It would appear that whatever honeymoon was left between the Green Bay Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley is over. According to a report by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Packers will either find a trade partner for Finley, or release him outright after the season for what McGinn called "financial, competitive and behavioral reasons." Given Finley's erratic history with the team, and McGinn's status as a very dialed-in guy, this report is pretty easy to believe.
The fifth-year player, selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Texas, has been just as exasperating as he has been productive. And since the Packers gave him a smaller extension than he wanted in the offseason -- a two-year, $14 million agreement in February -- there's no real salary cap implications beyond the $500,000 they'll have to count in 2013, which was half of his $1 million signing bonus. The Packers must pay Finley a $3 million roster bonus on the 15th day of the 2013 league year if he's still with the team, but for a host of reasons, but that doesn't look likely.
We can start with the production. Finley has had stretches of fine play through his career, but as McGinn points out, his inconsistency has been a real problem for an offense that prides itself on the ability to mix drive effectiveness and explosive plays. Finley has dropped 19 of 166 passes thrown to him since the start of the 2011 season, and that 11.5 percent drop rate more than doubles his percentage from 2008 through 2010.
Add in Finley's talent for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, which does not mix well with the tight-lipped, button-down organization run by general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy. He has complained about his lack of targets. His agent, Blake Baratz, has hypothesized that quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't a good leader. And Finley recently said that the Chicago Bears, who the Packers face on Sunday, are better off without injured linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Whether that last assertion is true or not, and most people would tell you that it is from a physical perspective, the Packers' organization would generally prefer that their players avoid bulletin-board material. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs responded to Finley's statement about Urlacher by calling Finley "an idiot."
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The take on Rodgers is clearly preposterous, and Finley's claims that he needs more opportunities is questionable, at best. Not only has Finley frequently been on the field, but he's usually in situations that best display his all-catch/no block tendencies. per Football Outsiders, no tight end lined up more as a wide receiver than Finley in 2011 -- he did so on 152 snaps.
Perhaps more distressing to the team were Finley's public comments in October that the chemistry between quarterback and tight end wasn't all it could be.
"It's OK," Finley said. "Not good enough at all. Something to be worked on, and try to work on it as much as I can, try to talk to him as much as I can, but like I said, it takes two people. I need the quarterback on my side, and I need to catch the ball when he throws it to me. So it takes two things to get that going, the chemistry. I feel we need to get that going."
In 2012, Finley ranks 23rd in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted per-play DVOA metrics, by far the lowest ranking of his career. His catch rate of 67 percent in 2012 is far below the percentages of the five best tight ends in the game -- Rob Gronkowski (70%), Tony Gonzalez (76%), Jason Witten (75%), Heath Miller (72%), and Brandon Myers (79%). Whatever chemistry he wants to establish with Rodgers, he'd better hurry up and do it. Odds are, he'll be trying to foster a relationship with a new best buddy in 2013 and beyond.
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