With such a deep receiving corps, the Green Bay Packers have been able to let things slide a bit at the tight end position. The question is how much longer they can afford to do so. Starting tight end Jermichael Finley set a franchise record for receptions by a tight end while the departed Tom Crabtree seemingly scored a touchdown every time the Packers played on national television.
With Crabtree gone and Finley entering the final year of his contract, the tight ends face a crucial year in 2013. Could the Packers draft a tight end early in this spring’s draft? Will Finley become the game changing weapon everyone thought he could be back in 2009? Who will replace Crabtree as the blocking specialist among them?
Where are we now:
Here are the current suspects:
Jermichael Finley (3rd round, 2008)
D.J. Williams (5th round, 2011)
Ryan Taylor (7th round, 2011)
Brandon Bostick (undrafted free agent, 2012)
Andrew Quarless (5th round, 2010)
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Finley: The player so many fans love to hate. His mouth got him into trouble early in the season but he came around late and had some solid games to close out the regular season.
Williams: Disappointing 2012. He was expected by some to potentially push Finley for the starting role in training camp or at the very least take some snaps away from him. Instead he potentially finds himself on the roster bubble heading into 2013.
Taylor: Special teams contributor and that was about it. Made headlines when he was fined during the season for an illegal block against the Arizona Cardinals.
Bostick: Non contributor, added for depth.
Quarless: Injury from 2011 rendered him useless for 2012.
So that’s where we are. Next let’s look at…
Where we want to be:
For all the depth Green Bay has at wide receiver, they are still lacking that difference maker at the tight end position. After his strong season in 2009, many though Finley was going to be one of the best tight ends in the game. Thanks to an injury in 2010 followed by a case of the drops and a bout with oral diarrhea, Finley finds himself potentially on the way out of Green Bay.
All signs (at the moment) point to him being back with the Packers but who knows what offers could come as we get closer to the NFL draft? Finley deserves one last chance thanks to his strong finish in 2012 but if the right offer comes the Packers should make a trade for another first round pick.
With the departure of Greg Jennings, having a playmaker at the tight end position would be huge for the Packers. It would ease pressure on Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson plus give Aaron Rodgers yet another option in the passing game.
The Packers also need a tight end that can block to replace the departed Tom Crabtree. It will take an all-around tight end to succeed in the Packers’ offense. Can that be Finley? If it is, then it’s now or never.
How do we get there?
Let’s get this out of the way first: keep Finley. He seemingly turned the corner late last year and it looks like he knows the writing is on the wall for 2013. It’s now certainly do or die time for him in Green Bay.
Crabtree left for greener pastures with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Unless Quarless has shown significant progress from his 2011 injury, you have to think that he could be an injury settlement in training camp which means Williams and Taylor could be duking it out for a roster spot. Assuming the team keeps Finley (likely barring a draft day trade), a third or fourth round draft pick could compete for a spot potentially leaving Williams and Taylor on the bubble. Bostick is a practice squad member at best but could be cut.
The Packers need to decide in a hurry if Finley is their answer as starting tight end. As mentioned above, this is the final year of his contract so if Green Bay isn’t sold on him, then a first or second round draft pick could be in order. Whatever direction they go in will be a roll of the dice as Finley could either (finally) realize his potential or continue down the path of a chronic underachiever.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke