A pair of tweets sent by former Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins Monday night hinting at a possible NFL return have sparked speculation about whether the team would take a chance on the former superstar.
At this point, that does not seem likely.
Per ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde, who spoke with Collins' agent Tuesday, Collins' medical status has not changed since the Packers elected not to medically clear him to play, and doctors still believe the risk is too high for Collins to return to the NFL.
Collins' agent, Alan Herman, did not comment as to whether any teams have expressed interest in Collins this offseason.
When Collins had surgery on his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae in September 2011, Dr. Frank Cammisa, who performed the surgery, and the Packers' own Dr. Pat McKenzie discussed the decision to clear Collins, as well as consulted with other specialists, according to Wilde.
After weighing all the medical opinions, the team elected not to clear Collins to play, and he wasn't signed by any other teams. And now, per Wilde's report, it doesn't seem like anything has substantially changed medically, despite Collins' desire to return.
That news alone, straight from Herman, is enough to conclude that the Packers would not be the team to bring Collins back to the NFL this offseason, if any does at all.
The loss of Collins was arguably the biggest blow to this defense since Dom Capers took over in 2009, a loss from which the team has been reeling for two years. Collins, who had 21 interceptions, 342 tackles and 67 passes defended in his career with Green Bay, has not been replaced, and the safety group has been in a steady decline since his injury.
After finishing the 2010 championship season—in which Collins figured prominently—No. 5 in the NFL in pass defense, the Packers dropped to No. 32 at the end of the 2011 season. While there were other factors at play, the inexperienced Charlie Peprah joining Morgan Burnett at safety was not the answer to replacing Collins, and it showed.
Now, as the 2014 offseason begins, the Packers are still figuring it out. Since Collins' injury, the Packers have signed undrafted free agent M.D. Jennings, now a restricted free agent who in all likelihood will walk. They have drafted safety Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick in 2012, and released him.
Exclusive-rights free agent Chris Banjo, whom the team signed last July, isn't an option to fill the second starting spot opposite Burnett, but he'll likely be re-signed and continue to develop in the system. The same goes for Sean Richardson, who just recently was cleared to play following his own neck injury.
Some fans will argue that if the team took a chance on Richardson, they'll do the same for Collins (and Finley, for that matter, when the time comes).
However, the situations are not comparable medically. Richardson had fusion surgery on the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae; because the injury is further down the spine, it's much more likely to be cleared by doctors, according to Tom Silverstein and Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
If his medical situation was improved, there would be no better player with whom to replace the loss of Nick Collins than Nick Collins. However, because his agent has indicated nothing has changed there, the Packers are likely to hold strong on their stance from two years ago.
As a reminder, Thompson's stance was this, via ESPN Wisconsin: "From the beginning of this process, we have taken our time and sought numerous medical opinions while maintaining consistent dialogue with Nick. In the end, we were not comfortable clearing him to play again. As with all of our players, Nick is a member of our family and we thought of him that way as we came to this conclusion."
While Thompson is not likely to change his decision on Collins, he must change his approach to replacing him.
In 2014, after the safety group finished without an interception for the first time in decades and allowed an atrocious average collective quarterback rating of 143.9, per Pro Football Focus, fourth-rounders and undrafted free agents aren't going to cut it.
If Thompson doesn't have the opportunity to select Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, he should have a change to select Louisville's Calvin Pryor or Washington State's Deone Bucannon.
If he has the chance to draft either and does not, or does not address the position through free agency, the Packers can expect to finish in the bottom of the league once again in pass defense in 2014. It's just that simple.
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