Former and Current Free Agent Packers Want To Return
The NFL season has been over for a measly three days now but the Green Bay Packers season has been over for nearly a month. Things obviously slow down when teams aren’t preparing for games each week and the constant news hits dwindle.
Still, this has been a busy week for some Packers chatter and I thought I’d offer a break in between our player evaluation and reports cards here at allgbp.com and highlight a few of the stories that have been most widely discussed.
“Discussed” and “news” are two different things, but if nothing else, there are at least a few debate topics here.
The first was a story by NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling about tight end Jermichael Finley. Finley is currently a free agent after having spent the first six years of his NFL career with the Packers. Finley’s agent has gone on record as saying that J-Mike, as he is frequently called, would love nothing more than to finish his career in Green Bay. Whether that will happen is another thing.
Finley was seriously injured early in the 2013 season on a play in which he took a shot to his neck by Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson. Finley was placed on season-ending injured reserve and needed surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck. Many question swirled about whether Finley would play football again, let alone return to the Packers.
Finley stated earlier this week that he expects his doctors to clear him to resume football activity, most notably contact, within the next month or so. Gaining medical clearance from a doctor is one thing. Gaining that clearance from a NFL team doctor is another.
While Finley and his agent have expressed a preference to remain in Green Bay and get a new contract worked out, Finley has also stated that he does not plan to discount his services. With 19 total players set to hit free agency next month, the Packers are going to have some decisions to make as far as who to keep and at what price.
Finley certainly represents a risk, even if cleared to return to football. There can be no guarantee that he won’t re-injure his neck and such an occurrence would have major implications not only for Finley the football player, but also Finley the man, husband and father. It’s hard to say which direction Finley’s return and potential negotiations with interested teams will go.
The Packers ultra-conservative approach to player health and especially neck injuries is well-documented. I can see the team taking a look at Finley and evaluating his progress since the neck injury. That would just be wise due diligence by the Packers. Beyond that, I am not all that optimistic about Finley’s chances of returning to Green Bay. This is one situation that will be heavily monitored over the next few months and as we get closer to the NFL draft in May. Should Finley be unable to return or should the Packers decide to pass on him, tight end would immediately become a bigger need and would likely have a ripple effect on the team’s offseason personnel acquisition strategy.
Perhaps Finley’s outspokenness motivated another former Packer player to declare his readiness to return to football. Jason Wilde at ESPN Milwaukee penned an article after recently speaking with former Packers safety Nick Collins. During the Super Bowl this past week, Collins took to Twitter to apparently declare himself ready to return to football and the NFL.
At the time, Collins was vacationing with Packers cornerback Tramon Williams and free agent wide receiver James Jones, both of whom were teammates with Collins on the Packers 2010 Super Bowl championship team. Perhaps Jones and Williams also got in Collins’ ear, as players tend to do when they get together during the offseason (see the reported conversation between Finley and New York Giants safety Antrelle Rolle in the Wesseling article).
For whatever reason, Collins chose now to declare his eagerness to return. What Wilde discovered after speaking with Collins is that nothing has changed about the former safety’s health status. While Collins says that the surgeon who performed his surgery (also a fusing of the C3 and C4 vertebrae) told him that he is “100% healed”, that does not necessarily translate to also being cleared to resume football activity.
Back in 2011 when Collins was injured and after the severity of his injury was learned, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said that if Collins were his son, he would not let him return to playing football. Now two years later and with no NFL team having given Collins a look, it’s hard to imagine that the Packers would change their stance.
We need only look at the statistics that the Packers safeties put up this season to understand why this has become such a big topic of conversation. There were a lot of zero’s and single digits turned in by a position group that, in recent history, has been one of the most solid in Green Bay. The 2013 season marked the first in which Packers safeties logged zero interceptions in over 60 years. Collins logged 21 interceptions over six seasons with the Packers and many fans are holding onto the idea that Collins can simply return and be “that” Nick Collins. That’s just not reality after two years away and after a major injury.
Collins says that Packers team doctor Pat McKenzie was the only doctor who was unsure about the idea of clearing him to resume his career. If that’s true, then there are a lot of doctors who are apparently hiding under rocks. I would have to think that at least one of the other 31 teams in the league would have at least contacted Collins about a return, if they felt there was any chance he could do so. I’m also not anywhere near wanting to start a conversation about collusion in the NFL simply because there is none.
Collins has likely played his last snap in the NFL and this story will probably become moot pretty quickly. For those pointing to a recent return from neck injury by Packers safety Sean Richardson, keep in mind that Richardson had the C5 an C6 vertebrae fused. While any neck and back surgery is a big deal, Richardson’s particular case offers less risk of another occurrence of the same injury or more serious health issues if it does.
In looking at some early mock drafts, many of them have the Packers taking a safety with their first round pick. Names such as Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha’Sean “HaHa” Clinton-Dix have been mentioned. Our team of writers will certainly be breaking down these prospects, as well as countless others as we lead to the draft. If the Packers can land a top-notch defensive back in this year’s draft or in free agency (humor me and read on), they would be wise to do so.
Packers fans can be grateful to Nick Collins for six seasons of solid safety play and for his electric pick-six in Super Bowl XLV. Ironically, today is the three-year anniversary of that play and championship game, but that was three years ago. While a lot has changed since then, the Packers’ stance on Collins shouldn’t.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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