All Eyes on Jermichael Finley in 2013

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Packers TE Jermichael Finley
Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Jermichael Finley carries himself with a swagger; he’s been the “big man on campus” ever since high school.

Before committing to the University of Texas to play tight end, Finley was offered a dual scholarship by the University of Arizona, which would have allowed him to play both basketball and football at the D1 level. But as a freshman at Texas, Finley, then just 205 pounds, redshirted and learned the tight end position behind David Thomas, who is now a backup tight end for the New Orleans Saints.

But when Thomas graduated, an opportunity presented itself for the redshirt freshman Finley. In 2006, Finley caught 31 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns–all three totals set new school records for a freshman tight end.

As a third-year sophomore, Finley improved upon his individual numbers, racking up 45 catches for 575 yards. The Longhorns went 20-6 in Finley’s two years in Austin before the talented tight end decided to declare for the 2008 NFL Draft.

The Green Bay Packers snagged Finley with the No. 91 overall pick, throwing a 21-year-old Finley into a close-knit locker room that was looking to rally around quarterback Aaron Rodgers in his first season as the starter.

But the confident, occasionally outspoken rookie was in for a rude awakening, as he barely touched the field. Incumbent starter Donald Lee was coming off the best season of his career, in which he caught 48 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns; he remained the starter during Finley’s rookie year.

But in Week 9 in Tennessee, Rodgers called Finley’s number. Facing a fourth-and-one in the first quarter against the then-undefeated Titans, Rodgers went to Finley on a back-shoulder throw.

The two were not on the same page, the pass was incomplete, and the Titans took over on downs. Finley was asked about the play after the game.

“I think he should have led me a little more, well a lot more,” Finley said. “Really, he didn’t throw it good at all, to be honest. He knows my game, coaches know my game. I’m more like a run and jump (receiver). I’m really not no back shoulder or whatever he had going on back there. They just have to know what kind of player I am and use me in that aspect of the game.”

Clearly, Finley had a clear vision of himself as a player, and head coach Mike McCarthy disagreed with his self-assessment.

“I don’t agree with the tight end,” McCarthy said. “But we were expecting man in that particularly situation. It’s a hot situation for that particular play. Jermichael had a poor release. He was too high, and Aaron was trying to back-shoulder him. It’s a play that we practice all the time. It’s a common throw in our offense.”

It was the first time Finley provided Packers fans with a quote worth critiquing. And it wouldn’t be the last.

Finley took over as the team’s starting tight end in 2009. Towards the end of the 2009 season, Finley gave the Packers a dimension they hadn’t had in years at the tight end position. In the final seven games of the season, Finley averaged 5.4 receptions and 59.4 yards per game while scoring four touchdowns.

In the team’s wild card game against the Arizona Cardinals, Finley set a Packers postseason record with 159 receiving yards on six catches. After an impressive training camp, he entered 2010 as the team’s featured receiver.

A torn ACL in Week 5 cut Finley’s season short and forced him to miss out on the team’s run to Super Bowl XLV. Finley has yet to return to form following the injury.

From a production standpoint, Finley had a solid year in 2011, catching 55 passes and setting career highs with 767 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. The down side, however, was Finley’s continued struggles with drops. Pro Football Focus charged him with 12 on the season, which was tops among tight ends around the league.

This past season wasn’t much better. After catching just three passes for 11 yards in the team’s Week 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Finley voiced his frustration about his role in the offense, citing chemistry issues with his quarterback.

“I need the quarterback on my side, and I need to catch the ball when he throws it to me,” Finley said. “It takes two things to get that going. So, the chemistry, I feel like we need to get that going.”

After expressing his discontent following the game, Finley caught just seven passes for 73 yards in the ensuing four games. But coming out of the team’s Week 10 bye, he was a more productive player.

Pro Football Focus: Jermichael Finley in 2012
Pro Football Focus: Jermichael Finley in 2012

Although Pro Football Focus had Finley down for eight drops on the season, Finley set a new team record for receptions by a tight end with 61. McCarthy noticed an improved player towards the end of the season.

“I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player from the bye week on,” McCarthy said. “I had an opportunity to talk to him about that at length in his exit interview, so I feel very good about the way he finished the year … There was a change in that young man.”

Scheduled to make $8.25 million in 2013, Finley’s future was subject to debate headed into the offseason. In an interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson last month, Finley said he was unwilling to take a pay cut for the final year of the contract he signed last offseason.

“I couldn’t take a pay cut,” Finley said. “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 … It’s all business at the end of the day. I just love what I do.”

To be fair, few would be willing to take less money to do the same job, voiding a contract that had been drafted less than a year earlier. But still, Finley often leaves his thoughts open to interpretation, and some wondered whether the team would finally decide enough is enough.

But after Greg Jennings signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, and Finley’s backup, Tom Crabtree, signed a two-year, $1.6 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s safe to assume Finley will be back with the team next season.

The Packers clearly viewed Crabtree as a replaceable piece of this team, considering they opted against giving him a tender as a restricted free agent and wouldn’t budge on a $700,000 contract offer. Crabtree was a fan favorite in Green Bay, but he caught just 18 passes in three years with the Packers was a below-average run blocker, according to Pro Football Focus.

Jennings, however, leaves a bit of a void. Green Bay got a preview of post-Jennings life in 2012, as the wide receiver missed eight games. James Jones benefitted from Jennings’ absence and led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches, while Randall Cobb exploded in his second NFL season with a team-high 80 catches.

At full strength, the Packers top three wide receivers in 2013 will be Jones, Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Despite the team’s preference to move its receivers all over the formation, Jones and Nelson are best suited for the perimeter, while Cobb does the majority of his damage from the slot.

The Packers obviously had no interest in matching the Vikings’ offer for Jennings of nearly $10 million per season, and while the reason for that is subject to debate, it’s obvious that the team hasn’t given up on Finley.

By the end of 2012, Finley was playing as well as he has played in several years. And now, he enters a contract year.

The Packers’ receiving corps remains one of the best in football even without Jennings. And while the team may now lack a true No. 1 receiver, Finley is a different breed than the team’s other pass catchers. So once again, he has the opportunity step up and be a force in the Packers’ offense.

Whether he plans on being more aggressive, less demonstrative or simply decides to “freestyle” in 2013, all eyes will be on Jermichael Finley. He may never be the team’s acting go-to receiver like he was to start the 2010 season, but the introduction has been written for Finley to have a big year in 2013; it’s up to him to finish the story.

——————

Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

——————

  • Razer

    I think that the Packers have painted themselves in a corner on this one. He has been paid too much in advance of his production and he isn’t going back to something more realistic. Since he has never lived up to his billing, 8+ million this year is goofy. If he has a good year, we will not be able to afford to resign him. If he performs as per his last years, we have again overpaid him.

    Ultimately, we need a good TE who can do all the things that a TE can do. As far as I can see, he doesn’t block well and is afraid to go over the middle. Either way, we will be looking for a new guy next.

    • Dobber

      He’s what TEs have become in today’s NFL. They’re either blocking specialists who run short routes and sit in holes in a zone, or “athletic” guys (really oversized WR) who run seam and out routes.

      And you’re right: he’s been paid thus far on flash or potential. In either case, I agree that his chances of being around past this contract are pretty low, either because he’s turned out to be erratic and replaceable, or outstanding and too expensive.

    • Dobber

      “Ultimately, we need a good TE who can do all the things that a TE can do. As far as I can see, he doesn’t block well and is afraid to go over the middle. Either way, we will be looking for a new guy next.”

      Just as we’ve seen in baseball with regard to pitching, the NFL has become a league of specialists. I’m not saying a “complete package” TE is a unicorn in today’s league, but what I am saying is that most teams package their players in such a way that the complete TE is a luxury.

    • Big T

      It really is amazing that we pay this showboat 8 million and wouldn’t pay Jackson 4 million. Finley is a showboat that can’t back it up and always will be… TT and MM dropped the ball on this dude…

  • Savage57

    Dude is going to fold up in 2013 like a cheap tent from Kmart in a strong wind.

    I really wish it were different, but since he’s already a living legend in his own mind, the discipline and self-regulation required to excel for the sake and benefit of others escapes him.

    Every time he’s had a chance in the past to step up and be counted, he simply disappears. Unfortunately, something is lacking in his character to allow him to be a leader and a pro’s pro.

  • PatMc

    Last year we all wanted TT to trade James Jones, who simply went out and lead the NFL in TD’s. I will go with TT/MM on this and simply watch what happens next year.

    • Tarynfor12

      “we all wanted TT to trade James Jones”

      Sorry,my hands hurt from pounding the desk in favor of keeping JJ.

      • PatMc

        Mea Culpa: You are 100% right. Sorry for lumping you in with the rest of us

        • Oppy

          I have always seen the talent in JJ as well.. It was always clearly a focus issue with Jones, specifically, he wouldn’t look the ball into the cradle.

          He solved that nicely last year!

  • Ron LC

    I am a fan of Jmike. Also, I’m a realist. This is his year to make it or break it. With GJ gone to the Queenies, his opportunity is at hand. It is up to him to make it or break it.

    If he does have a good year it is highly likely that TT will not ante up the $10 – $12 mil he and his agent will be asking for. He if falls short, he’s gone for sure.

    In any event, 2013 will most likely be his last as a Packer. The “Cap” chess game started in full this year and will really be hitting hard next year. The way it looks from the view of a fan from hell, me, each team is going to have an obscenely paid QB, 3 or 4 star class, and the rest.

    I remember the teams of the 60’s fondly. There will never be the log-term player alligence we saw then. Good? Bad? It’s called parity.

  • Tarynfor12

    The loss of Jennings,as I mentioned in another post,will not be the deciding factor for our offensive woes if they happen to arise.But,his departure does put a greater emphasis on Finley and that is a factor that can contribute greatly to heart aches already being felt from our defense;3 and outs,length of drives(time).

    Finley,whether by his or who evers fault has been placed in a catch-22 situation which IMO,ends with his being gone after this season…performance dictates his departure no matter the stats he provides.Great will be BAD and bad will be GOOD.

    A TE in the draft would seem mandatory even though I feel Quarless will come up big,we will still need another big,sure handed guy.

    The contracts of Rodgers,Matthews,Raji and coupled with those like JJ and JN and Cobb need to be figured in or seriously explored as this season moves along,as will the rise in salary cap dollars for the 2014 season when announced.

    I’ve been all for the release of Finley one way or another and feel that while most contract years produce what players never give again,it would be greatly heightened and made more controversial with Finley after this season.

    Unless the Packers make some defining move with Finley,I’ll pull for him to have a great season with hopes we can reap an ultimate benefit from it..a deep run for the Super Bowl if not the ‘Lombardi’ itself.

    • Dobber

      A big season by Finley blows up his value in a market that seems to be TE hungry right now. It could mean a big compensatory pick?

      I agree: I think a TE and/or WR on days 1-2 of the draft are very necessary just to maintain weapons for ARod. Those players aren’t necessarily going to contribute in 2013, but given the status of Jones, Finley and Nelson, you’ll need to count on them in 2014 and beyond.

      • Stroh

        Finley finished last season strong and if he gets off to a strong start to the season the Packers would be wise to sign him to an extension. Like him or not, he does tip the field and draws attention from the D. Thats a valuable asset to have. The best scenario would be to give him an extenstion mid year that lowers his cap number slightly in favor of a longer contract w/ a slightly lower cap number and more guarenteed money. A short term contract is always going to have a premium price on it which to some degree accts for the higher salary (thats how business contract are). Finley is still only going to be 26 this season so he is in the prime of his career. Unlike Jennings who was 30 and entering the declining stages.

        I can see the Packers doing an extension that lowers his cap number to about 6.5 or 7M per.

        If a WR is available in the 2nd or 3rd and is the BPA by quite a bit it would make sense to select him, but its hardly a necessity. Give Boykin this year to see what he might become and he could do very well. He’s almost a clone of Jones (who’s contract expires after this year btw) athletically, just needs some refinement and to get stronger.

  • frozentundra91

    Another Jermichael Finley article? Getting a little repetitive around here, aren’t we?

    • Chad Toporski

      Seriously? Can you tell me when the last time we posted an article about Finley on this site was?

      (Hint: Go back to March 5th.)

      • Savage57

        Too true.

        A day without a Finley story is like a day withour hemorrhoids.

        • Ron LC

          And the hemorrhoid would be, Hawk?

      • Lucas

        March 5th. Sorry. I had to.

  • http://googlechrome madtowne

    We haven’t had a great TE duo since Mark
    Chmura and Keith Jackson. Albeit for a very short time. Are Finley & Quarless
    (when healthy) the answer? The jury is
    still out. Do we draft Eifert or Ertz
    with our first pick? One of them will
    be there. Can you imagine the damage all
    these guys could do to opposing D’s?
    Look at what Gronk and Hernandez did for
    New England. Oh well, it’s all up to TT
    and MM…they know what’s best for the
    team.

  • Chungo

    Green Bay management needs to tell Finley to “Sh** or get off the pot”. It seems like they are constantly babying him in hopes of getting him to “mature” enough to realize his perceived potential.

    If he does not improve in all facets of his game this year–unload the donkey!

    • Dobber

      The fact that they haven’t really tried to extend him this close to the end of his contract should be saying just that.

  • Ron LC

    More off-topic!

    Jake Long signed with Rams. Haven’t heard any contract details yet.

  • Chad Lundberg

    Torn ACL?

    • Stroh

      I don’t think Finley had an ACL. Pretty sure he had torn miniscus and maybe a MCL sprain, but it wasn’t an ACL.

  • Lars1

    Finley indeed had an MCL, otherwise a nice write-up on the situation.