Earlier in the offseason, on one of ESPN’s many shows dedicated to football, the topic being discussed was low-cost free agents that could make an impact for some cap-strapped teams. Go figure, one of the subjects was the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Focusing on the offensive side of the ball, the panel suggested that the Steelers could really be aided by the playmaking ability of tight end Jermichael Finley, whose team, the Green Bay Packers, defeated Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season while he was on injured reserve.
According to Boston Globe writer Ben Volin, as it turns out the Steelers are actually one of several teams monitoring Finley’s health process and are potentially interested in acquiring his services this season.
This is not surprising, given that the neurosurgeon who performed spinal fusion surgery on the tight end last year was none other than Joseph Maroon, one of the Steelers’ own team physicians. According to Maroon, Finley faces a “99.9%” chance that the fusion in his neck will fully heal.
Though Finley is not yet medically cleared, it would seem that the Steelers have an inside track to obtain critical medication information on his long-term prognosis, which could be an advantage in deciding whether or not to sign him.
A former third-round pick, Finley has flashed serious Pro Bowl potential as a receiving tight end. He had 21 receptions for over 300 yards in just five games in 2010 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He played in all 16 games the following season and approached 800 yards with eight touchdowns.
Finley will only turn 27 later this month. As long as his neck ultimately checks out, he could have an active market for his services. The bulk of those offers, however, will likely be of the one-year, low-salary variety, or highly incentivized to insulate the signing team from the risk of serious injury.
While the Steelers may have just re-upped their own Pro Bowl tight end, Heath Miller, for the next three seasons, the fact of the matter is that he isn’t getting any younger, or faster, for that matter. Meanwhile, Matt Spaeth will be turning 31 toward the end of November, and among third tight ends, there really isn’t anybody of note.
Finley’s receiving ability could add a new dimension to the tight end position, which hasn’t had a player with his athleticism in recent memory.
While he is almost strictly a pass-catching tight end, as an occasional option, he could be an asset to this offense by forcing defenses to account for him. He has a history of not playing up to his potential, but on a low-risk contract, he could potentially reap high rewards for his next team.