“In my mind he is a Green Bay Packer — hopefully, he is going through a tough medical situation. I think we all recognize that it was a serious injury. My understanding is he is doing everything and beyond to get himself ready. We’ll continue to watch that.” – Mike McCarthy, SiriusXM Radio
Well that’s interesting. As most of you are quite aware, the Packers are a fairly conservative and tight lipped organization so Mike McCarthy actively wooing Jermichael Finley back might actually have some deeper meaning to it. Add to that the Packers have reportedly left Finley’s locker room open during the offseason (which is a big deal since the roster limit is at 90 and some players are already have their lockers in a adjacent room) and it is starting to look like the Packers are doing the full court press to keep Finley in the Green and Gold. But how much money would it take to keep Finley a Packer and how much would the Packers be willing to fork over? On one hand Finley has the potential to be one of the best tight ends in the league but on the other he’s been wildly inconsistent and now has to worry about a neck injury that left him paralyzed on the field and a cervical fusion surgery that has a iffy prognosis for playing football again? In the NFL, contracts are weighed by how they stack to other contracts at the position so its good to see what the tight end salary landscape. (contract values courtesy of Over the Cap).
Top 5 tight end average yearly salary – $7.604 million: Keep in mind this number is likely to skyrocket very soon because Jimmy Graham is currently the 5th highest paid tight end, but he’s on the tight end franchise tag at the moment and if arbitration rules in his favor this could rise to as much as $12.312 million; which is probably a moot point either way because the Saints are going to make him the highest paid tight end in the NFL at some point, eclipsing Rob Gronkowski’s $9 million dollar average. There’s essentially no way that Finley is going to get anywhere near this range, while he has the physical tools to match the production of Gronkowski or Graham, he’s never actually done it and his neck injury was serious enough that no team was willing to take their chances on him during the offseason so far. Players in this range are Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jason Witten; obviously Gronk, Graham and Davis are better tight ends and Witten and Gates have been consistent enough producers to warrant their high price tag.
5th-10th tight end average yearly salary – $6.659 million: Finley made $7 million last year which was good enough to become the 7th highest paid tight end by yearly average, so it’s conceivable he could earn the same amount as before. Personally I would highly doubt this, Finley got a 2 year contract in 2012 after showing glimpses of greatness but since then he’s produced some very good games, but none that would garner the same contract than what he got before. Add to that he’s two years older and now has to deal with a balky neck at best and one hit away from a career ending injury at worse and it’s likely he won’t be able to maneuver his way into this range. The only possible exception might be if his allows his guaranteed money to be waived if he re-injures his neck; in this way a team can protect their investment against the risk of a pre-existing injury and the player can get a higher salary and hope that the injury does not reoccur or get worse. Players in this range are Jared Cook, Mercedes Lewis, Dennis Pitta and Greg Olsen; I would personally argue that Finley is in the mix somewhere in this group when healthy.
10th-15th tight end average yearly salary – $4.654 million: If I were to guess what kind of contract Finley could command this offseason, this is the range I would pick. At this point, any team signing Finley would be balancing the risk of Finley re-injuring his neck or not being able to perform at the same level with the neck injury versus the reward of getting a potential top 10 tight end. At this price range I could see Finley being able to get some guaranteed money with injury protection; depending on how Finley feels about the injury, he may choose to take more guaranteed money over a higher total value. Tight ends in this range are Martellus Bennett, Brent Celek, Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew and Heath Miller, I would argue that Finley is probably better than all these players but not by much in regards to Bennett.
15th-20th tight end average yearly salary – $3.400 million: The Packers or any other team for that matter would be getting a steal at this range. Chances are good if Finley is considering options at this range, the Packers may not be one of his choices because such a low offer likely means a lot of teams are afraid of his neck injury and don’t even want him on the team. The only situation I can see Finley taking a deal as low as this would be to mirror what Randy Moss did by basically playing on a discount for one year in order to get a better contract in the next; in Moss’ case it was because he had become radioactive in Oakland while Finley’s is due to his injury. Players in this range are Anthony Fasano, Garrett Graham, Zach Miller, Joel Dreessen and Jermain Gresham; Finley is definitely better than any of these players and paying him at the same level would definitely.
1-year veteran minimum deal – $810,000: One other possibility for Finley is to take a “redshirt” year, essentially giving up the chance to make a large amount of cash in order to fully heal up and try for next year. In this situation, the Packers would sign Finley and immediately place him on the PUP list and keep him there for the remainder of the season, which would allow them to carry Finley on the roster without keeping him on the 53 man active roster. The benefit to Finley would be that if every team has been scared off by his neck but he feels he can return to good enough health after another year of rehabilitation then he can have access to team facilities and trainers as well as make a little something to tide him over until the next season. While the Packers are at risk of paying for Finley’s recovery only to see him bolt to a different team next year, the Packers do have exclusive negotiation rights during the season and they could resign him to a more normal contract mid-season, which they have done for a lot of players. While essentially the Packers would be taking on $810,000 of dead money, the Packers salary cap is definitely healthy enough to take the hit and plenty of teams like the 49ers and Seahawks are “redshirting” players in a similar manner like Marcus Lattimore.
Obviously what type of money Finley ultimately depends on what he and teams think of his neck injury; if the neck injury is no issue I could see Finley making anywhere up to $6.6 million, especially if a bidding war starts for his services. I’d highly doubt that the Packers would be a player should his services be that high in demand, presumably the Packers know the most about his injury than any other team and if they haven’t made any formal attempt to sign him at this point probably means his recovery isn’t 100% certain. I personally think a 1-year veteran minimum deal is the most efficient way to find out if Finley can still play, he will be under constant surveillance by both team trainers and doctors, which is probably better than taking a year off and working out at a 3rd party training facility. I’d guess the most likely scenario is that Finley will get something close to $4-5 million yearly and at this point the Packer’s are likely the front runners at this range. They’ve already made their pitch to keep him with Mike McCarthy’s comments and his locker still waiting for him, likely because they know their offer is going to be on the low end (which it should be).
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.