has drawn the ire of the fan base the last two seasons as he has struggled with drops and not fulfilling his potential.That frustration is not without reason, of course. Finley burst onto the scene in 2009 in a playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. Despite the Packers losing that game, Finley shined. He caught six passes for 159 yards, and gave a glimpse into the type of player he could be in the future.

In 2010, he was the focal point of the offense. He and Aaron Rodgers had a good rapport, and Finley caught 21 passes in the first five games. Unfortunately, his season was cut short with a knee injury, and the Packers were forced to change their offense on the fly. He was on the sidelines, while the Packers were able to win their fourth Super Bowl in team history.

Finley came into 2011 looking to build off of his strong start to 2010. It was an offense that was full of weapons, and Finley was slated to be one of the big ones within the offense. The team set all sorts of records, scored a lot of points, and threw the ball at will. Finley had a solid season, but struggled mightily with drops. So much so, he even got booed at a home game against the Chicago Bears. Despite the drops, Finley finished the season with 55 receptions, 767 yards, and eight touchdowns. The Packers would lose their first playoff game at home against the New York Giants, ending a spectacular run. Finley did not play well in that game, and had his contract set to expire. That fact caused many to wonder if he would be back in Green Bay. He was when he signed an extension for two years at 15 million dollars, giving him another chance to prove himself, and earn the big payday he likely thought he’d be getting just a short time ago.

For the first 3/4 of 2012, it was much of the same for Finley. Tantalizing potential, accompanied by maddening inconsistency. A report came out just before the Packers contest against the Minnesota Vikings that the Packers were done with Finley. They reportedly believed he was too big of a pain, and they were ready to move on from him. Following that game, Finley had a strong finish to the season. He looked to be a refocused player, and quiet in the media.  He set the franchise record for receptions by a tight end with 61 receptions, and that gave him another year in Green Bay.

2013 was off to a good start for him, and he looked as if he was finally becoming a force to be reckoned with throughout the league. Then, just as it always seems to work out with Finley, something bad happened. He suffered a scary neck injury, that caused him to miss the rest of the season and put his football future in doubt. Despite missing 10 games with the neck injury, Finley finished with the seventh most forced missed tackles from the tight end position according to Pro Football Focus. The injury Finley sustained Oct. 20 had potential to end his career, but everything that has come out of Finley’s camp gives the impression that he intends to play again.

If that is the case, I believe that the Packers cannot simply afford to let Finley walk away if the contract numbers are reasonable. Despite the late season emergence of Andrew Quarless, he does not possess the dynamic capabilities of Finley. Finley is capable of stretching the middle of the defense, and drawing a double team. He does so many things for the Packers offense that do not show up on the stat sheet, and remains if healthy the best tight end on the roster by far.

Finley’s contract demands at this point are unknown, but the way his season was going before his injury leads you to believe he will be able to realize his potential with the help of Aaron Rodgers. Combine that with the fact, that because of his injury no team is likely to shell out big money for a player coming off of a play that could have ended his career.

If the Packers can bring back Finley for a contract that does not kill the cap, they would be fools not to keep him in Green Bay for at least one more season, and perhaps beyond.

 

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Jacob Westendorf is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Jacob on twitter at

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