Free agent and former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley received some good news today. He was medically cleared by the neurosurgeon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, who performed his neck fusion surgery last year. The surgery was to the C3 and C4 vertebrae and such a procedure has ended many NFL careers before Finley.
If Finley truly wants to resume his NFL career, this is a step in the right direction. It is also, however, a relatively small step. Maroon’s clearance is one thing. Finley still needs to be cleared by a team doctor before he can seriously think about a return to football.
Finley met with the Packers medical staff earlier this week. No tests were done and Finley did not work out for the team. This was more of an informal discussion and meeting. The Packers have expressed interest in Finley’s return to the team if he is cleared and able to play. Head coach Mike McCarthy recently stated that he sees Finley as a Green Bay Packer and would certainly welcome him back to the offense.
While that sounds great in theory, there are still hurdles to be cleared and decisions to be made by the Packers. Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette tweeted the news about Finley’s clearance and made the point that this doesn’t mean a return to the Packers is imminent.
Finley’s agent, Blake Baratz, indicated that Finley has a meeting scheduled with a team later this week but would not reveal who, at the team’s request. There is still interest in Finley among NFL circles. The Packers have proven to take a more conservative approach when dealing with players returning from neck injury. Perhaps another team may be willing to take the bigger gamble sooner.
Beyond the medical side of this equation is the potential contract that Finley would be looking for. Just taking a stab here, but Finley has never been the type to question his ability. Neck injury or not, he is likely going to see himself as the same player who started out last season for the Packers. That also means he will be looking for a decent paycheck. The Packers have some other areas of concern when it comes to their current cap space, which should be around $12 million after rookie contracts are finalized. If the stars align and the two sides find themselves at the bargaining table, the Packers will have to decide what that paycheck should be in a green and gold uniform.
As has been mentioned many times before, Finley’s injury was very similar to that which former Packers safety Nick Collins suffered. The question is, do the Packers and their medical staff see the same risk in returning a tight end as they did a safety? That remains to be seen. Some may cite safety Sean Richardson’s return last season as proof that it can happen. Keep in mind that Richardson’s injury was lower on his neck and less likely to cause further problems with him resuming his playing career.
It’s hard to argue against wanting Finley on the field for the Packers offense. With him, the offense opens up quite a bit more than without him. Even when he wasn’t the intended target, defenses had to account for Finley and either he or another of Green Bay’s offensive weapons had a great chance of making a play.
On the other hand, is it time for the Packers to move on and plan for life after Finley? That is left up to the team and frankly, I’m glad it’s not my decision to make. There’s Finley the football player, which I’d love to see back out there. Then there’s Finley the man, husband, father and human being. He has a lot of life ahead of him and surely has to know the risks that appear before him if he does return to football.
Finley himself said, after suffering a concussion early last season, that he didn’t want his own son to play football. He also reportedly has an insurance policy that could pay him up to $10 million, tax-free, if he is unable to resume his career. I don’t know all of the specifics of that policy and what the requirements are, but it would seemingly take him a few more seasons of ramming into defenders to earn that kind of money.
The timeline is still an unknown but Maroon’s clearance of Finley today is a big step towards the final outcome.
Finley gets medical clearance from one doctor, but that doesn’t mean #Packers will clear him.
— Mike Vandermause (@MikeVandermause) May 29, 2014