GREEN BAY – Nick Collins will have his surgically repaired neck examined by doctors late next week, and based on their evaluation, the Green Bay Packers three-time Pro Bowl safety will then decide whether to resume his NFL career or retire, agent Alan Herman said Monday afternoon.
Collins suffered a season-ending and career-threatening neck injury Sept. 18 at Carolina when he collided with Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart. Collins then underwent spinal fusion surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York on Sept. 27. The surgery was a “single spinal fusion” in which Dr. Frank Cammisa removed a ruptured disc in Collins’ neck and fused the area with Collins’ own bone from his hip.
Cammisa, the chief of the Spine Service at the hospital, told Collins and Herman following the procedure that it would take six months before he’d know if Collins would be able to resume his career. Herman said he asked Cammisa at the time whether other NFL players have come back from single spinal fusion surgeries, and Cammisa said there have been some, but the sample size is small.
The news came on the same day that four-time NFL MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, who has undergone four neck surgeries – albeit them different from Collins’ – over the past two years, chose to resume his NFL career with the Denver Broncos after missing all of last season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Collins and his wife Andrea have four children -- daughter Jenajah and sons Nicholas Jr., Nmar’e and infant Nash – and Collins said several times after returning to the team that he would make his decision based not only his competitive nature as a player but his more important roles as a father and husband. Collins rejoined the team in late October and was on the sideline for the remainder of the Packers’ games last season, serving as a de facto assistant coach for starting safeties Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah.
After the Packers’ season-ending loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, Collins said he’ll carefully consider his options.
“Hopefully in March when I go get my last evaluation from the doctors and team doctors, hopefully they’ll give me some good news,” Collins said. “This is tough for me. because I never pictured myself being in this position – having to plan for, either I’m coming back or I’ve got to retire. This is tough. And hopefully I don’t have to end it this way. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to walk away from this game on my own.
“(It’s) a no-brainer. When your kids grow up and they get into sports, you want to be there for them, cheering them on. And I’d rather do that rather than being in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be there for my kids, my family.”
According to several Packers sources, the team has some reservations about Collins returning and the risk of playing safety following a neck injury like his. Whereas Manning plays a position that is somewhat protected by the league’s quarterback-friendly safety rules, Collins’ job is to initiate contact and thus is more dangerous.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month, coach Mike McCarthy said the possibility of Collins reinjuring his neck "scares the hell out of me personally. (General manager) Ted (Thompson) asked me, 'If that was your son, would you want him to play again?' … Everybody wants Nick Collins back. But to me, it's a very sensitive, personal situation. If they can convince me, hey, I'll be the first to (welcome) him back and let's go get it. Everything looks great for Nick. He's real optimistic about it.”
If Collins decides to retire, or the Packers decide they are uncomfortable with the idea of him playing again, his retirement or release would create $4 million in salary-cap space. The Packers have a tad under $7 million in cap room at this point. Collins signed a front-loaded three-year, $22.8 million contract in March 2010 that paid him $14 million in the first year of the deal.
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