On the surface, it may have been hard to understand why the Packers drafted tight end D.J. Williams in the fifth round of Saturday's Draft.
After all, the Packers seem pretty well stocked at the position with Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree all in the fold for next season.
But that's not the way the Packers operate. They draft the best available player regardless of position because it improves the overall depth of the team, creates competition and gives them insurance in case of injury.
The Packers weren't trying to send a message to Finley when they selected Williams on Sunday. General manager was just doing what's in the best interest of the franchise by putting together the best team possible.
That being said, Finley would be wise to have received an unspoken message: Stay healthy and be productive, because there are other talented tight ends on this team.
Finley enters the final year of his four-year contract signed as a rookie and will become a free agent after the 2011 season.
There's still a ton to play out on the labor front in the NFL. Finley might be restricted free agent unable to sign with other teams if they continue to operate under the 2010 rules of the league's collective bargaining agreement. Or he could be an unrestricted free agent open to shop his services to the highest bidder.
In Finley's three seasons with the Packers, he had a promising if nondescript rookie year, a breakout sophomore season that included some minor injuries and a fantastic start to his third season cut short by a torn meniscus in his knee.
When healthy, Finley can be––without a doubt––one of the best tight ends in the game and a weapon few other teams can match. But he can't be a factor on the sidelines.
Looking into the crystal ball, Finley figures to earn a fairly decent contract a year from now in free agency if he happens to be unrestricted. How long of a contract he gets, though, will depend upon his upcoming season goes.
If he happens to have a Pro Bowl-type of season in 2011, he's going to get huge money and become one of the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL. And even if he has another subpar season marred by injuries, there's still going to be at least one team in the NFL that will give him millions of dollars per year based upon potential alone.
Whether that team is the Packers or not, remains to be seen.
Green Bay seemingly finds themselves in the driver's seat no matter what Finley does in 2011.
Assuming Finley goes out and sets the world on fire this upcoming season, the Packers would probably be glad to make him one of the top-paid players at his position in the NFL. He'll still be able to test the waters of free agency if he's an unrestricted free agent, but Green Bay would probably make a very competitive offer.
Now let's throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing. Once again, depending upon the outcome of the current labor negotiations in the NFL, there may or may not be such things as franchise and transition tags a year from now.
Even if the Packers can't come to an arrangement with Finley, it's possible they'll still have the opportunity to place a franchise tag on him to keep him around for another season.
If Finley has a big season, he may not be happy with that possibility. He may not want to play under a one-year contract and could decide to hold out.
No matter, the Packers will say. We'll move on. We've got Quarless and Williams in our back pocket, and we'll be fine. If you want to sit out all season, feel free.
And even if Finley has another season cut short by injury in 2011, the Packers could still decide to place the franchise tag on him following the season. It would pay him a very lucrative contract––$5.9 million in 2010––but only for one year. Even if he's injury prone, at least the Packers wouldn't have to make a long-term investment in him. It would keep Finley hungry for one more year under their control.
Once again, all this assumes Finley will be an unrestricted free agent.
If he's restricted, he may have no other choice to play under a one-year tender offer from the Packers. Once again, Finley may not like that option, but he'll have little choice. He can refuse to sign his tender, but the Packers won't feel too bad with Quarless and Williams to fall back on.
What it all boils down to is if Finley has a healthy and productive season in 2011, he'll more than likely get the payday he wants.
But as for the Packers, they're set up for success––with Finley or without.
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