INDIANAPOLIS -- Headed into the NFL’s version of the Hot Stove League, it was assumed the Green Bay Packers would reserve the franchise tag for tight end Jermichael Finley.
Now, the Packers can use it elsewhere, if general manager Ted Thompson wishes.
Finley agreed to a two-year, $14 million contract on Wednesday, the eve of the NFL Scouting Combine that begins here on Thursday. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein, Finley’s net payday will be $5.75 million in 2012 and $8.25 million in 2013.
“I could not be happier to have the privilege of being a Packer for the next (two) years,” Finley said on Twitter. “Glad to be back with my team (and) coaches for (one) common goal.”
The contact doesn’t provide Finley with long-term security, but it does put him back on the free-agent market when he’s 26 – the prime of his career. The average of $7.0 million per season is more than the expected franchise tender for a tight end ($5.4 million) but it lacks the big guaranteed money given to tight ends like San Francisco’s Vernon Davis ($23 million guaranteed in his five-year deal) or even Seattle’s Zach Miller ($17 million guaranteed in his five-year deal).
Finley finished third on the team in receptions (56), yards (767) and touchdowns (eight). The catches total matched his career high and was just one off Packers Hall of Famer Paul Coffman’s franchise record for the position, set in 1979. The yardage and touchdowns set career highs, with Finley’s yardage mark trailing only Coffman’s 814 yards in 1983. His touchdown figure ranked third among NFL tight ends.
That’s the good news. The bad news is Finley finished fifth in the NFL with 11 drops, according to STATS.
With Finley taken care of, Thompson has two possibilities for the franchise tag, with the deadline to use the designation being March 5. Thompson could use it on center Scott Wells, who’s coming off his first Pro Bowl season. However, all offensive linemen are lumped together when computing the franchise figure and is weighted heavily on elite left tackles, so the tender is expected to be a lofty $9.4 million. While Wells is playing the best football of his career, he turned 31 last month and Thompson has been reluctant to offer hefty contracts to players older than 30. If they were to franchise Wells, it would almost certainly be to buy time to sign him to multi-year deal that’s more cap-friendly.
Another franchise option would be to use it on quarterback Matt Flynn, with the Packers tagging Flynn with the intent to trade him. The franchise tag for a quarterback will be around $14.4 million.
The Packers don’t have enough salary cap space to use the franchise tag on Flynn, but they could make room by releasing left tackle Chad Clifton and receiver Donald Driver. Clifton’s cap number for 2012 is $5.59 million and Driver’s is $5 million. That $10.6 million in savings would be more than enough to take care of Flynn’s contract, which would count against the cap the moment he signs the tender but would be eliminated once he’s traded.
The upside of trading Flynn is the possibility of getting a first- or second-round pick in return in time for April’s draft. If Flynn were to leave as a free agent, the Packers would get a compensatory pick in the 2013 draft – either at the end of the third or fourth round, depending on the contract he’d sign with his new team, among other factors.
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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.