GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A large portion of the Green Bay Packers' offseason has been about deciding which players to pay (quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews) and whom to stand pat with (cornerback Sam Shields, nose tackle B.J. Raji.) Shields and Raji apparently have been tabled until 2014, where they could join perhaps the most enigmatic player on the team at another crowded negotiating table.
Tight end Jermichael Finley is in the second and final season of the two-year extension he signed in March 2012. His $8.25 million salary qualifies as the second-highest among NFL tight ends, setting up a considerable payday if he has the kind of season the Packers are hoping for. There is no way of knowing whether the Packers will step up financially or if they will allow him to depart via free agency, but one thing was clear this week at minicamp: Finley has complied with at least one request from the team moving forward.
Finley's offseason weight gain was noticeable even to a casual observer at practice this week -- and not in a bad way. After slimming down prior to the 2011 season, hoping to be used more as a receiver than a traditional tight end, Finley has re-packed the bulk onto his 6-foot-5 frame. No one was providing exact figures this week, but my educated guess is that Finley is now much closer to his listed weight of 247 pounds than he has been since 2010, when he was as low as 235 pounds.
"I think Jermichael looks excellent," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has put weight back on. He's back where I like to see him, the playing weight that he's playing with. He's stronger. He's playing with more confidence. … I really like the offseason that Jermichael has put together so far."
Finley will always be a better pass-catcher than a blocker, and to me it made sense for him to maximize his speed in the passing game with a presumably leaner body frame. But to be a long-term fixture at tight end, it's clear that McCarthy and the Packers wanted him closer to where he was in 2009 -- when he still caught 55 passes for 676 yards and five touchdowns.
Finley said he looked back at the earlier years in his career said "saw that I was playing well, moving well and my hand strength was pretty strong. I wasn't focused on it, but I felt good at it, so why not move up? I feel strong right now, healthy. I feel confident. I'm just excited."
NFL offseasons are filled with stories of players adding or dropping weight, believing it will help them get stronger or faster, respectively. (In some cases, of course, weight gain isn't intentional.) And truthfully, all Finley has done is get closer to where the rest of the NFL's tight ends already are.
In the NFC North, for example, consider that the Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew and the Chicago Bears' Martellus Bennett are both listed at 265 pounds. The Minnesota Vikings' Kyle Rudolph is listed at 258 pounds but is probably heavier than that now as he enters his third season.
Whether this leads to a monster season for Finley or puts him in better position to re-sign with the Packers long-term is unclear. What I think we can agree on, however, is there is nothing to worry about when a pass-catching tight end weighs around 250 pounds.