After suffering a neck injury in Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns last season, Finley needed a spinal fusion procedure—similar to the one done on former Packers safety Nick Collins in 2011.
The procedure was between the C3 and C4 vertebrae, which is higher in the neck region, which means that there is a fairly significant amount of risk in returning from this type of injury and playing football again. That's why Collins was never cleared by the medical staff of the Packers and was later released.
I also had a neck fusion procedure, but mine was between the C5 and C6 vertebrae—the same type of procedure done on Packers safety Sean Richardson in 2012 after his neck injury. Richardson was eventually cleared to play last season for the Packers.
So what does this mean for Finley's future?
Bottom line, the fact that the Packers checked up on Finley's recovery process makes it look as though they are not ruling out bringing the tight end back—at least not yet.
But the team has also covered itself at tight end by re-signing Andrew Quarless and drafting Richard Rodgers in the third round of the recent NFL draft. The Packers also signed undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla for extra depth at the position.
On Friday, I had another opportunity to talk with scout Chris Landry on Steve Duemig's radio show. I wanted to get Landry's perspective regarding Finley's status and whether or not he would be medically cleared to play in the NFL again.
First, Landry talked generally about players—like Finley—who had suffered neck injuries before they were even drafted in the NFL:
"There's kind of an understanding when we sit down around draft time, for example. The trainers are in the room and we'll have the doctors in too, but we have all their doctor grades too because they won't sit there for hours and hours with us.
"There's a medical grade that you put on them (the player). It automatically goes to next level of concern if it's a neck or a back. In other words, if you give a guy a '2 medical' which is a little bit of concern, he's automatically a '2-plus medical' if it's a neck or a back. The history of those guys is just not good."
He then talked about Finley's specific situation:
"No doctor is going to give him a clean bill of health. But here's what could happen. They'll explain to the football people that here's the risk. And based upon signing him, it's not that big of a risk. You have an injury risk and an injury settlement, but it's not like you are going to pay him big money.
"Certainly in this case he's not in the draft process, so you wouldn't take him high, but when the risk is low, I'm not going to rule out they he wouldn't get a chance. I hope he does. But I hope it's with the proper reasoning and he's not risking himself."
Finally, Landry talked about the fact that Finley's doctor has cleared him to resume playing in the NFL, although no NFL team medical staff has cleared the tight end yet:
"Because his doctor cleared him, I mean you know this, and everyone listening knows this, and it's a shame to say this, but you can find a doctor to almost give you anything. If you look long enough. So I'm hoping that this is a case of this is a doctor that truly thinks he's healed, not just him searching for a guy to say the right thing.
"But obviously every team doctor is going to judge that accordingly and separately and calculate the risk involved."
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