As we get closer to the draft each move the Green Bay Packers make will be scrutinized in order to predict what they may do in the draft. In the case of Jermichael Finley doing nothing is just as good as a move. Now that it looks like Finley is a Packer in 2013, and a rather well paid Packer, what does this mean for the Packers’ draft plans?
In all reality keeping Finley does not affect the draft much. Ted Thompson has often been a bit of a wild card in the draft. Some of his moves have been pretty predictable such as drafting a tackle in 2010 (Bryan Bulaga) and an outside linebacker in 2012 (Nick Perry). Sometimes the picks he makes come completely out of left field, Justin Harrell comes to mind when I think of this circumstance. Sometimes he trades down and picks up picks (see 2008), sometimes he makes the bold move up to get a player he really likes (Clay Matthews in 2009 and both of the Packers’ second round picks in 2012). The common thread through all of this is that Thompson tends to stick by his board and attempt to maximize his value to help the team as much as possible. This means that retaining Finley probably will not have much effect on the draft at all.
Finley affect on the draft is still an interesting issue to look at though because Finley’s role on the team highlights a tension between the long term and short term needs of the Packers. In the short term, Finley staying with the Packers means they are generally fine for offensive playmakers and targets for Aaron Rodgers. A receiving group of Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, and Finley should provide enough weapons for Rodgers to keep the offense moving along fine. In the long term though there are some real questions moving forward. Jones and Finley are in contract years and it is doubtful that the Packers retain both. Nelson and Jones are both in the thick of their prime and probably will not progress much more than what we see now. Cobb and Finley are only now starting to hit their true potential. The rest of the tight ends and wide receivers are probably not going to develop into more than role players. Putting this all together and it appears that adding more weapons would be a good idea. Finley has also been unreliable, and so getting a talented TE could be a difference maker for the Packers.
The resolution of this tension will turn on how you view a first round pick. Should these picks be used to fill immediate needs or the best long range prospect available? Those inclined to see a first round pick start and upgrade the Packers now will probably want the Packers to pick a defensive lineman or offensive lineman. Those who want to see a long term player will talk about "best player available" and want to see how the first round shakes out before judging who the Packers should take with the 26th pick. Neither of these viewpoints is wrong and it appears that the Thompson has used the first round pick in both ways during his time with the Packers. Aaron Rodgers was clearly a long range need in 2005 but Bulaga, Matthews, and B.J. Raji were expected to contribute as soon as possible.
The good news in all of this is that keeping Finley takes some pressure off of the first round, with Finley in the fold for 2013 the Packers do not have to reach for a player like Zach Ertz if Tyler Eifert is off the board. However, Finley’s struggles and inconsistencies have been prevalent enough that if Eifert slips to 26, it would not be a bad pick to spend and then address other needs the Packers have in the second or third rounds. Possessing this flexibility just before the draft is more than a luxury for the Packers; it is a strategic advantage and allows the team to make the shrew moves necessary to address the short and long term needs of the team. Remember it’s the teams that get desperate on draft that end up making the mistakes that set a franchise back.