INDIANAPOLIS––Due a roster bonus of $3 million at the start of the new league year in March, Jermichael Finley's status for 2013 with the Green Bay Packers will be determined in the next few weeks.
If the Packers keep Finley on their roster and pay his millions in bonus money, they'll be making a commitment to him for at least 2013 and perhaps beyond.
But with a salary-cap figure of $8.75 million next season, there's no guarantee Finley sticks around. They could attempt to trade him to another team for a draft choice, or barring that, they could simply release him and wipe his contract off the books.
Should the Packers decide to part ways with Finley, it will create a need for another big, receiving target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a need that would only be exacerbated if Greg Jennings were to leave in free agency.
Good thing for the Packers, they could have their pick of the litter at tight end when they're on the clock with the 26th pick in the first round in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert, who's in the running to be the No. 1 player at his position in this year's Draft class, wouldn't mind hauling in passes from Rodgers should fate have it that way.
"That'd be great," said Eifert at the NFL Combine. "Good quarterback up there. I'm just happy to go wherever they'll take me."
Eifert, along with Stanford's Zach Ertz, will be battling to become the first tight end taken off the board in the mid to late first round.
Their frames are very similar. Eifert is 6-5, 250 lbs. while Ertz is 6-5, 249 lbs., and both are very much in the mold of the new breed of NFL tight ends are tall, mobile and can be a downfield threat similar to Finley, the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham.
"Both those kids are talented," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock on a recent conference call. "Both those kids are what today's tight ends are all about, an ability to move around and do different things. They're both big enough to line up in-line if you asked them to."
Eifert was the 2012 John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end after hauling in 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns as a senior. Ertz's numbers actually bested Eifert with 69 receptions for 898 yards and six touchdowns this past season.
The concern with both of them, however, is that they're better known for their receiving than blocking. The question is, can they be a force at the point of attack or are they one-dimensional players?
"I think I can do both, to be honest," said Ertz. "At Stanford, we were a run-first offense. We started with the power running game, and I took a lot of pride in my run blocking. As a receiver, that stuff kind of came more naturally, but I look forward to doing both."
Stanford did their fair share of running the football with Stepfan Taylor in the backfield, but it was fellow tight end and Combine invitee Levine Toilolo who was used more often in the trenches while Ertz was flexed out.
If you were to ask Mayock who the better blocker is, he'd give the nod to Eifert who helped Notre Dame reach the national championship game this past season.
"It would be Eifert first, because I could line him up in-line, even though he's not a stone killer. Trust me, he's not," said Mayock. "But he can at least play leverage and block in-line. However, both of their strengths are getting down field and catching the football."
As far as the Combine workout went, Eifert had a better performance than Ertz in all but one of the seven measured drills (40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle). Ertz had 24 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press compared to Eifert's 22.
Otherwise, Eifert ranked in the top five among tight ends in every single drill, including the top three-cone drill time of 6.92 seconds. With numbers like that, he has a lot to offer NFL teams.
"My ability to catch the ball in traffic, make contested catches, get down the field and create mismatches, understand an offense, being able to be moved around in different positions," said Eifert of his strengths.
Those are all qualities Green Bay could use at tight end and things that could be missing from its offense if Finley departs.
San Diego State's Gavin Escobar will be in the mix as a first round tight end as well, and any one of them could land in Green Bay depending on what the Packers decide to do with the enigmatic Finley.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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