Packers' Finley needs to show more consistency, better blocking
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--When Ted Thompson and Russ Ball convene to examine their current charges against the salary cap, Jermichael Finley hits them smack in the face all over again.
Since the March 27 deadline, when the organization reluctantly agreed to pay Finley a $3 million bonus for being on the roster, his cap charge of $8.75 million has ranked second on the team for 2013 behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
For months, the Packers’ personnel, coaching and financial departments vigorously debated the wisdom of retaining their unpredictable tight end for that kind of money.
In the end, the side arguing that such a talent could not be allowed to walk won out. It came down to an 11th-hour decision made by Thompson, with approval from team president Mark Murphy.
Finley, almost persona non grata among the fan base until well beyond midseason, is back to collect $8.25 million as the final installment of the two-year, $14 million contract he signed in February 2012.
Last season, Finley fell from favor early, dropping five of the 31 passes thrown to him in the first five games and losing a fumble in Game2.
From Game 6-10, Finley was targeted 17 times. If Finley thought he was being phased out of the offense, he didn’t appear to let it faze him.
Down the stretch, however, is when Finley did just enough to warrant his slot on the team’s salary structure. In those final 13 games, he was a model of consistency in the passing game with merely one drop in 64 targeted tosses. He didn’t fumble, either.
Despite the presence of five interesting veterans behind Finley, he’s the starter for the fourth straight year. Just 26, Finley remains Pro Bowl-capable even though he hasn’t been there yet.
“He’s still young,” said Jerry Fontenot, the club’s tight ends coach. “His year started off a little rough, but I think about halfway through the season something started clicking and he started gaining some confidence and playing a lot better.”
A gung-ho worker and practice player, Finley has added about 10 pounds since the end of last season. It won’t affect his speed, according to Fontenot, and should make him stronger with the ball and as a blocker.
Blocking underscores the erratic nature of Finley’s game. His many inconsistencies are why “coach killer” has been used several times by scouts to describe him.
Last season, Finley was responsible for 9½ “bad” runs after having had just six total from 2008 to 2011.
Meanwhile, Finley’s concentration lapses are reflected in his nine penalties the past two seasons compared with none in his first three seasons.
Often praised for having soft hands, Finley didn’t drop any of 25 passes in 2010 and had a manageable seven of 117 from 2008 to 2010. Then he dropped 13 of 103 in 2011.
“My biggest thing with Jermichael is using everything efficiently in route running to threaten the defense vertically because we can always break off routes short to catch the ball,” Fontenot said. “If you’re threatening them with your speed they’ve got to respect you.
“The second thing is production in the run game. We can do better blocking in line and in space. And we’re going to demand it.”
Toward that end, the Packers in April outbid the San Francisco 49ers for the right to sign Matthew Mulligan for $820,000 over one year. The acquisition came four weeks after they wouldn’t budge off a one-year, $700,000 offer to Tom Crabtree and watched him depart to Tampa Bay.
If Mulligan survives a crowded field, he would become the first tight end in Green Bay since Bubba Franks (2000-07) to be known as a better blocker than receiver.
“I love everything about this kid and the makeup he brings to our meeting room,” said Fontenot. “It’s something that’s a little bit different because he’s very professional, very straight-laced.”