Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
Jermichael Finley may not have been in the same category as Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but when healthy, he was easily in that second-tier of tight ends that could stretch the field.
Unfortunately for Finley, a spinal injury has clouded his future and must be treated with sensitivity. Further complicating matters is that he's scheduled to be a free agent in March, and it's not likely the Packers will have determined by then whether it's safe for him to return to play football or not.
After Finley went down, the Packers increased the role of Andrew Quarless, whose production increased as the season wore on. He's the classic in-line tight end capable of both receiving and blocking, but Quarless was just "middle of the road" in both facets of the game.
Perhaps being yet one more season removed from a gruesome knee injury originally suffered in 2011 will help Quarless regain some of the athleticism he lost.
Minus Finley, Brandon Bostick emerged as the team's best receiving threat at tight end, the type that could be split outside and create match-up problems for those covering him.
In limited playing time, Bostick showed promise, averaging 17.1 yards per catch, before his season was likewise ended by a foot injury.
Ryan Taylor provides depth but his calling card is special teams. And rookie Jake Stoneburner must show more than he did in his rookie campaign to stick around for another season.
Long-Range Free Agency Outlook
Jermichael Finley––It might be in bad taste to poke fun at at a player who suffered such a serious injury, but Finley saying he won't return to Green Bay at a discount is downright laughable.
For a player in his situation, there isn't a team in the NFL that's going to pay him in the range of $7 million per season he got from the Packers the past two seasons, at least with the next contract he signs.
The Packers erred on the side of caution with safety Nick Collins and could easily do the same with Finley.
And even if the free agent tight end does find a team willing to take the risk, it's perhaps likely Finley signs a short-term, prove-it contract before any team will be willing to make any significant investment in terms of both dollars and years.
The Packers might welcome Finley back for the right price if the doctors clear him to return, but they also aren't going to be rushed into such a decision.
Finley has the fallback option of receiving a $10 million in disability from an insurance policy if he can't play football again.
Andrew Quarless––Even though they're different types of tight ends, Quarless' value to the Packers might be tied to Finley.
If Finley signs elsewhere, the Packers might be more inclined to re-sign Quarless so they don't have to start from scratch at the tight end position.
Still, Quarless isn't above replacement value. If the Packers were to lose both Finley and Quarless, they'll likely be forced to look for a high-round replacement in the draft.
Long-Range NFL Draft Outlook
The Packers probably can't afford to assume Finley will play again, and even if he does, he may not be the same player he was before injury.
Taking that into account, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers spend a high-round draft choice on the new breed of tall, athletic tight ends to give Aaron Rodgers another toy to play with.
Eric Ebron of North Carolina, Jace Amaro of Texas Tech and Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington are almost unanimously considered the top three tight ends in this year's draft class and all figure to be off the board before the end of the second round.
There would appear to be a dropoff after the top three tight ends, and if the Packers don't get one, they'll probably have to decide how Quarless, Bostick and Stoneburner fit into their future plans in comparison to any rookies they may add.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "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.