Every Packer fan remembers where you were when it happened. I’m talking about the 2009 playoff loss to Arizona. Aaron Rodgers showed that he was going to be a playoff assassin. He threw for 423 and 4 TDs and ran in another. He went blow for blow with Kurt Warner and if the Packers had a defense in 2009 the Packers may have won. The game ended 51-45 Cardinals in overtime as Michael Adams tore down the Packers QB by his facemask (which went uncalled), Rodgers fumbled, kicked the ball up in the air and LB Karlos Dansby ran it into the end zone for the score. Rodgers “coming out party” was surely something to behold but it wasn’t his party that everyone remembers.
Tight End Jermichael Finley was always a player oozing with potential. At 6’5″ 250 pounds Finley was a matchup nightmare. His 159 yard performance against Arizona fell just 7 yards shy of Kellen Winslow’s playoff record for receiving yards by a tight end. It wasn’t just the insane total, it was the way that he accumulated the yards. He averaged 26.5 yards per reception on just 6 catches, often elevating to attack the football at it’s highest point. Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez were moving away from the primes of their career, no one knew of Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, and it appeared as if Jermichael Finley was prepared to take the tight end torch into the next decade.
Finley was so great, in fact, that Coach McCarthy designed his offense around Finley in 2010. Through 4 games Finley was very, very good. He averaged 5.25 rec/game, 75.25 yards/game and scored a TD against Detroit. The Packers played the Redskins and everything changed. For everyone. Finley blew out his knee and the Packers had to revamp their offense around Rodgers and wide receiver Greg Jennings. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV and Finley prepared for a 2011 return.
The Jermichael Finley we knew and loved never did quite come back. Finley struggled with off the field issues, blocking, and most publicly a case of the drops. Despite being a beast after the catch and setting a franchise TE record with 61 receptions in 2012 public perception of Finley has waned. Things went from bad to scarily worse in 2013. Finley was hit in a home game against the Browns and required spinal fusion surgery. While it is uncertain whether or not he’ll return to football it seems certain that he won’t return to Green Bay. His main understudy Andrew Quarless is also an unrestricted free agent, possibly making tight end a need for the Green Bay Packers this offseason.
Internal options: There is one that is very intriguing to me. I really like Brandon Bostick as a raw talent. He flashed a little ability last season and I think as a receiving option he has a lot of potential. Bostick, like many of the elite tight ends in the league is a former basketball player and his skill set is potentially a dangerous one for the rest of the NFC. Ryan Taylor should stick on the team and is a special teams star, but offers little in the receiving game. Jake Stoneburner is another possible receiving tight end but didn’t show much last season.
Free agents: Even though he’s not yet under contract with the Saints, I don’t view Jimmy Graham as a viable option. I don’t think the Packers would be willing to part with the $12+ million dollars a year that it would take to sign him nor do I honestly think New Orleans is considering letting him walk. Two replacements that I would consider to team with Bostick as the TEs of the future for the Packers would be former Raven Dennis Pitta and former Texan (and Badger) Garrett Graham. Both players might come at a bargain. Pitta has health issues, and Graham was considered the #2 TE on the Texans behind Owen Daniels. Both players also were successful despite playing with non-elite QBs. You can say whatever you want about Joe Flacco and his magical run of 2012, but I wouldn’t take him over Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Brees, Roethlisberger, Wilson, Luck, Newton, Foles and oh man that list just got too long for Flacco to be considered elite. I don’t hate Ian Hanley’s idea of 6’7″ Scott Chandler either.
Draft targets: I feel pretty confident where I’d be willing to see the Packers target a tight end, and that’s because I have them in tiers. I believe strongly that the Packers are going to start with 4 picks in the first two days. They will carry the 21st pick in each of the first three rounds and I think they’ll be awarded a compensatory pick at the end of the third round for losing Greg Jennings to the Vikings on a (still laughable) deal that averages $9 million per year. I would be comfortable with the Packers selecting athletic freak from North Carolina Eric Ebron in round 1. I would feel comfortable with Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro or Washington’s Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in round 2. Round 3 possibilities with either pick include Iowa’s CJ Fiederowicz and Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas. Ebron, ASJ and Fiederowicz are my personal favorites. If the Packers wait until day 3 or later to address the position, a few guys to keep an eye on, in my opinion, would be Arthur Lynch of Georgia, Xavier Grimble of USC and local favorite Jacob Pedersen from Wisconsin-Madison.