If Finley gets franchise tag, he'll challenge it
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jermichael Finley expects to be back with the Green Bay Packers next season. Coach Mike McCarthy wants Finley back next season. Now, the two sides are looking for a way to agree on the value of the ultra-talented, 24-year-old free agent.
"Knowing the Packers, I would say they would try to come with the franchise tag," Finley said Wednesday in an exclusive interview. "They like to get all their players cheap. I (expect) the franchise tag, for sure. Hopefully, I can get a long-term deal where I can get settled in one place. That's my goal."
Finley's agent, Blake Baratz, has had conversations with the Packers this week about a long-term contract. However, Finley said, "If things get hectic, I'd still expect the franchise tag."
Statistically, Finley is coming off his best NFL season since being selected by Green Bay in the third round of the 2008 draft. He finished third among tight ends with eight touchdown catches this season, behind only New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham. Finley was also 14th in receptions and 12th in total yards, but 10 other tight ends had more passes thrown to them than Finley did, with Graham being targeted 56 more times throughout the regular season. Finley led tight ends this season with 12 drops, according to ProFootball Focus.com.
All things considered, Finley wasn't entirely satisfied with his performance.
"I had an average season, a good season for a tight end, a great season for a tight end, but an average season for a guy that's got high expectations," Finley said. "(I have to) catch the ball (better) and just take advantage of every mismatch opportunity I have and try to dominate it. I don't think I did that to my best."
At 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, Finley is able to create mismatches just by being on the field. When he splits out wide as a receiver, he's bigger than cornerbacks. When he's lined up as a traditional tight end, he's able to outrun most linebackers who drop back in coverage.
It's that distinction, however, that may require some clarification if the Packers use the franchise tag. Finley is listed as a tight end but plays frequently in spots where wide receivers like Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson typically line up.
So, if Green Bay chooses to apply the franchise tag, Finley plans for he and his agent to argue that Finley should be classified as a wide receiver.
"I guarantee you that's what route we'll go," Finley said. "Hands down. I don't know the details of it, but that's what route we'll go."
The difference financially would be millions of dollars because the one-year deal a player gets with the franchise tag is based on the average salaries of the NFL's top-paid players at each position. And with the highest-paid wide receivers making far more than the top tight ends, the price tag would change drastically depending on the outcome.
While answering an unrelated question Wednesday, McCarthy summed up Finley's role in the offense, which could play into those discussions.
"He's a tight end, but he also plays the one receiver situation and the No. 2 slot sometimes and plays in the one slot to the three-man side," McCarthy said. "Those are the type of things when playing in a multiple offense, we treat all the perimeter players the same, because it's about matchups. They have to play all the positions."
Due to Finley's desire for a long-term deal, he said he would "think about" holding out if brought back on a one-year contract. But Finley made it clear that his only reason for potentially doing so would be to spark conversations with Packers general manager Ted Thompson about a multi-year deal.
"Hands down, I want to be a Packer for life, for sure," Finley said. "It's all business, of course, but if everything is right and everything is solid, I could be a Packer for my whole career."
During McCarthy's season-ending press conference Wednesday, he spoke very highly of Finley.
"I think Jermichael is a very talented young man, and I would emphasize young," McCarthy said. "I think he'll continue to grow and be an outstanding football player for us. With his talent level, that's half the battle. I look for him to continue to develop and establish himself definitely as one of the Pro Bowl tight ends in this league."
If Finley is allowed to walk in free agency and the Packers choose not to retain him, he has already crossed off several possible teams from his list of where he would consider signing.
"I wouldn't think about going to a losing team," Finley said. "I want to win. I'm a winner. Of course, it's obvious I want to set myself up (financially) for life, but I can't go to a team that doesn't have chemistry and has that knack for losing. I can't do that. I don't care what the money is."
When Finley dropped passes at home this season, there were two times when the Lambeau Field crowd booed him. One of those instances was on the Packers' opening drive of their playoff loss to the Giants. And Finley heard it loud and clear. While McCarthy said it's "stating the obvious" that Finley had too many drops, jeers from the home crowd are not common from a supportive fan base of a storied franchise like the Packers, especially during a season in which the team went 15-1.
But Finley's outspoken nature has led some fans to view him as not team-oriented enough.
"Jermichael probably brings a lot of criticism on himself because of his personality, but the man I work with, he has a great work ethic," McCarthy said. "There's no one more into the practice on a daily basis than Jermichael. He wants to be a great player and thinks he's going to be a great player."
Finley chalked up the boos as part of the job, but his interactions with fans on Twitter have ranged from fun to confrontational. He has now scaled back his use of social media but wishes he didn't have to.
"I'm trying to fit in with Green Bay," Finley said of the NFL's smallest city. "But it's hard to do it when people are talking so much stuff. I've got to be myself. I try my best to do what they say, and I guess live the Green Bay Packer motto, but I don't know. There are some true, loyal Packers fans out there, though."
As Finley had his great moments this season — three touchdowns against Chicago in Week 3 — and the low moments that stirred up negative emotions in Packers fans, neither ups nor downs nor his contract status changed his focus on the field.
"I'll be totally blacked out from thinking about my contract and money during the game," Finley said. "That's not even in my head. Of course, that's what I wanted to do, was maximize (my free-agent value). But that's what some people don't get. It's foolish when people say 'Are you thinking about your contract?' I don't think about my contract when I'm playing football.
"It doesn't affect me. I just know what I can do. When I'm not on the field showing it, a million people watching the game and I'm not performing, that's frustrating. But I know what I can do. I never get down."
Finley missed all but four games in 2010 after a season-ending knee injury. This season, McCarthy believes that Finley accomplished exactly what he hoped.
"If you look at the history of players who have had a season-ending injury, that first year back is their toughest," McCarthy said. "There's that subconscious (feeling) there of getting through and playing a whole season. I know early in the year and maybe even as far back as training camp, Jermichael and I had a conversation and I clearly told him, 'The only goal you should have this year is to play in every single football game. If you accomplish that, everything else will take care of itself.' I believe that."
Finley played in every game this season. The next step for him is to get more involved in the offense, and he knows how he plans to make happen.
"I've got to go in and get the quarterback, head coach and offensive coordinator confident in me," Finley said. "Try to get that offense back around the tight end position and then everything else will take care of itself. I came in a little slow this training camp. I have to come in confident this next season and try to make the offense work around the tight end position."
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