The Tale of Jermichael Finley: What Comes Next?


Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (88) is unable to make a catch in the end zone while being defended by Minnesota Vikings defender in the second quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Has anyone else noticed that the journey Jermichael Finley has taken since being drafted by the Packers in 2008 has been almost Shakespearean in its ups and downs, and twists and turns?

The question is, how will this tale end? Will the athletic tight end emerge triumphant, a hero who saves the day, or will he die on his own self-serving sword?

The Packers owe Finley a $3 million roster bonus on Tuesday, March 26, so another dramatic milestone is upon us. Will the Packers follow through with their million-dollar anti-hero? Even as recently as this morning, news outlets were reporting that the Packers have expressed to Jermichael Finley’s agent that they’re “uncomfortable” with his $8.25 million salary.

Finley’s dramatic arc began to rise in 2009, when he caught six balls for 128 yards and a touch in an October ’09 tilt against the Vikings. And following a three-touchdown outburst against the Bears in 2011, it appeared Finley’s stock was set to blast into outer space, especially after he finished the season with nearly 800 yards and 8 scores.

Armed to the hilt with a new two-year contract, Finley went into 2012 as a highly-anticipated breakout candidate – and he promptly fell from flight with a resounding thud. Drops became his calling card; quarterback Aaron Rodgers appeared to lose confidence in his once-mighty target. In response to this adversity, Finley began to run his mouth and point fingers, and his camp at one point even called out Rodgers’ leadership abilities (which, in Green Bay, is akin to claiming Caesar was a lame general).

Alas, the first half of 2012 appeared to out Finley as a bust. Even though he rebounded to finish out the season, post-bye, looking more poised and consistent than perhaps he ever had, pundits and naysayers predicted he’d be run out of Green Bay like a monster stalked by torch-carrying, cheesehead-wearing villagers. But strangely, following the season’s conclusion, head coach Mike McCarthy was complimentary of Finley’s progress, saying at the NFL Combine, “I was very pleased with the way Jermichael played there in the second half and he improved a number of different areas of his game.”

Hark. Is that the smell of redemption?

But the off-season was strangely quiet, apart from various news outlets, bloggers and fans calling for Finley’s head. Even foremost Packers authority the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel predicted Finley’s demise. Were the Packers and Finley even communicating? What would become of him? Would his tale simply fade to black with his outright release?

Then, in late February, Finley stated he would not take a pay cut to stay in Green Bay – that he would “walk” if the team asked him to. At this point it seemed inevitable his Packers story would come to an end. Clearly not a team player, the anti-hero appeared doomed to a tragic end to his Packers career.

Consider: Charles Woodson, warrior of warriors, has been released; Donald Driver, the consummate Packer legend, is obviously no longer welcome on the field of battle, and yet Sir-Drops-a-Lot – the third-highest paid player on the team behind Rodgers and Tramon Williams – still has a place in the kingdom? Surely he would be turned away so that the team would have cap space to sign running back Steven Jackson, or possibly even an edge pass-rusher – a new hero for our story.

Silence. Nothing happened. Calm before the storm? Or just … calm?

“When you look at Jermichael,” McCarthy said at the combine, “and you go on the other side of the ball or you talk to any of the defensive guys that played against him, he’s a matchup challenge for defenses. I think his best routes are when we’re attacking the middle of the field with him. I think he’s unique that way. Big target, excellent in the red zone. I thought he played much better with the ball in his hand after the catch.”

Here’s betting that the Packers pony up the $3 million on Wednesday, and Finley rides back into town, if not on a white horse, to take another run at showing he’s worth the $8 million he’ll count against the relatively tight Green Bay salary cap this season.

Did the departures of Greg Jennings and (to a lesser extent) tight end Tom Crabtree open the door for a triumphant, heroic return? Can Finley redeem himself and rise to legendary new heights in the Packers’ forthcoming quest for another Super Bowl? Another page in this dramatic story turns on March 26.

What do you think will be Finley’s fate? Post your predictions below.