By Bob Evans
As we creep closer and closer to the start of free agency next month, the Cleveland Browns will be looking to shore up major holes on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. While the majority of the focus lies on defense, as the team will be transitioning to the 3-4, there are still some holes that will need to be addressed on offense.
With starting tight end Benjamin Watson set to become a free agent at the age of 32, some people seem to think he may not be back with the Cleveland Browns next season. If the team does not want to bring him back—or is unable to sign him—they will need to target an experienced pass catcher to ease the transition for signal-caller Brandon Weeden into Norv Turner’s offense—one that calls for the tight end’s number to be called on a regular basis.
According to recent reports, a player that could be available is Green Bay Packers starting tight end Jermichael Finley.
Currently residing in the pass-happy attack of the Green Bay Packers, some viewed his 61 receptions, 667 yards and two touchdowns last season as a bit of a disappointment for the 25-year old. After racking up 55 receptions for 767 yards and eight touchdowns the year before, it seems the world was expected out of the product of Texas, despite playing in an offense where starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers spread the ball to five receivers or more on any given game.
Finley has been pretty productive during his five seasons in Green Bay, racking up 198 receptions for 2,485 yards and 17 touchdowns. After missing 11 games in 2010 with a knee injury, Finley has rebounded quite nicely to play in all 16 regular season games each of the last two seasons.
If the 6’5” and 247-pound red zone threat does hit the market, there will likely be quite the competition for his services. A number of teams like the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets and possibly the Atlanta Falcons, could all lose their starting tight ends on the free agent market. And with the evolution of importance of tight ends in offenses across the league over the past few seasons, a young, athletic player like Finley will be in high demand.
With that said, why would the Packers give up a player like Finley without receiving proper compensation? Because unfortunately the NFL is a business and not just a game, and cutting Finley prior to the March roster bonus deadline would save the Packers $8.25 million in 2013. In an offense which does not need to have a premier pass-catcher, paying a tight end that much and ignoring other needs on the roster does not make a lot of sense for a Super Bowl contender.
For a team like the Browns who will have around $40 million to spend in free agency and needs a go-to, veteran playmaker on their offense—the money would likely be well worth it.
Finley has already proven when he is targeted on a regular basis he can put up big-time numbers. As the Browns transition away from the West Coast Offense into the Air Coryell, Weeden will need a “safety net” on offense. And I don’t know about you, but at 6’5” and 247 pounds Finley would be the first “safety net” I would look for as a starting quarterback.
Obviously this is all pure speculation at this point, as there haven’t been any rumors of Finley and the Browns having any sort of connection. But if the Packers do decide to save money and part ways with Finley, the Browns will have quite the selling point with Turner and Chudzinski’s development of Antonio Gates into a future Hall of Famer on their resume.