NFL Nation: Jermichael Finley

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Midway through training camp, Brandon Bostick looked like the Green Bay Packers' best chance to replicate what Jermichael Finley offered them at the tight end position.

Even if he did not win the starting job, Bostick had put himself in position to play a major role in an offense that thrives when it has an athletic player who can operate down the seam like Finley did before his neck injury last season.

So why hasn't Bostick played a single snap on offense yet when he seemingly offers an antidote to the ills of the Packers' passing game?

The leg injury he sustained Aug. 16 kept him out through Week 1 of the regular season, but that is no longer an issue. Bostick has taken his full workload on special teams in each of the last two games, and special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said there's nothing wrong with the way Bostick has run down the field on the coverage teams.

So it can't be the injury that has prevented coach Mike McCarthy from throwing Bostick into the game plan.

From the way offensive coordinator Tom Clements made it sound on Monday, Bostick's practice habits have not warranted playing time. When asked whether Bostick can elevate his play to match what it was in training camp, Clements said: "Sure, he can. It's just a matter of being consistent and getting back into the groove."

Meanwhile, the second-year pro waits his turn.

"I think it's kind of hard to play three tight ends," said Bostick, one of four tight ends on the roster. "You can't play three tight ends. It's whoever's hot right now."

The problem is, no one has been hot. Rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers has started every game but has been a nonfactor in the passing game (one target and no catches in three games) and is a liability as run blocker (see the safety play from Sunday's game), leaving the Packers perplexed about why Rodgers has not been able to carry over a relatively solid showing in training camp.

"Well, I'm not sure of the answer to that," Clements said.

We may already have seen the beginning of a reduced role for Rodgers. Andrew Quarless played nearly three times as many snaps as Rodgers in Sunday's loss to the Lions and caught four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, but he doesn't have Bostick's ability to stretch the field.

Perhaps Clements and McCarthy will give some of Rodgers' snaps to Bostick in Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

"I'm eager," Bostick said. "I'm just ready to get back to where I was before I left off, before I got injured."

With no reason to think Finley will walk back into the locker room given that Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie has not given him clearance to return, the Packers need someone from the tight end spot to take some of the defensive attention away from receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Aaron Rodgers has thrown the ball the way of his tight ends less than four times per game this season -- 3.7 times to be exact. That's nearly two-and-a-half targets fewer than his average of 6.1 throws to tight ends in the previous six seasons. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that tight ends had a large share of blocking assignments in the six quarters the Packers played Derek Sherrod at right tackle in place of the injured Bryan Bulaga. But with Bulaga back from his knee injury, that should not be necessary.

"They're always, for the most part, involved with the pass game," Nelson said of the tight ends. "Sometimes we'll keep them in for pass protection, but they're doing what they're being asked to do."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

September, 23, 2014
A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

Some of former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley's biggest games came against the Chicago Bears. There was Finley's nine-catch, 115-yard game in 2010 and his three-touchdown game in 2011.

But unless the Packers can find someone to replicate Finley's production, the Bears might not have to worry much about the tight ends during Sunday's game at Soldier Field.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown to his tight ends an average of just 3.7 times per game this season, which would rate as a career low. In his first six seasons as a starter, Rodgers averaged 6.1 attempts per game to his tight ends.

Rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers has started every game yet has been a nonfactor in the passing game, with only one ball thrown his way in three games. Although Andrew Quarless caught four passes for 43 yards (including a 10-yard touchdown) on Sunday against the Lions, he lacks the big-play explosiveness the Packers had with Finley, whose career remains on hold because of the neck injury he sustained last season.

The only way to replicate that might be to use Brandon Bostick, who is the closest thing the Packers have to Finley in terms of athleticism among their tight ends. But the coaches thus far have refused to give Bostick a chance. He was inactive for Week 1 while recovering from a preseason leg injury and played only on special teams the last two games. It might be time for the Packers to give Bostick a shot and see if he can help make something happen down the field like Finley often did.

Camp Confidential: Green Bay Packers

August, 12, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They're taking water breaks and serving snacks during training camp practices. They're using a GPS system to monitor players' movements.

They changed their practice plan, flip-flopping their Friday-Saturday in-season schedule, and even within those individual practices they moved drills that used to be at the beginning to the end, and vice versa.

All for one reason: To reduce the injuries that have befallen the Green Bay Packers in recent years.

And what good has it done?

They already have lost two players -- rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis and offensive lineman Don Barclay -- who almost certainly would have been on the opening day roster. Both suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments within the first two weeks of practice.

Some injuries -- no matter what the training staff does to keep players energized for practice and regardless of how coach Mike McCarthy designs his schedule -- just have to be chalked up to bad luck.

"Watch either one of those things as it happened, it wouldn't give any sort of indication that it was going to be a bad deal," Packers general manger Ted Thompson said. "It's just the way it turned out."

But so far in camp, the number of missed practices due to muscle or fatigue-related injuries has been low. A year after hamstring pulls were the order of camp, the only serious muscle pull in the first two weeks was an oblique strain suffered by starting strong safety Morgan Burnett.


[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsA rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers is showing no aftereffects -- so far -- of last season's broken collarbone.
1. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers turned 30 in December and is coming off the worst injury of his career (a broken collarbone), but you would never know it by watching him now. He has been humming along in training camp as well as he ever has. His command of the offense is so great that McCarthy has been able to cut several practices short because they have not been forced to repeat plays ruined by mental errors. Rodgers reported to camp about 11 pounds lighter than he was last season, thanks to a combination of workouts (which included yoga) and diet.

2. If there's such a thing as a distraction-free training camp, this has been it. They addressed their No. 1 contract concern by signing receiver Jordy Nelson to a four-year, $39 million extension on the morning camp opened. A few days later, they locked up Thompson with a multiyear extension and said McCarthy would be next. And perhaps they have finally put any bad vibes from Brett Favre behind them when they announced last week that their former quarterback will have his number retired next summer, when he also will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. All of that has allowed the team to focus on its preparation without anything getting in the way.

3. The biggest area of concern last year, the safety position, now may be one their strengths. Micah Hyde's switch from cornerback has gone better than expected, and first-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks game-ready. Then there's third-year safety Sean Richardson, who has made perhaps more big plays in practice than anyone on defense. If Burnett comes back soon from his oblique strain -- and finally starts to perform like the Pro Bowl-caliber player they thought he was when they gave him a four-year, $24.75 million extension last summer -- then there should not be any concerns.


1. The Packers still do not know -- and may not know for a while -- whether JC Tretter can handle the starting center job. After a rough start to training camp, the second-year pro seemed to settle into the position and was solid in the preseason opener. But given the opener is at the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in perhaps the loudest stadium in the league, there's probably nothing that can prepare Tretter for what he will have to deal with in Week 1.

2. As good as the Packers feel about Nelson, receiver Randall Cobb and running back Eddie Lacy, they don't have many other proven weapons for Rodgers. No one from the tight end group has emerged as the favorite to replace Jermichael Finley, although Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and rookie Richard Rodgers have had their moments (both good and bad). And among the receivers, Jarrett Boykin has been no better than average in his quest to replace James Jones as the No. 3 receiver. Every time it looks like rookie Davante Adams may take that job from Boykin, he drops a ball.

3. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews participated in every practice during the first two weeks but still is not ready to proclaim his twice-broken right thumb 100 percent. Perhaps it's more of a mental hurdle for Matthews, but he needs to be able to use his hand without restrictions in order to return to his Pro Bowl level. It's hard to tell if Matthews is babying the injury, but in the first two weeks of practice, he took only two reps in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill and lost both. He played a few snaps early in the preseason opener against the Titans and did not seem to have any issues.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Morry GashB.J. Raji, back at nose tackle after spending last season at defensive end, has had an impressive camp.

  • B.J. Raji looks re-energized after moving back to nose tackle. He signed just a one-year contract (worth $4 million) after the free-agent market proved soft, and might be motivated by another chance to test free agency next offseason.
  • Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is preparing second-year pro Datone Jones for a big role. Last year as a rookie, the first-round pick played almost exclusively in the sub packages and hardly ever played in the base 3-4 defense. Now, Jones has been penciled in as a starting defensive end while also playing as an inside rusher in the nickel and dime defenses.
  • If there's a high draft pick who might struggle to get on the field early in the season, it's perhaps third-round defensive tackle Khyri Thornton. Much like defensive end Josh Boyd last season, Thornton might not be ready for playing time from the get-go. Last season, Boyd was inactive for the first five games and seven of the first nine before he found a role.
  • The same could be said for fourth-round pick Carl Bradford. The outside linebacker from Arizona State has struggled to make many impact plays.
  • Last year, safety Chris Banjo was signed a few days into training camp and made the team. Receiver Gerrard Sheppard has a chance to do something similar. He was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens five days after camp opened and has made some impressive catches.
Jermichael FinleyJeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsFree-agent tight end Jermichael Finley has not played since he sustained a bruised spinal cord on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Nothing has changed between the Green Bay Packers and free-agent tight end Jermichael Finley, who is attempting to continue his career following neck fusion surgery last fall, but he is scheduled to meet with team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie for the second time in the last seven weeks.

That meeting will take place today, according to

Perhaps that's why Finley tweeted the following on Thursday morning:

However, an NFL source told that Finley's tweet did not mean the Packers had cleared Finley medically or were in negotiations with him. The source said "there’s nothing going on" with Finley and the Packers in terms of contract talks.

Finley last met with the Packers' medical staff on May 28 in what was described at the time by a source close to the situation as “a formality” because Finley had not checked in with the Packers recently.

According to USA Today, Finley was expected to undergo more tests this week. It is possible Finley's meeting with McKenzie is to review those results.

Finley, 27, has not played since he sustained a bruised spinal cord on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns. That injury left him momentarily without movement or feeling in his extremities. Finley underwent surgery on Nov. 14 to fuse together the C-3 and C-4 vertebrae in his neck. That was the same fusion that former Packers safety Nick Collins had following his 2011 neck injury. The Packers released Collins the following offseason because their doctors, including McKenzie, did not believe it was safe for him to continue his career. Collins has not played since.

The surgeon who performed Finley's fusion, Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers' doctor, has reportedly cleared Finley for football activities. Since becoming a free agent in March, Finley also has visited the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, but neither team offered him a contract.

However, according to USA Today, the Steelers offered Finley a contract that he said included "money [that] ain't what it's supposed to be."

Finley, who completed a two-year, $14 million contract, has a disability insurance policy that could pay him $10 million tax free if he is unable to resume his career.

The Packers don't have a clear-cut starter if Finley does not return. However, rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers was impressive enough during the offseason practices that he is a strong candidate for the job.

Camp preview: Green Bay Packers

July, 17, 2014
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Rob Demovsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Green Bay Packers heading into training camp:

Replacing Finley: The longer tight end Jermichael Finley remains unsigned, the more likely it appears his time in Green Bay -- and perhaps in the NFL -- is over, despite his desire to continue to play. The team's reluctance to clear Finley after last season's neck injury falls in line with its philosophy on similar injuries. Just last month, it cut ties with another player who suffered a neck injury last season, running back Johnathan Franklin. The Packers re-signed Andrew Quarless to a two-year, $3 million contract in March, but that's hardly starter's money. The door is open for rookie third-round draft pick Richard Rodgers, who performed well enough during the organized team activities and minicamp practices (which Quarless missed because of injury) to move into the starting spot. Rodgers has the kind of dynamic athletic ability that Finley brought to the position. The wild card there is Colt Lyerla, the undrafted but talented rookie from Oregon. Had Lyerla not left the Ducks' program and run into trouble subsequently last year, he might have been a high draft pick. The Packers also will have to assess whether Brandon Bostick can make a bigger impact than he did last season.

The safeties: We know the Packers used their first-round pick on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Now what? It's time to see whether the former Alabama standout can make an immediate impact. One thing was clear based on the offseason practices: Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is not going to hand the rookie a starting job. Unlike Morgan Burnett, who lined up as a starting safety from his first practice as a rookie in 2010, Clinton-Dix played mostly with the second-string defense in OTAs and minicamp. At some point, perhaps even when training camp opens, Capers will insert Clinton-Dix with the starters, and he may never relinquish that role. But the Packers believe they have options in case Clinton-Dix is not ready to start from the outset. Converted cornerback Micah Hyde took almost all of the reps alongside Burnett with the No. 1 defense this offseason, and coach Mike McCarthy would like to get Hyde on the field more often than just sub packages. Using him at safety, at the very least in the base defense, would be one way to accomplish that. The Packers also like third-year pro Sean Richardson, who has shown some playmaking ability.

Capers on the hot seat: With so much of the offseason focus on improving the defense -- from tweaks to the scheme, to changes on the coaching staff, to the addition of high-priced free-agent pass-rusher Julius Peppers, to another first-round pick on that side of the ball -- it's worth wondering what might happen if none of that equates to significant improvement on Capers' side of the ball. McCarthy spent more time than usual this offseason working with Capers on changes to the scheme. At the very least, that was an indication McCarthy was not happy with the direction the defense was headed, although it was not problematic enough for McCarthy to make a change at the position. He trusts Capers and his scheme, but clearly there were issues that troubled him. The Packers slipped from 11th overall in yards allowed in 2012 to 25th last season. Injuries hit Capers' unit hard last season, but McCarthy is not willing to use that as an excuse. Rather, he charged Capers with adjusting his scheme so that it will be more adaptable to plugging in players if injuries strike again.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Just about every time Aaron Rodgers stepped on the field in 2011, the Green Bay Packers were a threat to score.

On the way to winning his first -- and to date only -- MVP award, Rodgers set the NFL record for passer rating (122.5) and set franchise records for touchdown passes (45), passing yards (4,643), completion percentage (68.3) and yards per attempt (9.25), among others.

And he did it in 15 games, resting in the season finale against the Detroit Lions to prepare for the playoffs.

As a team, the Packers set club records for points in a season (560), yards (6,482) and passing yards (5,161 gross and 4,924 net).

But you knew all that already.

What you want to know is whether Rodgers and the Packers' offense can ever be that explosive again?

To answer that question, first it is necessary to understand why the 2011 offense was so unstoppable.

"I think our personnel was so good and our confidence was so high, and teams hadn't quite adjusted to what we were doing," Rodgers said in an interview last week. "They were still giving us a lot of one-high [safety] rotation defense because they were worried about [running back] Ryan Grant, and they were worried about us controlling the football the way we liked to.

"And because of that, we had so many one-on-one matchups for [receivers] Jordy [Nelson] and for Greg [Jennings] and for James Jones and [tight end] Jermichael [Finley], and that just allowed us to really be dynamic on defense. At the same time, our defense was giving up some points as well, so we had a lot of opportunities so we put up a lot of yards and a lot of points."

Another productive running back, reigning offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy, could force defenses to play the Packers like they did in 2011, when they had to respect both the run and the pass.

"I think there's a chance, but I think that you're still going to see, other than the first game because Seattle is going to play a lot of one-high like they always do, Eddie is going to get a lot of respect this year," Rodgers said. "But I think he's still going to get an opportunity to prove that he can do it again."

Coming tomorrow: Rodgers on relationships with his coaches.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The last day of minicamp typically has a last-day-of-school feeling, with players eager to begin their summer break, but spirits were dampened in the Green Bay Packers' locker room on Thursday after receiving word that running back Johnathan Franklin's neck injury will end his career with the team and most likely in the NFL.

At one end of the locker room was fellow running back DuJuan Harris, whose only concern for Franklin was his future health.

"It's not about football; it's way beyond football," Harris said. "Damn football. This is his life. I'm not thinking about football."

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Franklin
AP Photo/Morry GashRunning back Johnathan Franklin had 19 carries for 107 yards and one touchdown last season.
At the other end of the locker room was defensive end Datone Jones. No one with the Packers goes back further with Franklin than Jones. They grew up near each other in Los Angeles and committed to UCLA on the same day.

"To see him work so hard to actually make his dream come true and make it to the NFL, man, it's tough to see it end this way, because I knew how hard he worked," Jones said. "He's a special guy. He was a special guy at UCLA, and not only on the field but off the field. He was very involved off the field. One thing I do know: he has a calling outside of football to lift people and bring people's spirits up. Hopefully he can pursue his dream to become the mayor of L.A."

In the middle of the room was running back Eddie Lacy, Franklin's roommate in training camp last season. The Packers picked Lacy and Franklin in the same draft last year, two rounds apart. The two expected to be tied together for years to come.

"He shot everybody in the running back group a text, and it just makes you cherish the moments that you get to play," Lacy said. "We came in together. We got to know each other real good and we spent a lot of time together. He was just starting [his career], and just like that, as fast as you get it, it can be taken away. But from talking to him and still being around him, he has a great personality. He's going to be down a little bit, but that's just any player. He's definitely going to remain positive and keep his faith, so I know no matter what he does after this, he's going to give his all and his personality is great."

Franklin was one of three Packers' players to suffer a serious neck injury last season. The other two players -- tight end Jermichael Finley and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly -- are currently out of football.

Since 2000, the Packers have had at least nine players suffer significant neck injuries. Of that group -- safety Gary Berry, receiver Terrence Murphy, offensive lineman Tony Palmer, defensive end/outside linebacker Jeremy Thompson, safety Nick Collins, safety Sean Richardson, Finley, Jolly and Franklin -- only Richardson has returned to play.

Like Franklin, Murphy, a second-round pick in 2005, suffered a neck injury as a rookie.

Franklin missed the entire offseason program and did not attend the final minicamp practice.

Word that the Packers were concerned that Franklin would not be able to return first came on Wednesday, when two sources told that Franklin's football future was in jeopardy.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers knows what he would do if he were Jermichael Finley.

And the Green Bay Packers quarterback believes most NFL players would do the same thing.

"I would want to play until they told me I couldn't play anymore," Rodgers said Monday during a wide-ranging interview. "He's younger than I am, and we're competitors. We have to be in our arena doing what we love to do, so it would be near impossible to keep me off the field. I'm sure he feels the same."

Rodgers said he has been in semi-regular contact with Finley throughout the tight end's recovery from neck fusion surgery. He said he does not know what doctors have told Finley, but he knows his former teammate wants to keep playing. Finley, who is a free agent, still has his nameplate above his locker at Lambeau Field.

"I've talked to him about him and his psyche," Rodgers said. "I haven't talked to him about his specific injury."

Finley underwent surgery in November to fuse his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae after he sustained a spinal cord contusion during an Oct. 20 game against the Cleveland Browns. Finley sustained a hit that left him momentarily motionless and without feeling in some of his extremities. The Packers placed him on injured reserve on Nov. 5.

Finley met with the Packers' doctors late last month in Green Bay but has not yet received medical clearance from the team to continue his playing career.

However, Dr. James Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers doctor who performed Finley’s surgery, reportedly gave Finley clearance shortly before he visited the New England Patriots last month.

Finley has a $10 million disability insurance policy that he might be able to collect if he does not return to football, but Rodgers, like most people, believes Finley's first choice is to play again.

"Yeah, just follow him on Twitter, you'll know what he's thinking," Rodgers said.

On his Twitter account, Finley regularly uses the hashtag #IWillRiseAgain.

"My understanding is he's in great shape and he's doing everything he can," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said shortly after Finley's most recent visit to Green Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can sense a change in Aaron Rodgers even after spending just 30 minutes with the Green Bay Packers quarterback in a small room adjacent to the Lambeau Field locker room.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsGreen Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, seen here in February, appears to be more relaxed now than in offseasons past.
Maybe it's because he turned 30 in December.

Or because he missed nearly half of last season due to a freak collarbone injury.

Or because he's found happiness in a new relationship.

Whatever prompted the change -- subtle as it may be -- Rodgers appears to be in a better place with the celebrity that comes from being one of the NFL's most recognizable players.

Asked what prompted the change, Rodgers said: "Just thinking about what's really important and what to spend energy thinking about. I'm tired of worrying about what other people think of me or my relationships."

Wearing a Milwaukee Bucks T-shirt -- but not discussing his reported interest in becoming an investor in the team -- Rodgers appeared at ease Monday during a lengthy interview on the eve of the team's mandatory minicamp.

Of course, it's easy to relax in June, when there are only three days of work left in the offseason before the month-long break that precedes training camp.

"You're not thinking about going home and studying film," Rodgers said.

But it appears to be more than that.

Rodgers showed little or no reluctance to answer questions, other than about his possible business interest in the Bucks.

"I do love the Bucks, though," Rodgers said with smile.

And he did not appear to be as guarded as perhaps he has been at other times in his career.

We will bring you some of Rodgers' comments in a series of posts over the next several days and weeks, but it has to be a good sign for the Packers that their most important player appears to be in a good frame of mind heading into the season.

Among the things he discussed were what he likes about this team, what he would do if he were in tight end Jermichael Finley's shoes, how the offense might be different this season and a sit-down he would like to have with both Brett Favre and Bart Starr together.

Back to the more relaxed Rodgers for a moment. For the record, he said he did not know he and girlfriend Olivia Munn were being photographed when they shared a public embrace recently.

"But," he said, "I'm not going to let that stuff bother me in ways that it used to."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Richard Rodgers stood in the Green Bay Packers' locker room on Tuesday with his iPad clutched in his left hand.

He was headed to a meeting to watch film of that day's organized team activity with his position coach, Jerry Fontenot, and the rest of the tight ends.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
Mike Roemer/AP PhotoCoach Mike McCarthy says rookie tight end Richard Rodgers is "off to a very good start" in Packers' organized team activities.
But when that meeting was over, he planned to power on his team-issued tablet and watch more film -- not of anything he has done since the Packers picked him in the third round of last month's draft, but of what the tight end is supposed to look like in the Packers' offense.

To do that, he planned to roll video of plays from last season before tight end Jermichael Finley sustained his season-ending (and possibly career-ending) neck injury.

"He makes plays, catches the ball, makes moves in space and that's really what you want to do as a tight end," Rodgers said of Finley. "You want to get the ball and make plays and break tackles, and that's exactly what he does."

Finley's uncertain future -- he remains available on the free-agent market while teams try to figure out whether it is safe for him to play football game -- casts a shadow over the Packers. His nameplate still sits atop his locker at Lambeau Field, although the locker itself is empty.

For now, Rodgers is among seven tight ends on the roster. Combined, they have four career touchdown catches, or 16 fewer than Finley (who has 13 in his 2 1/2 seasons).

"I'm not really worried about what's going on over there," Rodgers said as he glanced toward Finley's locker. "I just try to focus on what I'm doing and learning my stuff and not making mental errors on the field."

So far, Rodgers has done that perhaps better than any of the rookies in the Packers' draft class. In Tuesday's OTA, he made one of the most memorable plays of OTAs when he snagged a one-handed catch on a deep ball that fluttered, perhaps because it was slightly tipped, from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien.

It was an example of what the Packers saw from the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Rodgers last season at Cal, when he played receiver after the Bears' new coaching staff removed the traditional tight end from the offense.

"I just think he's a natural in space," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm excited to see him when we get into the in-line work into training camp, but as far as all of the movement, playing in space, picking up the scheme, I think Richard's off to a very good start."

Much like Finley, there are questions about Rodgers' blocking that he hopes to answer when the pads go on in training camp.

But so far, it appears those who thought the Packers reached for Rodgers at No. 98 overall might have been wrong.

"He's made a lot of plays," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Tuesday's practice. "Matt [Flynn] and I were just talking about it, how when we made the pick some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick, [where] they had him as far as a grade, which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability, especially some of the plays he made today.

“Again, it's helmet and shorts, but you have to be excited about his body type and the hands. He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player.”

Whether it’s Rodgers or another tight end (perhaps Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick or rookie Colt Lyerla) the Packers need more from the position than what they got after Finley's injury.

When asked whether he can give the Packers that, young Rodgers said: "I hope so."

I like a philosophical debate as much as the next pseudo-wannabe intellectual. So I was ready to dive headfirst into the Jermichael Finley dilemma, the one that asks us to choose between two fraught options: Finley's $10 million disability insurance policy or his fervent desire to continue playing.

Should he take the payday, retire at age 27 and preserve his current health? Or should he tempt fate by feeding his love for the game, perhaps earning a more conventional financial reward in the future?

Alas, it's fair to wonder if Finley -- the free-agent tight end who suffered a severe neck injury last season -- truly faces a choice here. I reached out to a few experts in this field, and as best as I can navigate the insurance labyrinth, it appears Finley would need to retire before receiving an offer to make a good argument for a disability claim. Even then, however, he could face a fight with his insurer.

"The answers always lie in the specific language of the policy, which we haven't seen," Atlanta insurance attorney Jeffrey D. Diamond said. "But I've been in this business for 35 years, and in my experience, there are usually conditions in these policies that prevent any kind of end around."

For me, this issue falls back on a basic and intuitive question: How could an employee claim disability if he turns down an offer to work, which in this case would come in conjunction with an employer's medical clearance? An insurance company hoping to avoid a $10 million payout almost certainly would use an NFL contract offer as proof of work competency, wouldn't it?

Finley has put himself in position to seek offers, having visited in March with the Seattle Seahawks, checked in with the incumbent Green Bay Packers last week and most recently met with New England Patriots officials. His personal doctor has cleared him for full contact, and his agent appeared to be open for business during an appearance last week on "PFT Live."

Finley doesn't have much leverage in negotiations, given the risk and potential liability involved with signing a player who suffered a bruised spinal cord and required fusion of the C-3 and C-4 vertebras. Thus the philosophical conundrum: If offered, say, a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum of $730,000, should he take it for the "love of the game" or fall back on the promise of a $10 million tax-free claim?

[+] EnlargeJermichael Finley
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesJermichael Finley sustained a bruised spinal cord after taking a hit last season against Cleveland.
Jeffrey Joy, a vocational rehabilitation consultant based in Connecticut, said disability claims are often won by employees who have been offered a job. Typically in those cases, Joy said, the offer is not comparable to the previous employment -- a former manager offered assembly-line work after a mental illness, for example. That circumstance wouldn't seem to apply for Finley, whose only offer would be for the same job -- an NFL tight end -- that he previously held.

In his PFT interview last week, agent Blake Baratz said Finley has a "very sound argument to collect on his disability claim" if "he shuts it down permanently right now" -- ostensibly after trying and failing to secure a contract. Presumably pointing to the possibility of a future offer, Baratz also said: "Three weeks from now, or six weeks from now, or nine weeks from now or if he plays in 'X' number of games, it's a completely different story."

In other words, according to Diamond, it's likely one or the other but not an either-or situation.

"I haven't seen his policy, but it's hard for me to believe he will have that choice," said Diamond, who also teaches law at Georgia State University and Atlanta's John Marshall Law School. "I have to believe it's not that simple, that there are some conditions or exclusions. That's how these things usually work."

(I reached out to Baratz but have not yet heard back.)

According to Joy, the typical practice in such cases is to conclude that a person is not legally disabled if two or more medical sources conclude he or she has the capacity to work at his previous level. In this case, the implicit conclusion would come from two contract offers.

Even if Finley retires without an offer, Diamond said, he faces a fight to collect.

"This is a whole world that most people really don't know about," he said. "Insurance companies use the claims process to make money. They try to pay lower claims, deny claims, accuse people of insurance fraud. There are all sorts of things that go on that the public doesn't really know about.

"It's ignorant, or in good faith I'll say nave, to think you can simply cash in a disability claim if he doesn't make a team. His reasons will be subject to scrutiny, and they'll look for any reason other than the fact that he has an injury.

"My experience in this business is that insurance companies don't say, 'Oh, you didn't get an offer from the Seahawks, we're sorry, we'll pay your $10 million today.' That doesn't happen. With something of this size, they'll fight tooth and nail."

The point here is not to burst Finley's bubble or discredit his smart decision to seek out disability insurance while playing such a violent game. Rather, it's to inject a dose of reality into what is a difficult matter. Life, as they say, takes place not in the black or white but in the gray area. At the moment, Jermichael Finley is smack in the middle of it.
There's another potential suitor for tight end Jermichael Finley, but it's with the same caveat as there is with the Green Bay Packers.

Everything hinges on Finley's surgically repaired neck.

The free-agent tight end visited the New England Patriots last Friday, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan. The trip to Foxborough came less than a week after Finley was in Green Bay to check in with the Packers' team doctors.

Finley has reportedly been cleared by the doctor who performed his neck fusion surgery, Dr. Joseph Maroon. But the Packers' doctors did not put Finley through the full battery of tests that would need to be done in order to clear him to return to the team.

Last week, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick, one of Finley's closest former teammates, said he believes Finley will play in the NFL again but was not sure whether it would be in Green Bay.

Finley bruised his spinal cord -- an injury that left him briefly without movement and feeling -- after taking a hit in the Oct. 20 game against the Cleveland Browns. He has not played since. Less than a month later, he had his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae fused together.

He was in the final season of a two-year, $14 million contract when he was injured. As an unrestricted free agent, he is allowed to visit and be examined by any team.

The Patriots' interest in Finley makes sense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off ACL reconstruction. The other tight ends on their roster are former Packers draft pick D.J. Williams, Michael Hoomanawanui and rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers tight end Brandon Bostick has little doubt in his mind that Jermichael Finley will play in the NFL again.

He just doesn't know whether it will be for the Packers.

Bostick, perhaps Finley's closest friend among his former Packers teammates, has been in regular contact with Finley. Bostick spoke with Finley as recently as Wednesday, when Finley had a checkup with the Packers' medical staff, and was elated to hear on Thursday that Finley had reportedly been cleared by the surgeon -- Dr. Joseph Maroon -- who performed the neck fusion surgery Finley underwent last November.

Finley’s agent, Blake Baratz, did not return messages left on Thursday, but he told Pro Football Talk that Maroon has given Finley "full medical clearance."

"He just told me he's trying to get healthy, and then this came out today," Bostick said. "I'm just proud of him. It's been a long wait for him. Now he's just trying to get in somewhere. I think he'll be back. I don't know what team or if it will be here.”

Finley's meeting with the Packers on Wednesday did not include full-blown tests on his neck. Rather, it was just to check in with the team doctors because he had not seen them in a while. Until Finley receives clearance from the Packers, they won't begin any discussions about a possible return. The Packers would not clear former safety Nick Collins, who like Finley had his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae fused following a neck injury in 2011. Collins has not played in the NFL since.

"It's up to our medical staff," Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "Those are the guys that we trust and we listen to."

As a free agent, Finley is free to have other teams put him through medical exams.

"As far as Jermichael personally, I know he was in town," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I did not personally see him. I have not had any recent conversations with our medical staff about him. My understanding is he's in great shape, and he's doing everything he can."

Fontenot also has kept in contact with Finley but, like McCarthy, did not see him during his most recent visit.

"Nothing would please me more than to be able to welcome Jermichael Finley as a member of the Green Bay Packers again," Fontenot said. "Again, that's a decision that unfortunately isn't going to be made by any coaching staffs. It's going to be a medical decision, ultimately. So whatever they say, we move with. Sure, I'd love to see him back but not at the expense of him possibly further injuring himself."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Tight end Jermichael Finley is scheduled to meet with the Green Bay Packers' team doctors on Wednesday, but it is not an indication that he is on the verge receiving medical clearance or signing a new contract.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Finley had previous plans to travel to Green Bay with his family, and while in town will check in with Dr. Pat McKenzie and the team's medical staff because he has not seen them recently.

"It's a formality, no testing," the source said. "Nothing more, nothing less."

[+] EnlargeJermichael Finley
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPackers tight end Jermichael Finley had surgery
in November to fuse two vertebrae in his neck.
Finley is 6 months removed from surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck following his season-ending spinal cord contusion against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 20. The injury left Finley momentarily without movement or feeling. He quickly regained both, but spent several days in an area hospital.

All along, he has expressed a desire to continue his career.

That is why, on Nov. 14, he had the C-3 and C-4 vertebrae in his neck fused. It is the same fusion that former Packers safety Nick Collins had following his 2011 neck injury, and he has not played since. The Packers released Collins the next spring, saying they did not believe it was safe for him to continue playing.

Finley, who has played his entire six-year NFL career with the Packers, is a free agent. Shortly after free agency opened in March, he visited the Seattle Seahawks but did not receive medical clearance from their doctors.

It’s unknown if his own surgeon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, has given him the OK to resume football activities yet. Even if Maroon does so, it does not mean other NFL teams will share his opinion.

The Packers reported for organized team activities on Wednesday. The first day of OTAs typically includes physical exams for the players, which means the team doctors already were scheduled to be at Lambeau Field.

Even if Finley gets a good report, a signing could be days or weeks away. Packers general manager Ted Thompson and his staff are in Florida this week for their scouting annual meetings.

The Packers have a crowded tight end group, but no proven playmaker like Finley. They re-signed Andrew Quarless in free agency and drafted Cal's Richard Rodgers in the third round. They also signed undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla, a talented but troubled prospect who left the Oregon football team last fall.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson, as conservative as he may be in many aspects during his tenure as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, believes in second chances.

He showed that when he signed troubled receiver Koren Robinson in 2006 after Robinson ran into personal and legal trouble and was cut by the Minnesota Vikings. Thompson showed it again last season when he brought back defensive tackle Johnny Jolly after Jolly had been away from the Packers for three years while serving prison time and an NFL suspension for drug possession and use.

So his decision to give another chance to talented tight end Colt Lyerla -- the former Oregon tight end who went undrafted and unsigned during the initial wave of rookie free agency but signed with the Packers on Monday after a weekend tryout -- should not come as a surprise.

"We have always believed that, or I have always believed that, there are certain things that people can atone for, acknowledge their mistakes and get on with their lives," Thompson said last weekend during the Packers' rookie orientation camp. "And I am a proponent of those kind of people that try to do that. And that's where we're at with Colt."

Thompson and his staff no doubt spent hours looking into Lyerla's issues -- from his controversial tweets in which he suggested that the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a government conspiracy to his premature departure from the Oregon football team to his arrest for possession of cocaine -- and believed, like Robinson and Jolly before him, that Lyerla would be able to function in the Packers' system.

And he surely received assurance from Lyerla's camp that he has learned from his mistakes

"He is a first-round talent, and he will be a great young man in Green Bay," Lyerla's agent, Vinnie Porter, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "He has turned the corner and will make this situation a great one."

It doesn't hurt that Lyerla plays a position that ranked as one of the team's greatest needs going into the offseason. With Jermichael Finley's medical and contractual status still up in the air and no one with a lock on the starting job despite the fact that the Packers re-signed Andrew Quarless and drafted Cal's Richard Rodgers in the third round, it's easy to see why Thompson decided to sign Lyerla.

From a financial standpoint, there's zero risk involved. Tryout players who receive contract offers almost never get a signing bonus and, like the other undrafted rookies, they earn their minimum base salary only if they are on the 53-man roster. So consider this an extended tryout for Lyeria, a talented player who, at least in Thompson's eyes, deserved a chance.



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