It used to be that potential was all we could really see in him. He was the definition of inconsistency and not living up to expectations or God-given talent.
That is, until the 2013 season. This season Finley showed up in a powerful way. He was much more sure handed than he had been in the past. Maybe his offseason commitment to donate cash for his drops was good motivation.
However, his hands were not the only thing to show improvement with the coming of the 2013 season. His game also showed greater determination and aggression than had displayed in the past. All in all, he became a much more reliable target for Rodgers and the Packers‘ high-octane offense. 2013 certainly looked like the year that Jermichael Finley was becoming the player the Packers hoped he would be when they selected him in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft.
Then the injury occured. These injuries are the things that you can never prepare for and they are certainly the thing teams and players fear most. Finley’s spinal cord bruise was sustained during the fourth quarter of the week 7 matchup against the Cleveland Browns. The injury eventually required a spinal fusion surgery in mid-November, which reportedly went well.
Not only did this injury inhibit Finley from contributing to the remainder of the 2013 season, but it has many doubting his long-term status with the Packers. Even worse, many believe the odds of Finley being cleared to play in the league could be stacked against him.
For perspective, Nick Collins, the former Packers safety, also experienced a serious neck injury, which ended up being career ending. Many speculate that the same could happen to Finley. It should be noted that no two injuries are alike. Only time will tell us whether or not Finley will be able to return to football. His intentions are clear, however. He is determined to play again.
Now comes the hard part. Finley will be looking for a new contract this offseason. Many thought he was on his way out of Green Bay even without the recently-occurring injury. Finley accounts for nearly $9 million against the salary cap and ranks in the top 5 of Packers salaries.
I have great confidence in two things.
First, I am confident that the Green Bay Packers primary concern will be for the long-term health of Finley. They will not push him to do more than he should physically. I would not be surprised if the Packers medical staff and personnel department feel that the injury should be career-ending.
Secondly, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that even if Finley can return to football that Ted Thompson will be willing to keep him among the highest paid on the roster.
Thompson will not take any large financial risks with Finley. Remember that Finley has been a player who often feels the need to “get paid.” I think the big question that no one is talking about in regards to Finley pertains to money. If he is medically cleared to play (and this is a big IF) one has to wonder if he will be willing to play for a reasonably smaller contract. I highly doubt this is the case.
Look for all of these factors to add up to a Finley-less Green Bay Packers roster in 2013.
The silver lining is the cap room that will be freed up in his absence. Look for Green Bay to target a tight end in this spring’s NFL draft. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron and Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro look to be potential first round picks.
However, it may be reasonable to think that one of these two or even Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins might fall to the second round. Assuming they all declare for the draft, this year’s TE class is potentially the best we have seen in at least 5 years.
Multiple tight ends have not been selected in the first round of the draft since 2006. My guess is that one of these three players will be available in round two. Packers fans, rest assured that Thompson will once again find a way to save valuable cap room, protect the health of Finley, and unearth talent in the NFL draft.
Will Finley be back to the Pack in ’14? Will one of the listed draft prospects take his place? Or will Andrew Quarless impress in the final weeks of the season and claim his place in the offense?