The Green Bay Packers are going to be undertaking a lot of changes to their 53-man roster this offseason. But one player that undoubtedly should be kept is current starting tight end Jermichael Finley, the mercurial talent that has often let his words speak louder than his play.
Despite the concerns about Finley being an off-field distraction, near the end of the 2012 NFL season, the former third-round pick started to let this play do the talking. Once he did, he started to resemble the player that was once thought to have elite capabilities.
During the first nine games of the 2012 season, Finley had more than 50 yards receiving just twice. But in the final seven weeks of the season, Finley became more involved with the offense. He posted six games with at least 50 yards and caught five or more passes in four of the last five games.
If you want to look at some advanced stats, Finley ranked fifth among tight ends in 2012 at yards per target (among players with at least 50 targets), averaging 7.8 yards per target. Finley also ranked sixth among qualified tight ends in catch percentage, hauling in 70.9 percent of the passes thrown his way.
Therefore, when he was thrown to, Finley proved to be fairly effective in 2012, even though it was viewed as a down season by many analysts.
The truth is that Finley out-performed Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in both yards per target and catch percentage last season, proving that Finley is still more than capable of elite production.
The biggest thing that has held him back is the Packers' vast receiving options, which have sometimes relegated Finley to the fourth or fifth option in the passing game.
Yet, 6'4", 240-pound tight ends that run like Finley hardly grow on trees. And considering the former Texas product is still just 25 years old, it seems like a waste for the Packers to give up on him now. After all the team has already invested five seasons developing him and it would be difficult to watch Finley go elsewhere to fulfill his vast potential.
Finley is important to Green Bay because he is a key cog in the offense even when the ball is not thrown his way. A player with his kind of size and athleticism running down the middle of the field draws attention from defenses and helps free things up on the outside for the likes of James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Finley is slated to play out the second year of the two-year deal, which he signed last offseason. But for his sake and the sake of the Packers salary cap situation, the team should work to sign him to a long-term deal that gives him the long-term security and stability he is after.
At the same time, a long-term deal would give the Packers even more salary cap flexibility as they try to work out long-term extensions with other key players such as Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields and Aaron Rodgers.
Also when considering the fact that former Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings is an unrestricted free agent and likely to sign elsewhere, the Packers really have to ask themselves: Can their ninth-ranked pass offense really sustain the loss of both Jennings and Finley in the same offseason?
I think not.
The Packers should stop the mind games with Finley, and sign him to a long-term deal. In the end, it will put his mind at ease so he can focus on football and blossom into the elite tight end the Packers need and want.
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