Green Bay Packers: Why Jermichael Finley Will Be Back with the Pack

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Green Bay Packers: Why Jermichael Finley Will Be Back with the Pack
David Banks/Getty Images
Jermichael Finley's future in Green Bay is cloudy, but ultimately, he should remain with the Packers.

Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is entering the final year of his contract after signing a two-year, $14 million contract last offseason.

Finley has been vocal about his future with the Packers, suggesting he wants to remain a "Packer for life" after beat writer Bob McGinn wrote that the team appeared to be finished with Finley. But after Finley's most recent comments to ESPN's Josina Anderson, there's been even more speculation about the future of the maligned tight end.

When asked if he'd take a pay cut for next season, Finley told Anderson, "I'd have to walk for sure, meaning I couldn't take a pay cut. Maybe I'd restructure if it's a deal that I like and it makes sense, but I'm not the guy that's just going to sign anything and let anything pass. I’m not that guy."

Reading between the lines, one could interpret Finley's words several different ways. He could restructure his contact, keeping him in Green Bay beyond 2013, or he could be released if the team feels he isn't worth the money he's scheduled to make.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Finley returns to Green Bay on the current terms of his deal.

Finley had an up-and-down season in 2012. In the first 12 games of the season, Finley dropped nine passes, according to Pro Football Focus. But in the team's final six games, that number dropped to zero.

He was a much more effective receiver after the bye week. Prior to the Packers' Week 10 bye, Finley averaged 3.2 catches and 30.1 yards per game. After the bye, he improved those numbers to 4.5 receptions and 56.5 yards per contest.

His production over the second half of the season brought back memories of the dynamic player at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010.

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And if wide receiver Greg Jennings leaves Green Bay as an unrestricted free agent, which is expected, the Packers would have to replace a large part of the team's offensive production should they choose to cut ties with Finley.

In the past two seasons, Finley has averaged 58 receptions, 716 yards and and five touchdowns per year. In the last two seasons in which Jennings has played all 16 games, he's averaged 72 receptions, 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns. Losing Jennings and Finley would mean the Packers would have to replace 130 catches, 1,905 yards and 13 touchdowns over the course of a 16-game span.

Although Jennings is arguably one of the best receivers in the NFL after the catch, the Packers have enough depth to replace him. James Jones led the league with 14 touchdown receptions, while Randall Cobb emerged as the team's top playmaker. Jordy Nelson missed four games but racked up 745 yards and seven scores.

In three-receiver sets, Jones and Nelson figure to stay on the perimeter, while Cobb best translates to the slot position. Missing from this equation is the presence of a pass-catching tight end.

And while Finley has yet to reach his potential, he remains a key focus for opposing defenses around the NFL. Jones, Nelson and Cobb are capable of being one of the best receiving trios in the NFL, but they have yet to play a game together without Finley on the field.

Some Packers fans will suggest Finley's replacement is already on the roster. Tom Crabtree, a solid reserve and entertaining follow on Twitter, had more touchdowns (three) than Finley (two) last season. But looking beyond the numbers, it's easy to see that defenses respond differently to Crabtree than they do to a vertical threat like Finley.

Take for example Crabtree's 72-yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9. Arizona opted to put middle linebacker Paris Lenon in man-to-man coverage against Crabtree without safety help over the top. Once Crabtree got behind Lenon, it was off to the races.

Had Finley been in the same position, the Cardinals surely would have had No. 88 on their radar.

Ultimately, this decision will once again come down to business. Finley could return to Green Bay on the terms of his current deal or the team could restructure his contract to keep him around for several years to come.

"I like my deal," Finley told Anderson. "I start training in Minneapolis tomorrow and I’m more inspired than ever to start next season off right and be the tight end I know I can be. It’s all business at the end of the day. I just love what I do."

The Packers are supposedly torn on whether or not to keep Finley around. Head coach Mike McCarthy saw a change in Finley over the second half of the season, but others in the organization appear to be leaning toward letting Finley walk.

But one way or another, it'd be an upset if Finley is playing somewhere other than Green Bay in 2013.

 

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