While both Lee and Finley started 10 games apiece, by season's end, there was little doubt about the top tight end on the roster.
Finley, who missed all of three games and most of a fourth with a knee sprain, had a breakout second season with 55 catches for 676 yards and five touchdowns. Among tight ends who were targeted at least twice per game, Finley tied for fourth in the NFL by catching 77.5 percent of those passes.
Down the stretch, he was nothing short of dominant. Split out wide more and more often to take advantage of his combination of height and athleticism, Finley was one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL. After coming back from the knee injury against San Francisco, Finley caught 38 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns in the final seven regular-season games. Only Dallas' Jason Witten (45) and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez (39) caught more passes. In the playoff game, Finley added six catches for a team playoff-record 159 yards.
With Lee, the Packers had the only tight end duo with at least 37 catches apiece, but they got much more big-play productivity from third tight end/converted linebacker Havner. Havner caught only seven passes but scored four touchdowns — not including an 11-yard touchdown in the playoffs. Havner blossomed as a blocker and is at least as good as Lee, plus Havner finished third on the team with 20 special-teams tackles. Frischknecht, an undrafted rookie, broke a leg in training camp and rehabbed with the team all season.
Finley went from big-headed and underachieving rookie to dynamic performer and perhaps Aaron Rodgers' most-trusted target. In the games against the Packers' toughest foes (Minnesota twice, San Francisco, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Arizona twice), Finley caught 39 of the 46 passes thrown his way (84.8 percent) with five touchdowns. In two years, he has not committed a penalty.
After dropping four passes last season and only one in 2007 — when he had a breakthrough 55 catches — Lee dropped seven passes while being targeted 54 times (37 catches). Two of those came in the end zone, including one at Minnesota. That's a drop percentage of 13.0 percent. After catching 48 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns in 2008, he's caught 76 passes for 563 yards and six touchdowns (one TD in 2009) the last two years combined.
Lee — Through 2011 ($2 million base salary for 2010).
Finley — Through 2011 ($470,000 base).
Frischknecht — Through 2011 ($395,000 base).
Havner — Exclusive-rights free agent.
The next step is for Finley to become more reliable (four drops) and, more importantly, become a better blocker. While he's certainly not a bad blocker, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin settled on the adjective "OK" when asked after the season.
If Finley becomes better in the run game, he'll stay on the field more often. As it was, according to a tally on ProFootballReference.com, Lee was on the field for 356 running plays compared to 208 for Finley. Lee's play count was practically a perfect 50-50 split between run and pass while Finley's count was close to 60-40 pass.
That's a large discrepancy and something opposing coaches take notice of during game-planning. So, if Finley becomes a bigger factor in the run game, opposing defenses will be forced to play more base defense when he's on the field. That means advantageous matchups against linebackers and potential big plays in the passing game.
Tight ends used to be afterthought in the NFL. Not anymore. Look at the final four teams. The Colts' Dallas Clark led all tight ends with 100 catches and scored 10 touchdowns. The Jets' Dustin Keller, playing in a run-first (and second) offense, had 45 catches and two touchdowns. The Vikings' Visanthe Shiancoe caught 56 passes and scored 11 touchdowns. The Saints' Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas combined for 83 catches.
With Finley looking like a perennial Pro Bowler and Lee and Havner playing a mean second fiddle, the Packers should consider themselves blessed.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.