GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jermichael Finley has made it clear from the beginning: He wants to keep playing football.
Finley’s neck injury on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns ended his season because the Packers placed him on injured reserve. Given that his contract -- a two-year, $14 million deal that he signed on Feb. 24, 2012 -- expires after this season, the Packers are under no obligation to make a medical decision about Finley. They could simply let his contract expire and walk away like they would from any other free agent they decided not to re-sign.
Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers' neurosurgeon, will perform the operation on Finley. But it’s worth noting that even if Maroon clears Finley to return, that doesn’t mean the Packers’ doctors will do the same.
It likely will take months and months of healing and rehabilitation before any determination can be made by doctors about whether it’s safe for Finley to resume his playing career. By the time that happens, the Packers almost certainly will have made contingency plans at tight end. Though it’s a deep position with four tight ends still on the roster, it would not be a surprise to see them bring in another play-making tight end in the mold of Finley this offseason.
Baratz was wise to put Finley into a disability insurance policy that he said will pay him $10 million (tax free) should an injury end his career. If it were about the money, Finley likely would have walked away.
“Working alongside the Packers organization, we have discussed and analyzed all of these opinions, as well as all of the potential scenarios moving forward,” Baratz said in a statement. “We have collectively determined that while surgery may not be 100 percent necessary, it is a proactive measure that should alleviate future risks with regards to a similar episode or re-injury.”
The key word there is “should.”
Former Packers safety Nick Collins, who underwent cervical fusion surgery in 2011, also wanted to return. He still does. Like Finley, he was in the prime of his career.
But the Packers released Collins, and no other team has signed him.
This will a complicated process, as we discussed shortly after Finley's injury, both for him and for the Packers.