Jermichael Finley drops a lot of footballs. Prior to this season, he was tied for sixth among tight ends in drops over a three-year stretch as he allowed 16 balls to go thump, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jermichael Finley is young (he’ll turn 26 next month), and still brimming with potential. Despite not being a top option in Green Bay’s offense this past season and having eight games with three or fewer catches, he still set a franchise record with 61 receptions.
Herein lies the problem of the two Jermichael Finleys that the Packers will have to contend with this offseason. His sloppy play and consistently poor route running could easily justify Finley’s release, a move which would save general manager Ted Thompson valuable cap space since he wouldn’t have to pay an unreliable tight end the heavy sum of $8.25 million that he’s due next year, $3.5 million of which comes through a roster bonus triggered in March.
But for all his pitfalls and problems, athletic tight ends are a prized commodity in today’s NFL. Giving one away for free could become painful in the very near future.
Finley told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal that right now, a coin flip could decide his future in Green Bay.
“It’s the nature of the business,” Finley said. “If there’s a guy that’s overpaid or that they think is overpaid, they’ll ask for a pay cut. There’s no doubt that I want to be there for life. But it’s a business and the business will tell you otherwise. I would say on the business front, it’s 50/50. But if it was up to me or anybody in my circle, I would love to be back.”
Truth, bro. Finley speaks it.
We’re in the throes of a time in the NFL’s calendar when decisions aren’t easy, and pennies are pinched. And the Finley decision is one of the most intriguing and difficult possible cut calls.
At his best, Finley is confusing. When the Packers reached their Week 10 bye with just over half their schedule completed this past season, he was nearly irrelevant. Forget catches or receiving yardage. He had fallen to the point where at the end of that stretch, he was barely being targeted as quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked to his wide receivers much more frequently.
Between weeks six and nine, Finley had just 14 targets over those four games. At the time that was especially concerning given the Packers’ injuries at wide receiver, with both Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson missing time. What resulted from the lack of looks was an average of 30.1 receiving yards per game.
Then after the bye, something changed quickly. Finley had 60 or more receiving yards during five of the Packers’ last seven games, which led to an average of 56.6 yards per game, an increase of 26.5 yards over his first half. He still only scored twice, which is a dramatic step down from his eight TDs a year ago. But some of his old speed and powerful route running was on display.
Complicating matters are the Packers’ looming extensions that need to be settled with offensive pieces who are much more valuable. A year from now, Aaron Rodgers will be set to enter a contract season, which is exactly what Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji are doing this fall, making them a higher priority.
A pay cut is the most likely scenario then if Finley stays in Green Bay. But if that doesn’t happen, here’s a short list of possible destinations if he hits the open market:
Falcons: He’ll never be Tony Gonzalez, because few tight ends in the history of the game have that ability. But if Gonzo retires as expected, the Falcons could do much, much worse with their void filling.
Bears: Since Greg Olsen’s departure, tight end has been a nearly non-existent position in Chicago’s offense, as combined over the past two seasons Kellen Davis has recorded only 435 receiving yards. Similar to Philip Rivers below, the Jay Culter restoration project could use someone not named Brandon Marshall as a downfield target.
Chargers: No, this isn’t a position of priority in San Diego. But with dual tight end systems still growing after the Patriots were pioneers, Finley playing a secondary role alongside Antonio gates could do fun things for the rebuilding of Rivers. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen paired together nicely for Andrew Luck this year. Ditto with Jeremy Shockey and Olsen for the Panthers in 2011.