2013 NFL Free Agency: A Look at Jermichael Finley's Status

Kevin C. Cox

Today, we take a look at one of the most polarizing Packers in recent memory. His vast potential remains unrealized, and it remains to be seen if he will be a Packer in 2013.

Everyone has an opinion on Jermichael Finley. There's no question that he's a supremely athletic, talented tight end, but there's also no question that he has not lived up to that potential. His status with the Packers appears very much undecided at this point as well, and many fans would be happy to see him go. I'll be up front with my opinion. Personally, I think his detractors focus too much on struggles from previous seasons and his off-the-field antics to see the value that he brings to the Packers on the field. I feel like every catch Finley makes is greeted with a sarcastic chorus of "Oh look, Finley actually caught a ball," which drives me crazy. In any case, I'm not here to discuss my opinion on the player, but rather try to look at the factors surrounding this polarizing figure and make an educated guess on whether or not he will be a Packer in 2013.

A big part of the reason for this analysis coming at this time is Finley's interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published on Thursday. In it, Finley describes his feelings on staying in Green Bay:

There's no doubt that I want to be (in Green Bay) for life. But it's a business and the business will tell you otherwise. I would say on the business front, it's 50/50. But if it was up to me or anybody in my circle, I would love to be back.

As Finley correctly notes, it's not up to him at this point. His contract will be the deciding factor in his return to Green Bay (or his departure). Let's take a closer look at that contract for 2013 though.

In 2012, Finley earned a base salary of $950,000, with a signing bonus of $1 million (spread out for cap purposes over the two years of the contract), a workout bonus of $300,000, and a roster bonus of $3.5 million paid on the 15th day of the league year (which would typically fall on March 15th). Totaled up, that equals a cap hit of $5.25 million for 2012.

In 2013, he has a similar deal, just with an increase in base salary. He still has $500k applied for his signing bonus, the $300k workout bonus, and $3.5 million as a roster bonus on March 15th. However, his base salary jumps to $4.45 million, for a total cap hit of $8.75 million.

This is where it gets interesting. By applying that roster bonus on the 15th day of the league year, Ted Thompson has until March 14th to decide whether or not to bring Finley back; if the tight end is cut on or before that date, the only cap hit is the half-million from his signing bonus.

The question then becomes whether or not Finley is worth $8.25 million dollars. Looking over the list of tight ends sorted by their 2013 cap hit, there are some rather confusing trends. Zach Miller has the largest 2013 cap hit of anyone at the position, with $11 million, but he has only 63 catches for 629 yards and three scores in his past two years in Seattle (that's about comparable to Finley's production in 2012 alone). This is a contract though that is set up to be cut or renegotiated immediately; Miller's cap hit is due to a high base salary ($6.8 million) and a $3 million roster bonus, and at that level of production I can't see Seattle keeping him on that contract.

Let's keep looking down the list, since Miller is a bit of an aberration. Next on the list is Finley in second place, followed by Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, and Heath Miller. Let's break down their regular season stats (average per game played between 2009 and 2012) and cap hit for 2013:

Player Team Cap Hit Games Played Avg Receptions/game Avg Rec Yards/game Avg Rec TD/game
Jermichael Finley GB $8.75 M 50 3.8 48.2 0.32
Vernon Davis SF $8.74 M 64 3.8 50.3 0.48
Jason Witten DAL $8.0 M 64 5.9 62.7 0.30
Heath Miller PIT $7.96 M 61 3.9 45.0 0.30

I must say, I was actually very surprised by how well Finley compares in certain categories. I fully expected Davis and Witten to out-perform him across the board. Instead, Davis is a touchdown machine but has nearly identical reception and yardage totals; Witten is a catch and yardage monster but is comparable in touchdowns; and Miller is similar across the board.

Before I move on, I'll say that again: Jermichael Finley and Heath Miller are nearly identical receivers based on production. That's the most shocking comparison, in my opinion. Miller is a talented tight end, to be sure, but I tend to think of him more as a blocker in Pittsburgh's offense than a dynamic receiving weapon.

My overall takeaway from this analysis is that Finley is getting paid the same or slightly more money for equivalent or inferior receiving production and for certainly inferior blocking ability. In other words, his contract for 2013 is more than his performance over the past four years says he is worth. If he were being paid on his 2012 contract for this season, there's no question in my mind that he would be worth the money. Instead, it seems to me that he is being paid $2-3 million more than his production dictates.

Therefore, for as staunch a defender of Finley as I have been over the past few years, I think that Ted Thompson should reach out to the tight end and try to renegotiate his contract for a more appropriate cost; if he is unwilling, then taking the $8.25 million savings by cutting Finley would be worth the loss of his production.

What do you think?

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