The future of Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley has been a matter of public discussion since December, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the team planned to part ways with him after the season. According to the report, salary cap considerations and a disappointing start in 2012 contributed to the Packers' thinking at the time.
Finley's $8.75 million cap number for 2013 has helped perpetuate the conversation, but we can say at least one thing for certain: Packers coach Mike McCarthy absolutely wants Finley back. If the team is truly having an internal conversation about Finley's future, it's clear where McCarthy stands.
Speaking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine, McCarthy reiterated his admiration for the way Finley finished the season as well as the matchup problems he poses for opponents. I guess it's possible the Packers are trying to drum up a trade market for Finley, which repeated public praise is sometimes designed to do, but for the moment I'm taking McCarthy's sentiments at face value.
"When you look at Jermichael," McCarthy said, "and you go on the other side of the ball or you talk to any of the defensive guys that played against him, he's a matchup challenge for defenses. I think his best routes are when we're attacking the middle of the field with him. I think he's unique that way. Big target, excellent in the red zone. I thought he played much better with the ball in his hand after the catch.
"I think it was clearly his best year, particularly on the two-yard drag routes and things like that. I was very pleased with the way Jermichael played there in the second half and he improved a number of different areas of his game."
McCarthy won't have the final decision in this case. General manager Ted Thompson will. And I wouldn't blame Thompson if he asks Finley to take a pay cut or otherwise renegotiate his contract. Finley is due to make $8.25 million in cash this season, and I'm not sure he would approach that salary on the free agent market.
In the end, however, Finley has the second-most powerful man in the organization squarely in his corner. That's a pretty good leverage chip. It doesn't necessarily guarantee his return, but if McCarthy has anything to say about it, he will.