COMMENTARY | As long as an NFL team remains in the playoff picture its upcoming free agency decisions can often appear as only a speck on the distant horizon.
Currently sitting on a 2-2 record, the Packers are still very much in the thick of the playoff hunt. At the same time, there's little doubt that speck on the horizon will one day materialize in the form of Jermichael Finley, the Packers' current starting tight end.
Packer fans and fantasy football aficionados alike are without question familiar with Mr. Finley. After that, any type of league-wide name recognition the Packers have at tight end comes to a quick end. Not coincidentally, that's also where the free agency problems for the Packers begin.
Taken on its own, the Packers' situation at tight end probably isn't that different than a lot of other teams in the NFL. Rare is the team that has quality depth at more than a couple key positions, if that.
However, the Green and Gold have arguably painted themselves into a tighter corner than they'd probably care to admit with regards to Jermichael Finley and their lack of talent behind him. A situation that goes against the grain in Green Bay, with its well-known draft and develop mentality.
In early 2012, the Packers' brain trust chose to sign Jermichael Finley to a two-year deal worth around $14 million after the expiration of his rookie contract. A deal that now makes his salary cap number the second-highest on the team, behind only Aaron Rodgers.
Common perception was that some of Finley's off-field behavior had made the team reluctant to link-up with Finley on a longer term basis. At that stage in his career, Finley was a player that had shown flashes of brilliance on the football field. He was also plagued by inconsistency.
For these reasons, both the team and the player were forced to compromise at the negotiating table. The outcome was a short-term deal that served the Packers' interests because it allowed them an easy out if Finley struggled further on or off the field. It also served Jermichael's interests because the contract value was arguably well above his production -- largely because the team needed to compensate him for the increased risk of injury inherent in such a deal.
Unfortunately, as the two sides approach the expiration of that agreement, the situation doesn't seem to have resolved itself in any clear direction.
Finley is still a player with incredible potential and can be almost as effective as a decoy as he is an actual playmaker. The problem is that Finley still shows lapses in concentration in the form of missed blocks and dropped passes.
A complicating factor is that the Packers still don't have an heir-apparent at the tight end position. A reality that diminished the team's bargaining position in 2012.
On the positive side, Finley appears to have mastered his off-field behavior and has stayed out of the headlines thus far in 2013. Though one has to wonder how much of that new attitude is tied to the fact that it's his contract year.
After dealing large contracts out to Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers this past offseason, the Packers are probably less inclined to pay premiums for short-term contracts -- especially those that could eventually have an adverse impact on team chemistry.
Despite this somewhat complicated history (or because of it), Jermichael Finley's future with the Green Bay Packers may actually be relatively cut and dried.
It's unlikely that a lone season of good behavior will be enough to the convince the Packers that offering Finley a lucrative long-term deal is in their best interests. Coupling that reality with the Packers more restricted salary cap situation leaves only a small range of likely scenarios on the table. All of which would probably be characterized by modest financial payouts over short to medium range timeframes.
Therefore, if Finley has a monster year on the field (somewhat unlikely given how much the Packers spread the ball around), the most probable outcome is that he would test free agency and ultimately leave the team.
If Finley has an average or sub-par year, he may still choose to test free agency, but there would be a much greater likelihood of him returning to the Packers. And that scenario would probably be dictated as much by Finley's continuing "potential," as by the Packers lack of depth at the position.
Interestingly, Finley could effectively kill two birds with one stone by accepting a team-friendly contract -- he'd settle any remaining concerns about his commitment to the Packers while shoring up a critical position within the team's high-powered offense.
Regardless, it seems almost certain the Packers will use one of their top two draft picks in 2014 on a tight end. The only remaining question is whether they'll require an immediate starter or an heir-apparent.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a Green Bay Packers fan by night. He is a regular contributor at Yahoo Sports and The Bleacher Report. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.
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