It takes all types to build a football team. You need the exuberant ones that can rally their teammates, those who are cool under pressure and then you have the selfless components that are ready to take on any role and handle the dirty work that doesn’t get the praise or attention it deserves.
Jermichael Finley was a one-of-a-kind character that didn’t really fit into any of those traditional categories. He had elite talent and kept himself off the police blotter, but had a penchant for saying and doing the wrong things at inappropriate times.
At about 6-foot-5, 243 pounds when he entered the league as a third-round pick in 2008, Finley looked like the prototype for pass-catching tight ends in the mold of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates that were increasingly emerging as focal points of offenses around the NFL.
Finley was a fluid runner with long arms to win one-on-one battles, the balance to adjust to poorly-thrown balls and the elusiveness to avoid defenders after the catch.
It wasn’t long before the former Texas Longhorn was the starting tight end and permanently took over for Donald Lee by the beginning of his second season.
Finley’s breakout would occur that same year when he posted his first 100-yard performance versus Minnesota and gained 70 yards or more in four straight games from weeks 12 through 14. The 22-year-old saved his best for Green Bay’s playoff loss to Arizona by recording six receptions for 159 yards in a 51-45 shootout.
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There wasn’t anything not to like about the shiny new pass-catching weapon early on. He loved all the adulation that came with his ascent as one of the premiere players at his position and often showed it every time he made a first-down catch by going into a funky-rooster dance celebration.
Finley craved the sound bites and press clippings that came with being an integral part of the Packers passing attack. He wanted to let the world know his value…often to the detriment of his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who he would make veiled or overtly critical statements about.
When reflecting on his 2011 campaign the following summer, Finley lamented the “lack of chemistry” between him and his quarterback and added, “[I’ll] try to talk to him as much as I can,” as his way of implicitly putting Rodgers at fault for his own shortcomings.
These ill-timed comments came on the heels of Rodgers’ MVP season during which he registered a 45:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 122.5 passer rating, which currently stands as the highest single-season total in that category.
And then came the drops. The 2012 season saw Finley continually fail to secure the most routine of catches as he predictably ranked third with the third-highest drop rate among tight ends trailing only Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez.
During that time, Finley used his agent, Blake Baratz, to voice his displeasure with Rodgers with Baratz labeling No. 12 a great player, but not a great “leader.” Even if those weren’t Finley’s words, it’s hard to believe his representative would have made that type of remark had his client not shared those sentiments.
The outspoken tight end could never come to grips with the fact that Rodgers was the biggest star of the team or that his field general was the recipient of more acclaim than any other member of the Packers.
Quarterbacks, especially the special ones, are always the marquee players in any organization, but Finley wouldn’t give in to that way of thinking. Perhaps he was bitter about his salary and wanted to make quarterback money.
Whatever was going through his head at the time, Finley’s numbers would have suffered on another team with a lesser signal caller tossing him the ball. But maybe the malcontent would have preferred being the lead dog of a losing franchise where he would draw more notoriety than a mediocre quarterback.
To his credit, Finley did fight back from a serious meniscus injury and subsequent staph infection in his knee during the 2010 season. But his hard work and big plays on the field were tarnished by his selfish behavior, which frequently saw him speak out of turn and make his team look bad.
There was the time when he boasted about missing curfew prior to the aforementioned playoff game versus the Cardinals. Finley was at it again when he took to Twitter to voice his complaints of not being included, along with other teammates who were also on injured reserve, in team photo prior to Green Bay’s Super Bowl XLV showdown versus the Steelers.
After a while, Green Bay management felt the need to assign their resident loose cannon with his own public-relations person at his locker after games.
To hear Baratz describe what motivated Finley to act childishly in front of microphones and on social-media platforms, the Minnesota-based contract negotiator explained that his client was still growing from an emotional standpoint and his outbursts were simply the result of trying to make everyone like him.
Baratz’s rationale definitely shed some light on Finley’s unique personality, but it still doesn’t make up for throwing your own quarterback—a player that just about any receiver or tight end would die to play with—under the bus.
The provocative pass catcher seemed to be in a good place heading into the 2013 season. The 26-year-old scored in each of his first two games, but then went down with a concussion a week later versus Cincinnati. The injury looked worse than it actually turned out to be and he continued playing until a fateful collision with a Cleveland Browns safety in Week 7.
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Finley was on his way to another productive afternoon when Tayshaun Gipson blasted the sixth-year pro on a fourth-quarter reception. In order to brace himself for the hit, the tight end lowered his head which took the brunt of the impact and left him with bruised spinal cord.
The agile playmaker was in excruciating pain and had to be carted off the field. His season and career were suddenly a thing of the past.
No timetable was set for Finley’s clearance to play again and, sadly, that medical authorization that the Packers and other teams were waiting for never came.
The recovered free agent couldn’t find any takers and decided to cash in on his tax-free $10-million insurance policy and hang up the cleats.
Finley hasn’t exactly faded away into the night as a now-retired professional athlete; he can be heard frequently on local radio shows and still tweets about the Packers and other subjects.
More importantly, the former Packer seems to be at peace with the fact that his career has been cut short.
Hearing him now, it’s pretty evident that Finley has matured. In fact, it was recently reported that he and Rodgers buried the hatchet.
No diehard Cheesehead will soon forget the physical exploits of the brash, vocal, but extremely gifted game changer Finley was during his six-year jaunt in Packers News. What a ride it was!