There has been a lot of talk recently about the status of former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. I say former because right now Finley is not a member of the Packers he is a free agent.
Certainly, Packer fans and many within the Packer organization would like to see Finley return to Green Bay in 2014. However, with each day that passes it appears less and less likely that Finley will be playing anywhere in 2014, let alone in Green Bay.
With that in mind, the biggest question that Green Bay has to answer is how is it going to replace Finley long-term. Last season, the Packers got by with Andrew Quarless at the tight end spot for the remainder of the season, then re-signed the former fifth-round draft pick for two more seasons as insurance in case Finley could not return.
That gives the Packers Quarless, Brandon Bostick and 2014 third-round pick Richard Rodgers to replace Finley, a 6-5, 240-pound matchup nightmare, who caught 25 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns in just six games last season.
When looking at it from that perspective it seems a little daunting. After all, those players cannot replace Finley. Quarless is the most complete tight end and can be a solid starter but Bostick and Rodgers pass-catching tight ends, which will contribute but won’t scare defenses like Finley can.
So the question remains, with the current state of their roster, how do the Packers go about replacing Finley? The answer lies with Davante Adams and Eddie Lacy.
I do not mean to confuse you. I am not advocating that Adams or Lacy start lining up at tight end. Replacing a difference-maker like Finley, requires other playmakers on offense to step up and that’s why I think Green Bay will look to use Adams to spread teams out with more four wide receiver sets, while also focusing more on a dominant running game headlined by Lacy.
The first thought that popped into my mind when Green Bay selected Adams in the second round of the 2014 Draft was that the four wide receiver set was about to see a big resurgence and if Finley doesn’t return in 2014, I fully expect that to be true.
When Finley was lost for the season in 2010 due to an injury, the Packers adjusted and started utilizing four wide receivers on a more frequent basis, with huge success. Now with Adams in the fold, along with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin, the Packers will have four very good receivers they can put on the field, which can help offset the loss of the Finley.
The spread set with four wide receivers can also help Lacy and the running game continue to improve in 2014. Part of what makes Lacy so special is that he can run the ball effectively out of a number of different sets; the I-formation, single-back, shotgun.
If the Packers do decide to use more four wide receiver sets in 2014, I would expect them to try to run the ball more out of the spread set. The math is simple, if Green Bay sends out four wide outs, defenses will be forced to answer with their nickel or dime defense, meaning only six or seven defenders in the box, which sets things up perfectly for Lacy to make them pay.
The tight end position has been an important part of the Packers’ offense under Mike McCarthy and it will continue to be in 2014. Quarless, Bostick and Rodgers are good enough to win with but when it comes to replacing Finley’s ability to create mismatches, the Packers will need to find other ways to exploit defenses and with current personnel in mind, a bigger emphasis on the spread offense seems a logical way to go.