Packers Planning To Lose Finley?

When healthy, no tight end in the league was more productive than Jermichael Finley last season. We tell you why 2011 could be his last season in Green Bay. Plus, some other nuggets in a quick-hitting package from Len Pasquarelli.

Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who played in only five games in 2010 because of meniscus surgery, reported last week that his knee feels fine and he's ready to roll.

But there continue to be suspicions that this could be the final season in Green Bay for Finley, who possesses monstrous athletic skills and was on his way to a career season in 2010 before the injury.

When healthy in four full games last season, Finley caught 21 of the 26 passes thrown his way — an astounding 80.8 percent, a rate that would have topped Antonio Gates' league-leading 76.9 percent at the position. He was on a full-season pace of 84 catches, 1,204 yards, 48 first downs and four touchdowns. Among tight ends, only Jason Witten had more catches (94) and first downs (49), and nobody was close in yards (Witten finished with 1,002).

Finley is in the final year of his contract and, if he hits the market, will draw plenty of suitors, especially if that surgery cleared up the knee problems once and for all. The Packers, who are always conscious of depth under general manager Ted Thompson, have three other veteran tight ends on the roster, and added two more. D.J. Williams of Arkansas and North Carolina's Ryan Taylor, in the draft.

Williams, arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the draft, could help mitigate the loss of Finley. The Packers, who have spent lavishly to keep their own players, also will have key decisions to make on Scott Wells, Jordy Nelson and Josh Sitton after the 2011 season. Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson, Chad Clifton and Donald Driver are among those whose contracts expire after 2012.

Straight and narrow: There have been numerous reports over the past two weeks of contact between coaches and players, forbidden under terms of the lockout, and it would probably be naive to think there's isn't some sort of communication occurring in some cases. But league officials said Thursday that, after investigating some of the reports, they have unearthed no violations. From a personal standpoint, we can report that several teams where The Sports Xchange sought interviews with coaches politely declined the requests of lack of clarity with lockout rules.

Paying the Bill: With the presumptive retirement of Phil Jackson from the Los Angeles Lakers, Forbes Magazine has tabbed Belichick as the highest paid coach in any of the four North American professional leagues. Coaching salaries in the NFL are notoriously tough to pinpoint, and New England is particularly cryptic about Belichick's deal, but Forbes pegs his contract at about $7.5 million per year. There are six other NFL coaches — Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt, Tom Coughlin, and Mike Tomlin — in the top 10. The other three are NBA coaches.

Seeking new Akers: Last week in this spot, we noted that Philadelphia will jettison veteran kicker David Akers after the lockout, not only for age and salary, but because some in the organization have grown weary of what they perceive as attitude problems. This week, Eagles special teams coach Bobby April all but confirmed Akers' pending departure when he said that rookie Alex Henery of Nebraska, the club's fourth-round pick in last month's draft, could be the club's leading scorer for many years.

UFL chump change: Contracts from the UFL began landing in the mailboxes of players and agents this week, and the fledgling, five-team league has made some notable cuts: The salary for the season has been reduced to $40,000, from $50,000 a year ago. Training camp per diem payments went from $55 to $50. Most notable was the reduction for the title game. Last year, the league champion received $20,000 and the runner-up bagged $10,000. For 2011, the payments are $6,000 and $5,000, respectively.

Coach Seymour: As noted this week in several spots, Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who early in the year signed a new two-year, $30 million contract that makes him the NFL's priciest defensive player on a per-year average basis, will foot the bill for a four-day session with teammates in Atlanta from Tuesday through Friday. Agent Eugene Parker told The Sports Xchange he has not spoken to his client about the price, and could not confirm it is six figures, but said: "The one thing about Richard is that he does everything first-class, so he's not going to cut corners, believe me. He feels like this is important for the team and he's going to do it right." According to the plan, Seymour will supervise the defensive workouts and Campbell will run the offensive practices. The sessions will be at Competitive Edge Sports in suburban Atlanta, and will be monitored by noted trainer Chip Smith, the subject of a column by The Sports Xchange at the outset of the lockout.

Where's Wilson?: The lockout could scuttle plans by the New Orleans staff for working third-round draft pick Martez Wilson, a middle linebacker at Illinois, on the strong side. If the lockout wipes out most minicamps and OTAs, it's likely Wilson will be relegated to backup duty behind Jonathan Vilma in the middle.

More changes: The Eagles could also switch middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to the strong-side spot to make room for either Omar Gaither or Jamar Chaney, both of whom logged two starts in 2010, at the "Mike" position.

Oldie but goodie: Eleven-year veteran cornerback Dre Bly, who didn't play in the league at all in 2010, still hopes to catch on with someone for camp. Bly, who will be 34 on Sunday, averaged 13.5 starts in eight seasons until sitting out last year.

Lots of catches: There has been a lot of attention paid to veteran wide receivers who might be available in free agency — Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Vincent Jackson, among others — and justifiably so. And the status of Carolina's Steve Smith, who is said to have asked for a trade, is worth watching for teams in the market. But clubs are monitoring as well a group of young wideouts whose free agency status will be determined by the CBA negotiations. The group includes Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, James Jones, Lance Moore, Sidney Rice, and Mike Sims-Walker.

CBA comment: The Palm Beach Post had an interesting Friday column in which it noted that some front office employees, whose salaries have been reduced because of the lockout, are actually rooting for the players to prevail. We don't know about that, but we can attest there are some assistant coaches, who are about to go stir-crazy, who privately wish the players would cave, so they can get back to work.

Trader Jerry on ice: Notable leftover from the draft is that Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who made 58 draft day trades since acquiring the franchise in 1989, made none this year.

Kerrigan's transition: Although they have yet to see first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan on the practice field, some Washington coaches remain borderline skeptical that the former Purdue star will make a seamless transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Kerrigan has a great motor, but has struggled at times in space. Of course, the Kerrigan supporters note that, under coordinator Jim Haslett, the Redskins' linebackers don't drop and cover much anyway.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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