Packers tight-end Jermichael Finley is all set to become a free agent and get paid the big bucks. Finley has never lived up to his potential but has had some very good seasons and has shown enough to be paid like a top tight-end in the NFL. The problem is that the Packers probably can't afford to pay him. He's already getting $7 million and will definitely ask for more. How will Green Bay elect to play this?
The Packers won't have many options via free agency to replace him. The best tight-end in free agency is Jimmy Graham, but the Saints won't let him go if they're smart. Even if the Saints elect not to keep Graham, the Packers wouldn't be able to afford him anyway. The next best option looks like Dennis Pitta, but it's tough seeing the Ravens letting him walk. If he walks, the Packers will be very interested. The other free agents? The injury-prone Dustin Keller, the inconsistent Brandon Pettigrew, Scott Chandler, Fred Davis, Brandon Myers and Andrew Quarless.
The smart move for the Packers looks like bringing back Quarless for cheap and drafting a tight-end in the first few rounds of the 2014 NFL draft. Quarless knows the system and proved himself down the stretch last season. In limited action, Quarless caught 32 balls on 52 targets for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was especially important in the comeback wins against Atlanta and Dallas in which he caught 66 yards and a touchdown in each of those games. I would be shocked if he wasn't interested in coming back and the Packers would like to have him back if Finley walks. The top prospects in the draft are: Eric Ebron from North Carolina, Jace Amaro from Texas Tech, Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington and Troy Niklas from Notre Dame. Any of these options would be a nice addition for the future assuming Finley walks.
Is there a chance the Packers bring Finley back? Sure there's a chance, but it's unlikely. He and Rodgers never had the greatest relationship and Finley has openly complained about his role in the offense. The Packers grew tired of his complaining and Finley finally started to have a bigger role in the offense. Finley was on his way to a career season in 2013, but he suffered a career-threatening neck injury and now I'm sure Ted Thompson is reluctant to pay him the big bucks after that significant injury. Former safety Nick Collins suffered a similar injury in 2011 and has not played since. Neck injuries are scary and very risky for any player to return to the brutal and physical game of football. Finley's agent claims he will be 100 percent in a few weeks, but chances are he won't be back.
Green Bay will be losing a key member of their offense, but it won't be a significant loss considering they still have Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and possibly James Jones. If they lose both Jones and Finley then it would be significant, but if one stays and one goes it won't be so bad. As of now it looks they have about $28 million in salary-cap space so it would be a surprise if they did not bring back Jones. What will they do with that money and Finley? This is just one of the many tough and important decisions GM Ted Thompson has to make.