Finley Wants to 'Take This League Over' at TE

Jermichael Finley (Jake Roth/USP)

Jermichael Finley struggled through an up-and-down season, due in part to a lockout and the knee injury that cost him most of 2010. Healthy and focused, Finley bet on himself this offseason in hopes of earning the type of money given to Rob Gronkowski.

New England's Rob Gronkowski signed a six-year contract extension that's worth $54 million and potentially will keep him with the Patriots through 2019.

With that news, Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley probably will be smiling his way through workouts in Minneapolis with All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

"I know Gronk and Jimmy Graham, they did well last year, but in this league, you've got to do it consistently," Finley said last week. "If you've shown that you can do it one time, you have to come back and do it. They're going to have to show me something."

Finley, of course, has plenty to prove himself. And with a two-year contract worth merely $14 million, Finley has several million reasons to bounce back from his drop-plagued 2011.

To the casual observer, Finley didn't have a bad season. After missing most of the Super Bowl season following knee surgery, Finley ranked 14th among tight ends with 55 receptions, 13th with 767 yards and third with eight touchdowns. However, his 12 drops were three more than Rams rookie Lance Kendricks among the league's tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus, and his 4.4 yards after the catch per catch put him in the middle of the pack.

Finley refused to pin the blame on playing for a new contract, even though feeling uncertainty about his future would have been human nature.

"Not at all. It was just my play," Finley said. "The contract didn't bother me at all. Not one bit. Not one bit."

Finley said he was "playing like a robot" — overthinking the defense, counting his steps on routes and never feeling like he had the chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers that he built during his breakout second half of the 2009 season and his dominant start to 2010. That's where this offseason could be a huge factor, Finley said.

"If you go over the years I've done well, we had an offseason program, we had minicamps, we had training camps," Finley said. "So, we had three processes that we were going through for us to get the chemistry. This year, I feel it and it's going to be a good one. I guarantee it."

It also helps that Finley has moved beyond the injury. Even while playing every game for the first time in his career last year, Finley said there were times when he was thinking about his "next injury" when defenders tackled him low.

With the injury and contract no longer issues, Finley said "it's about focus," a comment that meshes with the coaching staff's belief.

"Jermichael is a talent and a forced to be reckoned with when he's on the field," said coach Jerry Fontenot, who is in his first year leading the tight ends after coaching running backs last year and assisting with the offensive line before that. "So, getting him as many opportunities as possible is important. He's going to help us in a number of ways. That's not just solely exclusive to the pass game. He can help us across the board. I think the main emphasis for Jermichael is getting him back (focused). He didn't catch the ball the way he wanted to. My job this offseason is to help him with that and get him comfortable and refocusing on the ball and we're doing drills in that area."

And if that happens, Finley will reap the rewards. After missing 16 games in his first three seasons, Finley could have gone after a lucrative long-term deal during the offseason. Instead, he settled on a two-year contract. In essence, Finley is betting on himself to put up big numbers in 2012 and 2013 and then striking it rich in 2014.

"If I play my game, everything will work out for itself," he said. "I'll be 26 when I come up for the next deal. It's going to be an awesome ride, I'll tell you that."

More than that, Finley wants his name mentioned alongside the likes of the Patriots' Gronkowski and the Saints' Graham — and potentially with two of the tight ends he's studied heavily during his long career, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez.

"If I let my game speak for itself," Finley said, "I can take this league over at the position."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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