GREEN BAY – Jermichael Finley has gained medical clearance from the doctor who did his spinal fusion surgery. Now, the unrestricted free-agent tight end must find an NFL team physician who’ll also clear him – which would clear the way for Finley to return to football.
But even Finley’s agent, Blake Baratz, speaking on NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk Live Thursday morning, acknowledged that just because Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team neurosurgeon who performed the C3/C4 spinal fusion on Finley in January, has given him full medical clearance, it doesn’t mean other teams’ doctors will do the same.
“Opinions can be subjective. Dr. Maroon’s opinion may not be the opinion of 31 other team doctors,” Baratz told host Mike Florio in a telephone interview, during which he broke the news of Maroon clearing Finley. “Now, a lot of the teams that are interested in Jermichael are getting copies of the films, he’s going to start taking visits [on Friday], and the process will start moving along.
“He may not be 100 percent there yet, but he’s very close. He’s working out, he’s in phenomenal shape, he can do everything right now. The question is just whether everyone would sign off on him taking a hit right now, which obviously he wouldn’t need to do anyway.”
Asked by Florio if Maroon had given Finley full clearance to play football again, Baratz replied, “That is correct. … The final question is whether those other doctors, whether they’re NFL team doctors or independent doctors, would also green-light him to take a hit.”
Later in the interview, when asked about the $10 million tax-free disability insurance policy that Finley has in the event that he doesn’t play football again, Baratz again acknowledged that other doctors might not clear Finley, even though Maroon did.
“I think in his case, it will be fairly easy because there’s going to be a lot of experts and doctors that would not clear him today,” Baratz said. “Now, three weeks from now, or six weeks from now, or nine weeks from now, and he plays in X number of games, it’s a different story. But if he shuts it down right now, he’s got a very sound argument to collect on the disability plan.”
Baratz also confirmed that Finley did indeed check in with the Packers’ medical staff, including Dr. Patrick McKenzie, on Wednesday but made it clear that it wasn’t a full examination.
“He drove with his family to Green Bay, and he hadn’t seen Dr. McKenzie in a while,” Baratz said. “So it was more of a, ‘Let’s check in, let’s see where you’re at neurologically’ [visit]. They obviously also got copies of the films, so it wasn’t any sort of big conspiracy to go in there and sign a contract. It was more a formality, to check in just because he hasn’t seen those doctors in a while.”
Baratz wouldn’t divulge which team Finley was going to visit on Friday, saying that team had asked him to keep the visit quiet. In March, Finley visited the Seattle Seahawks, whose team doctor examined him and did not pass him on his physical.
In Green Bay, both head coach Mike McCarthy and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said they did not see Finley when he was in town.
“I know he was in town. I did not personally see him. I have not had any recent conversations with our medical staff about him,” McCarthy said after the team’s first open organized team activity practice of the spring. ”My understanding is he’s in great shape and he’s doing everything he can.”
Fontenot said he and Finley had exchanged some text messages throughout the offseason and has not given up hope that he’ll be coaching Finley again.
“I’m absolutely hoping for the best. Nothing would please me more than to be able to welcome Jermicahel Finley as a member of the Green Bay Packers again,” Fontenot said. “[But] that’s a decision that unfortunately isn’t going to be made by any coaching staffs. It’s going to be a medical decision, ultimately. So whatever they say, we move with. Sure, I’d love to see him back, but not at the expense of him possibly further injuring himself.
“Again, it’s up to our medical staff. Those are the guys that we trust and we listen to.”
There’s also the issue of what kind of contract Finley can expect from any team that does want to sign him. Coming off such a major injury, Baratz acknowledged Finley won’t have much leverage in negotiations. And that could mean that Finley – despite having said himself on multiple occasions that he wants to play again – may end up retiring.
“The nature of the injury is just scarier because it’s more of an unknown for everybody – for GMs, for doctors, for fans, for agents, for media. It’s more of an unknown,” Baratz said. “If he decides to come back and play, I think someone will probably get a bargain just based on what he would be worth if he was healthy. That’s why it’s not going to be a no-brainer, easy decision that Jermichael’s just going to come back and play football.
“He wants to come back and play, he’s a competitor, this is what he knows, this is what he loves, this is what he puts all his time and money and energy into. But regardless, it’s going to be a sound decision that we’re all going to have some input in, because no one is going to risk putting Jermichael on the field unless we’re confident that he’s at no greater risk than any other football player. He’s got a life to live, he’s got a family. Regardless of whether he plays again or not, he’ll be fine financially, but there is a financial element to it that is going to impact everyone’s advice.
“I think if you asked him right now, it’s ‘I’m definitely coming back to play.’ I think that is the mindset. But is a team offering him minimum salary? Is a team offering him $8 million? Is a team offering him a multi-year deal? Or is a team offering him a one-year deal? As advisors, we’ve got to say, ‘Hey, this is your worst-case scenario. If you go in and you never play a down again, this is what your life is going to look like. And if you make $3 million, this is what your life is going to look like. Here are the risks, here are the ramifications, here are the consequences, here are the positives, here are the negatives.’ …
“At the end of the day, it’ll be Jermichael’s decision, but it’s not going to be an emotional, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to football and I’m playing tomorrow’ decision. It has to be well articulated and thought out because his life is on the line.”
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