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Have Packers warmed to keeping Jermichael Finley?

Jermichael Finley's ugly first act to this season all but guaranteed the Green Bay Packers would pass on the frustrating tight end heading into 2013.

Finley's looming $8.25 million price tag for next season didn't line up with his early scattershot play in 2012. The 25-year-old surged down the stretch, however, hauling in 32 passes for 391 yards during the final seven games. That production has Packers coach Mike McCarthy thinking optimistically about keeping Finley around.

"I really felt Jermichael Finley was a different man, a different player from the bye week on," McCarthy said Tuesday, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I had an opportunity to talk to him about that at length in his exit interview, so I feel very good about the way he finished the year. He did some good things Saturday night (in the divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers). There was a change in that young man."

Finley still hasn't shown himself to be an elite pass-catcher at the position, but he's also in an offense that spreads the ball to multiple targets. ProFootballFocus.com tracked Finley with six drops in the first six games of 2012, but just nine all season, with none in his final six appearances. Along with the rise in his play, Finley appears to have won over coaches with a more mature approach.

"As the season wore on, you could see a more confident guy on the field," Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot told the newspaper. "You could see a guy that once he got his hands on the ball he was running like a maniac, and his yards after the catch for the second half of the season were probably 40 percent more than early in the season."

Another factor here is the future of wide receiver Greg Jennings. If the team's best receiver bolts through free agency, Finley's role is magnified heading into 2013, and his late-season surge might be enough to convince the Packers to commit for another season.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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