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The NFL's Most Expensive Decoy

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Jermichael Finley drops a lot of balls, but the Packers didn't drop him this offseason. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.
Jermichael Finley drops a lot of balls, but the Packers didn't drop him this offseason. Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

Jermichael Finley is an enigma.

Last season, the 6-foot-5 tight end caught a respectable 61 passes for 667 yards, but grabbed just two touchdown passes. Finley showed off his playmaking ability throughout the season with 10 plays of 20-plus yards, but it’d be a major stretch to call him an elite tight end in the same class of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.

He’s also struggled to hold on to the ball for much of his career. Last season, Finley dropped seven passes on 88 targets – just under 8 percent – fourth-worst among NFL tight ends. In 2011, Finley had six drops on 93 targets.

He’s not a game-changing tight end, either. In 2012, his season-high of 72 receiving yards came in Green Bay’s Week 17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 3 of 2010, or his last 35 games played, playoffs included. In 2011, Finley returned from season-ending knee surgery to catch a career-high eight touchdowns, but had just one game of two-plus touchdowns. He’s had just one other two-TD game in his five-year career.

That’s certainly not the level of production that you’d expect from a franchise tight end.

Given the money Finley commands and his middling production, NFL analysts speculated that the Packers would release the 26-year-old or ask him to restructure his contract before a $3 million roster bonus kicked in on March 26.

The Packers did neither.

Instead, Packers general manager Ted Thompson eschewed his penny-pinching ways and ponied up for Finley’s spring bonus. After losing Greg Jennings to the Vikings, keeping Finley in town likely served as a stopgap measure to prevent uneasiness in Titletown.

Whether the Packers wanted Finley back in green and yellow is irrelevant. The fact remains that Finley, who is set to make $8.25 million in 2013, is a key piece of the Packers offense.

Finley needs to focus on tallying up first down catches despite reports of chemistry issues between him and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones certainly make for a formidable receiving corps. With the departure of Jennings, Finley must prove a reliable target over the middle to create space on the outside for the receivers.

Finley also plays an essential role as a decoy in the Packers offense. With his size and athleticism, Finley draws plenty of attention from opposing defenders, which creates openings for Rodgers to find his receivers.

Jermichael Finley is still young and has plenty of room for improvement, but he needs to start showing that he deserves to be the NFL’s second-highest paid tight end.