There are two big unknowns regarding any possible return to the Packers.
One, even though Finley has been cleared by Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Steelers’ team physician who did Finley’s spinal-fusion surgery, will he get the green light from the always-conservative Packers?
Two, will the Packers — or any team, for that matter — give Finley the kind of money he’s looking for? If the injury sustained against Cleveland on Oct. 20 winds up ending Finley’s career, the tight end will be able to collect on an insurance policy worth a tax-free $10 million.
According to Finley, the Steelers offered him a contract but “the money ain’t what it’s supposed to be,” he told USA Today. At one point in the interview, Finley said “it ain’t about the money” but is “about the love of the game.” At another point, money was very much on Finley’s mind.
“I ain’t going to go back for mediocre (money),” Finley said. “I ain’t going back for nothing less. I can get a ton of money tax-free with nobody taking nothing off the top, Uncle Sam. It’s going to be a tough situation. I’ve still got to work out, I’ve still got to prepare and I’ve still got to be ready to go. But at the end of the day, when a team calls, it’s going to be strictly business.”
From the Packers’ perspective, they are $13.5 million under the salary cap. That should be enough money to strike a deal with Finley — depending on his price tag, obviously — and sign Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to contract extensions. And there’s an open spot on the roster after, ironically, Johnathan Franklin was forced to retire with a neck injury.
Clearly, Green Bay could use Finley’s talents, even with a third-round investment on Richard Rodgers. Finley caught 25 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns in, officially, six games, though he played only one series against Cincinnati. Combined, the rest of the tight ends caught 45 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner return from that group.
Looking inside the numbers, Finley’s dominance over his peers is more obvious.
— According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley forced 10 missed tackles on his 25 receptions. The others forced only five in almost twice as many catches. That was the best ratio in the league. Even in an abbreviated season, Finley tied for seventh among NFL tight ends in missed tackles.
— Finley had 238 yards after the catch. Combined, the others had 218 YAC.
— Finley caught 73.5 percent of targeted passes compared to 69.6 percent for Quarless, 66.7 percent for Taylor and 50.0 percent for Bostick. (Stoneburner was not targeted.)
— Surprisingly, according to league data, the Packers averaged 5.65 yards per carry with Finley in the game. That was the highest figure in the NFL among tight ends. Defenses had to account for Finley in the passing game, which opened up the running game. None of the others will influence defenses in that manner. The Packers averaged 4.33 yards per carry with Quarless, 3.78 with Bostick, 2.75 with Taylor and 0.12 with Stoneburner.
How do the Packers recover? The obvious solution is to re-sign Finley and hope he’s healthy physically and there are no aftereffects mentally. Another option is to hope the veteran Quarless emerges, the talented Bostick puts it all together or the rookie Rodgers becomes an instant standout. The third option would be to turn tight end into a two-down position and spread the field with four receivers on third-and-long.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.