In week 2, starting safety Nick Collins was lost for the year with a neck injury, and yesterday it was announced that Collins underwent neck surgery. Head coach Mike McCarthy was completely devastated when announcing the news to the media and insisted that there is a 0% chance that Collins will play another down in 2011. And yet, nearly two weeks later, Collins remains on the team and is still listed on the team’s weekly injury report.
This is especially odd when you consider how precious a roster spot truly is. Here at AllGreenBayPackers.com, the staff each predicted the 53 “starting” opening day roster, and each of us had to cut players who we felt deserved a spot on the roster. Obviously, none of us were really remotely close (I think we all had 6 wide receivers on the roster for one), but the fact remains, I think we all wish that we had 54 roster spots to work with.
The Packers, however, seem to be going about it from a completely opposite approach. The Packers are essentially playing with 50 players at the moment; Collins is out for the year, defensive end Mike Neal looks to be out at least until after the bye week if not entirely with a knee injury and outside linebacker Frank Zombo is out with another long injury with a broken shoulder blade.
Traditionally, when a player sustains a type of injury that is season ending, the team would immediately place that player on injured reserve and then usually sign or trade for a player who plays the same position to compensate. This is even more true for playing making starters going on IR, since depth is needed at that position. For instance when Tennessee Titan’s wide receiver Kenny Britt, a focal point on the Titan’s passing game, was placed on IR after tearing his ACL, veteran free agent wide receiver Donny Avery was signed immediately to replace him. There are stories where general managers will call up free agents during a game to sign them when they are sure that they’ve player will be lost to IR.
So what are the possible reasons that the Packers would be keeping a roster spot for a player already for all intents and purposes on IR?
- There actually is a chance that Collins could recover in time to play: However unlikely the scenario, perhaps the Packers believed the injury wasn’t that serious and that Collins could heal fast enough to contribute down the stretch. To me this seems a little dubious, neck surgeries are a tricky thing and it can take a long time for them to heal properly (See Peyton Manning and the Colts). Also neck injuries are a completely different beast than from say knee injuries since players understand that a serious neck injury could hamper their ability to live a normal life. I can’t imagine either the Packers or Collins really considering this as an option considering he just had surgery.
- There aren’t any decent free agents: General Manager Ted Thompson is pretty famous for being able to find good players in the scrap heap of free agency, just look at Howard Green from last year. There are bound to be some decent safeties out there that could be serviceable in a pinch. There is of course veteran Darren Sharper, but Thompson is unlikely to bite on such a player based on his age (furthermore, Sharper has never played a 3-4 defense under Dom Capers, so he isn’t technically familiar with the Packers defense). Again I would say that this is a little dubious at best, even if Thompson didn’t think that there was any decent safeties out there, I’m sure he could find a 4-3 3-technique defensive tackle that could make the conversion to a 3-4 5-technique defensive end and add some more depth to compensate for Mike Neal’s injury.
- Ted Thompson is working the phones: Probably the least likely, but perhaps Thompson is dealing with other teams in an effort to land a starting caliber safety. On one hand, the Packers are loaded at several positions and wide receiver James Jones comes first to mind as prime trade bait. On the other, the Packers love the fact that they have several possible 5 receiver groupings and depth in what is the focal point of the Packers offense. New starting safety Charlie Peprah also hasn’t shown that he can’t have another solid season again and I can’t imagine that Thompson would trade either Jones or a high draft pick without being certain that Peprah and primary backup M.D. Jennings weren’t capable of playing the position.
Realistically I can’t imagine any of these possible situations being true; the Packers front office is just too good to really be that stupid. But when I think of stupid front office moves, I think Brandon Underwood.
Brandon Underwood, as much as I hate to say it, was probably the best insurance policy at safety for the Packers. Underwood is a Thompson guy as he was drafted in the 6th round in 2008 and fit the style of safety that the Packers like with good range and speed (which was evident when Underwood was a gunner on special teams) and was like a poor man’s Nick Collin. Underwood had experience with the Dom Caper’s 3-4 defense and would add depth at cornerback and safety, in the event that they decide to move Jarrett Bush primarily to safety. Finally, Underwood was a pretty decent special teams player and that always helps when adding depth to a team.
Unfortunately for Brandon Underwood, the NFL has just handed down a two game suspension for his recent transgressions with the law, the second of his short career. It essentially is the nail on the coffin of his career as he’s not talented or experienced enough to warrant keeping him on a roster for 2 weeks on suspension. This does however provide one more reasonable explanation as to why the Packers have been sitting on Nick Collins’ roster spot: they were waiting for the NFL to make a decision on Brandon Underwood.
It’s been known for some time that the NFL was looking into punishing players with transgression during the lockout in accordance with player conduct policies. But obviously since players weren’t technically employed by the NFL at the time, it’s rather murky whether or not the NFL has any right to punish its players during this time frame (running back Cendric Benson has filed grievances on this issue already). To sort of circumvent the issue, the NFL has come to an agreement with the NFLPA which has essentially bowed down to pressure from the league to allow its members to be punished. However this has all taken a long time (essentially they still haven’t worked this out even as the CBA was signed months ago) and it was only now that the Packers and Underwood heard the news.
My assumption is that Brandon Underwood will file grievances since he’s not going to make it back into the NFL with a two game suspension, and if the Packers really wanted to, they could always file an amicus brief or vouch for Underwood in someway that could expedite the process. However, I can’t really see that happening, for one even if Underwood does win his case, its unlikely to be done in time for this season anyways and also it creates the public relations nightmare of a organization backing a person who was convicted of soliciting a pair of prostitutes and then by throwing his wife out of a car.
So with Underwood now officially out of the picture and Collins recovering from surgery, I can’t imagine that the Packers will wait long to take Collins’ spot. The Packers played a dangerous game already last week by only having such little depth at safety (Can you imagine Charlie Peprah and M.D. Jennings as your starting safeties and Jarrett Bush as the primary backup?) and they can’t afford to continue gambling.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.