2

July

What Packers Fans Should Know About Neck Injuries

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, Packer People, Packers players, Johnny Jolly, Packers character, Packers off the fieldAt this point, Packers fans are all too aware of neck/cervical injuries and the effects and repercussions of returning to play after an injury and surgery.  At this point, Ted Thompson has had likely six neck injuries and four surgeries, all with various results, some positive but mostly negative. The latest was defensive linemen Johnny Jolly, who after battling a prescription drug addiction was a surprising addition to the Packers roster last year.  News recently came out that Jolly has been cleared by his doctors to return to play and now the question is whether or not the Packers will take him up on that offer.  However, many fans don’t really know the diagnosis, treatment or outcome of neck injuries and surgeries and it’s important to really understand the injury before deciding whether or not Jolly should or could return to the Packers.  As a matter of disclosure, I am not a doctor but an immunologist, so while I do have plenty of experience in the medical field I am not qualified to present a medical opinion; below is research I have done from a variety of medical journals and other sources.

Packer players who suffered a neck injury under the Ted Thompson regime

1. Terrance Murphy: Murphy suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit by Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on a fumble recovery off of a return and was later discovered to have spinal stenosis, which ultimately ended his career.

2. Jeremy Thompson: Thompson suffered a neck injury during a practice after sustaining a collision with running back Kregg Lumpkin, who from reports suffered temporary paralysis on the field, necessitating the need for an ambulance and an overnight stay at Bellin Hospital.  Thompson subsequently also announced his retirement after the injury.  On a completely unrelated note, Thompson is now a medical student at the University of North Carolina, so the stereotype of football players being dumb jocks isn’t always true.

3. Nick Collins: Perhaps the most famous Packer to suffer a neck injury, Collins collided with Carolina running back Johnathan Stewart from above and suffered temporary paralysis. Collins spent the night at a hospital in Carolina before rejoining the team on IR.  Collins then had single fusion neck surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebrae together.  Collins was subsequently released by the Packers and while he hasn’t officially retired, no team has been willing to even try him out, which indicates the severity of the injury.

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30

June

Former Packers DL Jolly Receives Medical Clearance

Johnny Jolly

Jolly is one step closer to a potential return to the NFL

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the doctors of former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly have given him the medical clearance to resume his football career.

I’m not writing this because I think Jolly will be back with the Packers or even to suggest that the Packers look into evaluating and clearing him.  Jolly’s story last season carried with it a tale of redemption and hope.  While his performance was anything but stellar, he was a good addition to the team and proved worthy of a roster spot.

Jolly received encouragement from his doctors earlier this year when the surgery was performed and a portion of his hip bone was grafted to help fuse his spine.  At that time, all Jolly could do was wait and see how it healed and if doctors would be confident enough to allow him to play football again.

Today, at least part of that wait is over.  Jolly’s clearance by his doctors is the first step to his potential return to the NFL and a sign that the procedure was a success, at least from a medical standpoint.

However, before any team would sign Jolly, their doctors also have to medically clear him.  Being cleared by his own doctors is one thing.  Being cleared by a team doctor is another and especially if we’re talking about the conservative medical staff in Green Bay.

Packers fans are unfortunately all too familiar with the process a player goes through with a serious neck injury.  We have seen some good and great former Packers players not return to the game following a neck injury.  The same players who if healthy, would have multiple suitors for their services and at a healthy rate of pay.  Former safety Nick Collins being a prime example.

Former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is also still waiting for a team to medically clear him so he can resume his professional career.  As much as these men offer as players, teams remain cautious about the potential risks associated with a return to this very physical sport following such a serious injury.

As far as the Packers are concerned, the meaning of this news about Jolly today is about nothing more than being happy for a former team member.  As I mentioned earlier, the Packers have seen way more than their fair share of neck injuries to past players and to hear about one that may heal enough to return to the gridiron is welcome news on its own merit.

19

June

RB Franklin Not Returning to Packers

Johnathan Franklin

It was announced that Franklin will not be back with the Packers due to a neck injury sustained last season

The Green Bay Packers find themselves in a situation that is unfortunately all-too familiar to them.  It was announced today by head coach Mike McCarthy that running back Johnathan Franklin will not return to the team in 2014 due to a neck injury he suffered late during his rookie season.  Mike Vandermause from the Green Bay Press-Gazette shared the news after today’s mini camp practice.

Franklin was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and had a very productive day in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, rushing for over 100 yards and a score.  He had just six carries the rest of the season after some issues with ball security.

The Packers drafted both Franklin and Eddie Lacy last season to boost the running back position.  Franklin sat behind Lacy, who was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year, and veteran James Starks.  Franklin was expected to be in the mix this season and had even taken some reps as a kick returner, which he also did during the 2013 season.

Franklin’s departure leaves the team with Lacy, Starks, DuJuan Harris, John Kuhn, Michael Hill, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins at the running back position.

Franklin tweeted out a thanks to his supporters from his Twitter account today.

This is just another in what is becoming a long string of neck injuries in Green Bay.  In 1994, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe was forced to retire after his injury.  The Packers have also lost receiver Terrence Murphy and safety Nick Collins to neck injuries over the past decade.

Both Jermichael Finley and Johnny Jolly are currently recovering from neck injuries suffered last season while with the Packers.  Both are still free agents.

To get into a discussion about the rash of neck injuries that have hit the Packers over the past three years is another topic by itself but it’s noteworthy that the team has dealt with more than their fair share during that time.

No official roster move has been made yet and no speculation on who will take Franklin’s spot yet.

Here is Vandermause’s tweet announcing the news on Franklin:

 

29

May

Jermichael Finley Receives Medical Clearance

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Finley’s return to football took a step forward when he received his first medical clearance this week

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.

6

February

Former and Current Free Agent Packers Want To Return

Jermichael Finley

Finley seems determined to return to football and prove that he is back to full strength

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.

31

January

Finley Expects Medical Update Soon

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Finley, an unrestricted free agent, expects to return to the NFL in 2014

A short story surfaced on the NFL’s website today stating that Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley could be medically cleared to return to full contact football activities as soon as three to four weeks from now.

The original source of the story was ProFootballTalk.com and Finley told them that his doctors are “99.9% confident” that he will be cleared to resume his football career.

Keep in mind that these are Finley’s doctors that would be giving this clearance, not a NFL team doctor.

We have often heard players say they are fine when they are really injured and that they expect to be back by a certain time, only to wind up on injured reserve.  In Finley’s case, I have no doubt that he will get another shot to play in the NFL again.  I’m just not sure that will be with the Packers.

Finley will become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins in March.  He has said that he does not intend to offer teams any discounts on his services.  Besides the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham, a truly healthy Finley is the next biggest name on the free agent market at tight end.  I would be surprised if Finley’s agent doesn’t get at least one call from an interested team.

In the Packers’ case, they have many pending free agents of their own to look at and evaluate.  They obviously won’t bring them all back and they will likely have to part with a few they would like to return.  The defensive side of the ball continues to be a need area and that would likely be a deterrent to paying a healthy Finley what he is looking for.  But we’re talking about a risky Finley.

When it comes to risks, the Packers don’t mess around.  They chose not to return safety Nick Collins when the star safety suffered a similar injury in 2011.  Collins was eventually released and has not played in the NFL since.  Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said that if Collins were his son, he wouldn’t let him return to football.  Still, Collins played safety and was a hard-hitting one at that.  Perhaps the Packers or another team might feel that the risk is much lessened for the tight end.

22

October

Life After Finley

Jermichael Finley

Have we seen the last of Finley in a Packers uniform?

Less than 48 hours removed from the sight of Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley being carted off the field, we continue to learn more.  More about the injury, about Finley and about what is facing the Packers in these next few weeks.

Before I continue, I preface this by saying that I am not trying to be insensitive to the situation and decisions that are facing Finley right now.  Any Packers fan need only think back two short years and to Nick Collins to remember how badly these types of situations can end.

I am one who, if it were me in Finley’s shoes, would probably stop playing.  I have to wonder what I would have said a year ago, but as a new father, my perspective has changed.

Just three weeks ago, Finley suffered a concussion and would have missed the next week’s game, were it not for the Packers bye week.  Afterward, Finley admitted that his own kids told him that they didn’t want him to play football anymore because of the dangers that come with repeated head injuries.

Finley’s latest injury has been described as a bruised spinal cord.  While we all get bumps and bruises from time to time, this is the backbone that we are talking about.  Even a bruise is a scary thought.  Every bruise needs to heal and while I’m not anything close to a doctor, it would seem that there has to be some chance that this injury may have long-term health implications for Finley.

He was reportedly doing fine as of earlier today and after he was released from intensive care at the hospital.  We also know that he did regain feeling in both his arms and legs.  He was walking around on his own, which is the best news for Finley, the man.

As far as Finley the football player, the Packers still have to go out and play on Sunday and for the remaining nine games after that.  They are going to be without #88 indefinitely.  It will be weeks before the team can even determine if Finley could come back and play, not to mention if he wants to return and play.  I personally would be surprised to see Finley back and with the team this year and at all, really.