Without a labor agreement in place, it's hard to tell when Green Bay Packers TE Jermichael Finley will become a free agent, but it could be as soon as next year. He seems motivated to return strong, but he's only played in 18 regular season games over the past two seasons. And he's recorded only 1000 receiving yards for his career. He's got all the promise in the world, but until he stays healthy and puts together an elite season, he's not an elite player.
Will his agent want Finley to be paid like an elite tight end anyway? If he asks for over $7 million average per season, the expected 2011 cost to place the franchise tag on a tight end, it'll be a short discussion. DE Cullen Jenkins knew he'd have to accept less to stay in Green Bay, and Finley is far less established than Jenkins. I haven't read anywhere that the Packers and Finley have even discussed the general terms of a contract extension, but I'd assume they have an idea of what he'd ask for and how much they'd be willing to offer. The Packers might want to keep him, but they might want to hedge their bet.
Enter the 2011 draft, where they surprisingly selected two tight ends. Via Football Outsiders:
"We didn't get caught up in our depth chart and feel like we needed another defensive lineman or a linebacker," head coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We really stayed true to the board."
I don't doubt that TE D.J. Williams (5th round) and TE Ryan Taylor (7th round) were their top rated players, but maybe they had an eye on 2012 too. Just as they drafted DE Mike Neal (2nd round) and DE C.J. Wilson (7th round) in 2010, possibly because they expected DE Cullen Jenkins to depart in 2011, the Packers might be thinking ahead with Finley. If they think they can't afford him, it might be better to add a couple of backup options now instead of being forced into making a move next year.