Green Bay Packers Jermichael Finley: The great TE that almost was


The Green Bay Packers and Jermichael Finley found each other at the right time. The role of the dominant “athlete” tight end was just coming into fashion in the NFL, and the 21-year old Texas Longhorns product was joining a young quarterback headed for greatness.

With a head coach that loved to incorporate the tight end in the offensive gameplan, Finley seemed destined for greatness himself. For a while, he was.

ALSO ON SPIN ZONE: Do any Packers crack the top-30 all-time defenders?

After a quiet rookie season, the third-round pick broke out in 2009 with 676 yards and five touchdowns in just 13 games. An injury would shorten his 2010 season as the Green Bay Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, but there he was again in 2011, hauling in 55 passes for 767 yards and eight scores. It’s no wonder that, given Finley’s magnificent combination of size and speed, coach Mike McCarthy designed an entire offense around him.

Then, on October 20th of 2013 in a game against the Cleveland Browns, came one of the scarier moments in recent Packers memory. Finley, laying motionless on the field.

Thankfully, Finley was able to make a mostly-full recovery after having surgery to have his C3 and C4 vertebrae fused, but despite his best efforts to break back in to the NFL, he was forced to announce his retirement earlier this week. With the vertebrae still not fully fused and a lingering spinal cord bruise, he had no choice.

“The bruise got smaller, but the fusion hadn’t connected,” he recently told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “They said if the bruise goes away completely, you can come back if it still hasn’t fused. And I was cool with that. Let’s try to get this bruise gone, but the bruise never went away. so I was like, there’s no reason to come back, plus I had nerve damage in my entire upper body.”

Being a man on the outside has also impacted the way in which Finley sees the game. From the ongoing dilemma of concussions in the NFL to a steady stream of season-ending injuries, he’s seeing what many of us are: violence.

Aug 17, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) completes a pass to Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (88) against the St. Louis Rams during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

“Just watching games, the game is getting violent,” Finley added. “Every week you see something. In high school, you see a kid dying in a football game. I see someone in the NFL getting another neck injury or an ACL. Outside looking in, it’s not all that it’s made it to be. We’re so locked in as football player, it started to become our reality in life.”

Now, Finley has an opportunity to focus on family, and tells Demovsky he plans to open a gym in Texas to help younger children achieve an active lifestyle. He and his agent had also taken out a $10 million insurance policy earlier in his career, a sum which would be paid to him if he suffered an injury that ended his playing days.

When we look past his fortunate recovery, which should remain the primary storyline, it’s still tempting to think of what could have been. Perhaps Finley would have become too expensive for the Packers, or his drops (which I always found exaggerated) could have continued to plague him.

I still believe, though, that the sky was the limit. His career did not pan out as planned, but in short bursts, he was one of the most talented tight ends to ever wear the green and gold.

Next: Lacy missing in action, is it more than an injury?

More from NFL Spin Zone