Packers seem to be finished with Jermichael Finley
By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel
~Under the deliberative direction of Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers almost never make major decisions until deadlines near.
But barring a shocking turn of events in the next month or so, tight end Jermichael Finley is playing his fifth and final season for the team.
Sources familiar with the Packers’ thinking say the club not only wants to get rid of Finley but has decided to do exactly that in the off-season.
There is no way the Packers will pick up the second half of the two-year, $14 million contract they gave Finley in late February, according to sources.
Finley hasn’t performed anywhere near the sixth-best tight end in the National Football League, which is where he ranks in average salary per year at $7 million. An executive in personnel who conducted a full tape study of Finley last week rated him as the 22nd-best tight end.
Russ Ball, the Packers’ vice president of football administration, hasn’t signed many bad contracts since taking over the negotiating job in February 2008 and he surely didn’t do one with Finley.
By insisting upon a short-term deal, it gave the organization another year to monitor their offense and their locker room with Finley in it. The Packers’ concerns only grew stronger in the last 10 months.
The deadline on Finley is the 15th day of the league year, or mid-March. If he’s on their roster at that time, the Packers must pay him a $3 million roster bonus.
No matter what happens, the Packers must count the prorated portion of his modest $1 million signing bonus against their 2013 salary cap, or $500,000. But when he leaves their roster via trade or waivers, his $4.45 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus and $300,000 workout bonus all go away.
Neither the Packers nor some personnel people for opposing teams expect Finley to be much of a loss.
The Packers won a Super Bowl two years ago without Finley, and they went 3-1 this year without Clay Matthews. In an interview with Packer Plus last month, Finley categorized himself as the fourth option on offense, and fourth options normally don’t rank fifth on a team’s pay scale as Finley does in Green Bay.
Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers seem to have lost some confidence in Finley and have moved toward a more wide receiver-driven attack. Next year, the Packers will return four veteran tight ends along with Brandon Bostick, a rookie free agent on the practice squad with exciting potential as a downfield receiver.
Besides, McCarthy’s interest has been piqued by the prospect of fielding a legitimate rushing attack next season, and that would be hard to do given Finley’s soft blocking.
Andrew Quarless, the team’s best blocking tight end in 2011, will be back. So will D.J. Williams, who at merely 238 pounds is a more effective and willing blocker than the 248-pound Finley, one scout said.
The Packers also will return scrappy Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor, and have more than enough draft choices to add another tight end if he’s the best player available.
Clearing $8.25 million off the books for Finley will give the front office flexibility in negotiations with Rodgers, Matthews and B.J. Raji, which are expected to commence shortly after the season.
It also might give the Packers the incentive to take another shot at re-signing wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was eyeing a deal averaging in the $16 million range before an abdominal injury cost him half a season. Unless a team such as Miami goes hard after Jennings, it’s unlikely he can command anywhere near $16M.
Even if Jennings departs as an unrestricted free agent, the Packers would be good to go with Jordy Nelson and James Jones outside, Randall Cobb inside and youngsters Jeremy Ross and Jarrett Boykin entering their second seasons.
Donald Driver is expected to retire, and if Jennings leaves the Packers figure to draft another wide receiver, too.
Finley’s contract for 2013 would be a deterrent for most teams interested in making a trade. In order to avoid having to cut Finley, the Packers no doubt would give agent Blake Baratz the chance to shop his client and try to land a long-term deal with a new team that would be more cap-friendly in 2013.
The Packers probably would be fortunate to obtain a draft choice because the entire league will know they’re not keeping Finley past mid-March.
It just depends on whether a team such as Oakland, which needs a tight end and is led by general manager Reggie McKenzie, believes enough in Finley to make a deal.
The overriding reasons behind the Packers’ decision to move on are Finley’s contract and his disappointing performance in the last 1½ seasons. But certainly the way Finley has conducted himself over the five years enters the equation as well.
As one NFC personnel man said last week, “He seems to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
So did Baratz. The Packers were and remain livid about the agent’s tweet saying Rodgers “isn’t a great leader.” No matter how Finley tried to disassociate himself from Baratz on the matter, the damage was done.
Still, Finley has said many things himself over the years that chapped this button-down organization. In some ways, he was just being honest, as happened Wednesday when he said Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher had slowed down.
Every coach and scout in the industry knows that to be true, but there are certain things the Packers just don’t want being said during Bears week.
In the end, they ran out of patience wondering what Finley or those close to him would say or do next.
There also were deep-rooted questions about the level of respect Finley still had among his teammates and coaches.
Finley’s heyday was the final eight games of 2009 and the first four games of 2010. Over that 12-game stretch, he posted three of his four 100-yard games, catching 65 passes for 876 yards, a 13.5 average and five touchdowns. Lined up more wide than in a three-point stance, he was targeted 83 times.
After the 2010 playoff defeat in Arizona, veteran safety Adrian Wilson said Finley was “very comparable to Antonio Gates. Hell of a player.”
On Oct. 8, 2010, two days before Finley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Washington, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said, “He is probably one of the better (tight ends) in the league, if not the best.”
After three seasons, Finley was so focused that he didn’t have a single penalty and dropped a very manageable seven passes in 117 attempts.
At the combine in February 2011, McCarthy said, “I love that kid, man. He’s so competitive and he loves to play football.”
Since then, Finley has been penalized nine times and dropped 19 of 166 passes, a rate of 11.5% that almost doubles his mark from 2008-’10. According to STATS, no tight end has dropped more in the last 1½ seasons, and most of the leading tight ends have dropped fewer than 10.
Gates, by the way, has three drops in 157 targets during that span.
So when Finley, directly or indirectly, groused about lack of opportunities, his complaints fell on deaf ears. Not that Finley was being malicious, but the Packers finally reached the conclusion they couldn’t trust him.
Finley entered the NFL in 2008 with 4.62-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Some faster, more talented tight ends are in the league, and while you no longer see Finley pull away from defenders and run through deep zones, scouts say his ability to stretch the field remains impressive.
Based on the scout’s evaluation last week, Finley’s ability to run is his most attractive asset.
“But I didn’t see him like a couple years ago where you worried about him all the time,” one personnel director said. “I don’t see that mismatch ability like I used to. Drops. Inconsistent routes. Not disciplined.”
Beyond the erratic hands, the scout said Finley stops playing hard if he isn’t doesn’t see the ball early in games.
“If he was into it, he could clear out zones and put pressure on the safeties,” the scout said. “But if he’s not involved you see three-quarter or halfhearted effort. I don’t get the impression he’s a team player. If he’s not involved, his attitude is, ‘I won’t bust my butt.’ ”
At times, the scout said, Finley can be explosive out of a three-point stance. Other times, he said, Finley “falls off the face of the earth and it’s like playing with 10 guys.”
Scouts say they see lack of flexibility in Finley. One theorized that it was stiffness in his hips and knees that caused him to drop so many balls.
As a split receiver, Finley struggles to sink his hips and make sharp, wide-receiver type cuts to get open.
“His routes aren’t polished to that level,” one scout said. “If you run a great route, you get open, but that doesn’t seem to matter to him. He’s playing more like he’s on the playground.”
Finley has been more aggressive after the catch in the last month. Based on STATS data, he is tied for 11th among tight ends in average yards after the catch.
At midweek, Finley admitted that he should do a better job as a blocker. He already has allowed four “bad” runs this year, two more than his previous high for a full season.
“It’s downright embarrassing at times,” one scout said. “I’ve seen Finley just whiff. Not a lot of interest in pass pro, either. He lacks great strength and is not a physical guy.”
On Tuesday, one scout was asked to compare Finley to 31 other prominent tight ends on the basis of winning a game now. He tabbed 14 over Finley while giving Finley the edge over 17.
But on Thursday, after reconsidering his choices following extensive tape work on Finley, he moved these seven tight ends from being worse than Finley to being better: Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, Greg Olsen, Anthony Fasano, Ed Dickson, Heath Miller and Marcedes Lewis.
Thus, Finley finished as the No. 22 tight end on that scout’s board.
“He’s that type of athlete that will fool people,” the scout said in summation. “Unless you really, really dig and do your homework, and just look superficially, you’ll say all he needs is just a change of scenery. The ego of most coaches will be, ‘I can fix this guy.’ ”
Youth remains one of Finley’s greatest allies. He won’t turn 26 until March.
Asked if he would be sad to leave Green Bay, Finley said, “If it is my time to go, I’d be disappointed.
“I’ve got some regrets. But I’ve done a great job and played to my ability and my opportunities.”
Now it would be in Finley’s best interests to help the Packers win another Super Bowl. He will need every résumé-builder that he can find come March.
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