Packers position outlook: Tight ends

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position look at what the Green Bay Packers have and what they need.

We can revisit this process before the draft based on what – if anything – general manager Ted Thompson does in free agency.

So far, we’ve looked at quarterbacks, running backs and receivers.

Next up, tight ends:

2014 free agents: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless.

The good: Finley was playing some of the best football of his six-year career before his season ended on Oct. 20, when he suffered a bruised spinal cord. He had 25 catches for 300 yards with three touchdowns in basically five games (he missed most of the Sept. 22 game against the Bengals because of a concussion). He was a tackle-breaking machine, and his run blocking was improved. Quarless had a couple of solid games -- back-to-back efforts with six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown late in the season against the Falcons and Cowboys -- but his season-long stats (32 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns) barely matched Finley’s five-game output.

The bad: The Packers’ offense wasn’t the same after Finley went down, and that wasn’t just because quarterback Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone two weeks later. The Packers missed the threat of Finley running down the seam and taking a safety away from one of the outside receivers. The athletic Brandon Bostick was just starting to show some of that big-play ability -- he had catches of 22, 26, 24 and 19 yards -- before he broke his foot in Week 15.

The money: Finley had the second-highest salary-cap number ($8.5 million) on the team last season, behind only Rodgers ($12 million), while Quarless was still on his rookie deal. Finley will want another big contract. Even if doctors clear Finley, who had spinal fusion surgery, there’s no guarantee the Packers will be willing to pay him again. The other three tight ends on the roster -- Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner -- all are under minimum deals.

Draft priority: Depending on what Thompson decides to do with Finley, this could rank among his biggest needs. Whether it’s Finley or someone else, tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said shortly after the season is over that his group needs someone to be the playmaker they lacked after Finley’s injury. Last month, ESPN’s Todd McShay had the Packers taking North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of his mock draftInsider.