Jermichael Finley has the potential to be the finest receiver to play for the Green Bay Packers since Sterling Sharpe. Yes, the former Texas star is talented enough to surpass Robert Brooks, Mark Chmura, Antonio Freeman and Donald Driver – and he could do it before his 25th birthday. That said, there’s something about Finley that makes me feel about the young man the way a linebacker or a safety must feel when asked to cover him down the seam. He scares the heck out of me.
Finley lasted until the third round of the ‘08 draft for two reasons – a slower than expected 40 time at the NFL Combine and concerns about his character. And while he was able to appease some scouts by running faster times at his pro day, there was nothing he could do about the other problem. He could only prove that perception wrong by doing things the right way in the NFL. Well, it’s been two years and it’s safe to say – at least away from the field – that Finley hasn’t done things the right way. From arriving late to meetings and blaming his quarterback for incomplete passes as a rookie to missing numerous curfews last season – including one the night before the playoff game against Arizona – the father of three has conducted himself too much like a child since arriving in Green Bay.
None of this is to suggest that Finley is a bad person or even a bad teammate. In actuality, he appears to be a gregarious 23-year-old who’s just taking a little longer to grow up than his coaches would like. But maybe the maturity process is finally taking place. The following is from a story by Greg A. Bedard in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “In the past two months, Finley has sat in front of [coach] Mike McCarthy, general manager Ted Thompson, vice president of football administration Russ Ball, director of player development Rob Davis and tight ends coach Ben McAdoo. To each of them, Finley has come clean about his missteps and professed his change in attitude.”
Sounds good. Assuming Finley does indeed change his ways off the field, there’s still one other thing that concerns me. Will he be able to keep his ego in check for the good of the team? The Packers have been blessed with incredibly unselfish receivers ever since Sharpe was forced to retire in 1994. Despite being selected to a combined seven Pro Bowls, consummate pros Brooks, Chmura, Freeman and Driver never demanded the ball during a game and rarely if ever complained afterward. That’s been the way in Green Bay ever since Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson started picking the players. Basically, it’s been NO DIVAS ALLOWED!
And while it’s too soon to call Finley a diva, he certainly has displayed many diva-ish traits over the past two years. Public cockiness, check. Blaming others for his shortcomings, check. Thinking he’s bigger than the team (i.e. arriving late to meetings and missing curfews), check. And now Finley has publicly stated his goals for the upcoming season. “I’m saying 100 balls and 1,300 yards,” he recently told Rob Reischel of the Journal Sentinel. “I’ve got a team goal and that’s win, win, win. But if I hit those numbers, that’s going to help us win for sure.” Hmmm. Yes, he talked about the team winning, but that came second. And while it’s probably unfair to criticize somebody due to the syntax of his sentences, we’d much rather have heard this from Finley: “I don’t care how many balls I catch, I know I’m going to get my chances, but bottom line is I want to win.” These words came from the mouth of perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
While there’s obviously a lot to like about Jermichael Finley, there’s also enough red flags to be concerned. It’s easy to use his age as an excuse, but the truth is, some players never grow up. And don’t you have to worry about a player who can’t – or more accurately won’t – follow the rules on the night before the biggest game of his life? And we haven’t even broached the subject of fame and fortune and how Finley will deal with those two things. Look, maybe he’ll be fine and someday I’ll look back on this post and laugh. But my gut tells me something else. Check back in a few years and we’ll see if I was prescient or just gassy.