Jermichael Finley (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today)
The Packers kept a key cog and the Bears got back into free agency Tuesday, joining a group of teams to get back in the free agent mix.
Jermichael Finley is ready for the increased expectations that are sure to come with his increased salary.
The Green Bay Packers opted to pay their mercurial tight end a $3 million roster bonus rather than cut him by 4 p.m. EDT Monday afternoon. Though Finley swears he wasn’t watching the clock, he took to Twitter shortly after the deadline passed, saying, “Ecstatic 2 b back w (at)packers. Best place on earth.”
“It’s a great opportunity to stay with a great organization and a great quarterback to move forward and win more championships,” Finley told the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel. “I’m ready to take my game to another level. Every player wants to achieve as much as possible. In my case, I want to get back to what I know and that’s playing great football.”
The Packers have long been enamored with Finley’s size — he’s 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds — speed and strength. Not only is he a big target for Aaron Rodgers, but he draws multiple defenders and can block just about anyone. He set a Packers record for receptions by a tight end last season, finishing with 61 catches for 676 yards and two touchdowns.
But there were some who wondered if his inconsistency early in the season made him expendable. Finley dropped numerous balls and complained about his role in the offense.
“I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player from the bye week on,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the Packers lost to San Francisco in the playoffs. “I feel very good about the way he finished the year. ... But we obviously have to look at the first half, too, and make sure that’s part of the evaluation because we’re all judged on 17 games.”
Despite his increased price tag — his salary this season will be $8.25 million — Finley’s youth and potential convinced the Packers he was worth keeping. Green Bay also couldn’t afford to let another big piece of their offense go, having already lost top receiver Greg Jennings to rival Minnesota and tight end Tom Crabtree to Tampa Bay.
“I love the expectations that I have to meet this year,” Finley said. “I have to make it happen.”
Finley, who turned 26 on Tuesday, told the Journal Sentinel he learned from last year’s up-and-down season. The approach he had in the second half of the season is the one he knows he’ll need to have in the future.
“It’s all about letting my play speak,” he said. “It’s all about letting my ability do its job. That’s what I’m going to do this year and I guarantee I’ll be relaxed and be the player I know I can be.”
BEARS SIGN CB
The Chicago Bears agreed to a one-year contract with veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden on Tuesday.
Hayden made two starts and played in 16 games last season for Chicago and led the league with four opponent fumble recoveries. He also recorded 40 tackles and an interception to go with three special-teams stops.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Hayden has started 49 of 101 games played for Indianapolis (2005-10), Atlanta (2011) and Chicago (2012). He has 345 tackles, 12 interceptions and three return touchdowns in his career.
BROWNS INK CAMPBELL
Brandon Weeden will have to fight off a proven veteran to keep his starting job with the Browns.
Cleveland signed free agent quarterback Jason Campbell to a two-year contract Tuesday night, bringing him in to provide competition for Weeden, who had an uneven rookie season in 2012.
Campbell has started 71 career games for Washington, Oakland and Chicago since being drafted by the Redskins in the first round (25th overall) in 2005. The 32-year-old will provide a legitimate challenge to Weeden, and his arrival could mean the Browns will part ways with former starter Colt McCoy.
“Jason is an established leader who has started a number of games in this league and has had success,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in a statement. “He brings us a veteran presence and a good set of physical tools. He played in a similar system when he was in Oakland and that will help in his transition.”
Campbell spent first five years with the Redskins, becoming one of four quarterbacks in franchise history to throw for 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He became the franchise leader in career completion percentage (61.2) and his passer rating of 82.3 was second-best in Washington history. He also set a team record by throwing 271 consecutive passes without an interception.
He was traded to Oakland before the 2010 season and spent two years with the Raiders, making 18 starts. He went 4-2 in the first six games of 2011 before breaking his collarbone and missing the final 10 games.
Campbell signed with the Bears as an unrestricted free agent in 2012 and served as Jay Cutler’s backup.
Cleveland’s new regime had indicated it would find a QB to push Weeden, who said during the offseason he was confident he would beat out any challenger in training camp.
Campbell is 30-41 as a starter. He has completed 1,328 of 2,182 career passes (61 percent) for 14,682 yards with 76 TDs, 52 interceptions and an 82.5 passer rating
“We are excited to have Jason as a member the Cleveland Browns,” team CEO Joe Banner said. “He is a veteran player who has been productive throughout his career and will be a good addition to our team.”
BARRON TO THE RAIDERS
Tackle Alex Barron signed a free-agent contract with the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday as he hopes to revive his career after sitting out the past two seasons.
Barron, a former first round pick by St. Louis in 2005, has started just one game since 2009. After playing sparingly in Dallas in 2010, Barron missed the entire 2011 season with New Orleans with a knee injury and was cut in training camp last summer by Seattle.
Barron said he is once again healthy and that time away from football only reinforced how much he wanted to continue to play the game.
“The love for the game is unmatched,” he said. “It’s almost equal to none. When you’re away from it, it takes out of you; it takes away from you.”
Oakland was one of the few teams to show interest in Barron this offseason as the Raiders look to bolster their offensive line as they shift from a zone blocking scheme to a power-based offense under line coach Tony Sparano.
Barron has experience playing both left and right tackle, although Jared Veldheer is entrenched on the left side in Oakland. The Raiders recently re-signed right tackle Khalif Barnes. Barnes also has some experience playing guard.
Barron is the first offensive addition made by the Raiders this offseason as general manager Reggie McKenzie has spent the opening weeks of free agency focusing on building up the defense.
“I felt like they had the most interest and the most belief and I went along with it,” Barron said. “I feel as though I can come in and help the team however it may be.”
Barron started 74 games in his first five seasons with the Rams after being drafted 19th overall out of Florida State. He struggled in St. Louis with 43 false starts, 13 holding penalties and 33 sacks allowed in his five seasons, according to STATS LLC.
He was traded to Dallas before the 2010 season but started just one game for the Cowboys.
VOLLMER REJOINS PATS
The New England Patriots have re-signed offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
The team announced the move on Tuesday but gave no details of the contract for Vollmer, who had been an unrestricted free agent.
Vollmer has started 44 of the 51 regular-season games he’s played and five postseason games since the Patriots drafted him in 2009 in the second round out of Houston with the 58th overall pick. He played 15 regular-season and two playoff games at right tackle last season, missed one game with a knee injury and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in February.
He played in 14 games as a rookie, splitting time between left and right tackle.