The biggest Packers related news to break from Indianapolis this week was that Mike McCarthy was optimistic about the return of tight end Jermichael Finley.
It was widely assumed that Finely’s playing days with the Packers would be over after he underwent spinal fusion surgery in November. Finely’s fusion surgery was to the C3/C4 vertebrae, which was the same surgery that Nick Collins had.
Packers team doctor Pat Mckenzie is known to be conservative, and the perception was that he would not clear Finley because he would not clear Collins. However, that does not seem to be the case.
“Pat doesn’t feel the same the way about Jermichael as he felt about Nick,” McCarthy told ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde. “So I’m very open and optimistic about Jermichael coming back. I think the specifics of their injuries are different.”
Even if Finley is cleared, it does not mean he will definitely be back in Green Bay. Tight ends of Finley’s size and speed are coveted around the NFL, and somebody might offer more than the Packers. Although, he has always maintained that his first choice is to be a Packer for life.
Finely’s injury should keep the cost of retaining him relatively reasonable. Signing Finley to a reasonable deal would be huge with so many of their own free agents to sign and needs to fill on defense.
Tight end would become by far the biggest need on offense if Finley does not return to Green Bay. It’s really hard to have a good offense without a great tight end. They have become so valuable in today’s NFL. A lot of today’s tight ends have the versatility to split out wide like huge wide receivers. When they are lined up on the line of scrimmage they are often too fast for linebackers to cover and too big for safeties.
Tight ends are also huge for offenses in the red zone, as they provide big targets and can be used on jump balls. This is where the Packers really missed Finley last year, as they only scored touchdowns on 50.72% of their red zone opportunities, which was 26th in the NFL.
Finley looked like he was on his way towards a big season before his injury on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field. He had 25 catches, 300 receiving yards and three touchdown on the season at the time of the injury. Finley seemed a lot more focused and committed. He was letting his play and not his mouth do the talking.
Despite the Packers having very good weapons, Finley is still important for them to stretch the middle of the field vertically. A lot of the Packers offense has involved making plays outside of the numbers. Often times those are tougher plays to make. They need to incorporate more plays in the middle of the field and Finley can be a big part of that.
There have been times over the last few years where the wide receivers have had a tough time gaining separation. Most recently, it was a problem in the Wild Card playoff game against San Francisco. Having Finley as a security blanket over the middle will help that problem as well.
If Finley does not return to Green Bay than re-signing Andrew Quarless becomes a priority. Quarless started to come on at the end of last year, but he still would be a questionable starter. He is certainly not the game breaking tight end that teams want in the NFL nowadays.
So, if Quarless was re-signed, tight end would still be a high priority in the draft. Tight end is a need even if Finley returns because he is an injury risk, and if he is healthy you can still use always two dynamic tight ends.
There are three good tight ends at the top of the tight end class in this year’s draft. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron will most likely be gone by Green Bay’s 21st pick, but Jace Amaro of Texas Tech could be an option. Amaro broke the NCAA record for receiving yards in a season last year with 1,352. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins fractured his foot at the NFL Combine, so that could hurt his draft stock.
Combining Finley with any one of those three would enhance the Packers’ offense even more. However, the first step is Finley getting cleared and re-signing. That seems more possible now than it ever did before.