GREEN BAY – Nick Collins’ career with the Green Bay Packers is over. The question now is whether the three-time Pro Bowl safety’s NFL career is over as well, or if he’ll attempt to continue his career elsewhere.
Collins’ agent, Alan Herman, said in a text message that the Packers informed Collins Wednesday morning that they were releasing him.
Collins played in 102 career games (including playoffs) with the Packers and delivered one of the signature plays in the team’s Super Bowl XLV triumph after the 2010 season: A 37-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last week at his annual pre-NFL Draft news conference, Packers general manager Ted Thompson said the process of deciding whether Collins, who suffered a career-threatening neck injury Sept. 18 and underwent spinal fusion surgery thereafter, is ongoing. The Packers sent Collins to a number of other specialists in order to gather multiple opinions on whether Collins should be cleared to return to action.
The doctor who performed Collins’ surgery, Dr. Frank Camissa, and the Packers’ team doctor, Dr. Pat McKenzie, had their own input on Collins’ future but also presented those other opinions to Collins.
In the end, the Packers decided they weren’t comfortable with Collins resuming his football career with them. It’s unclear whether Collins will attempt to continue playing with another team. If he wants to do that, he would have to convince one of the league’s other 31 teams to pass him on his physical and let him play.
Both coach Mike McCarthy and Herman have said that if Collins were their son, they would not allow him to play again.
“That’s probably one of the worst parts of your job (as a coach), walking out on the field, looking over a player – especially when it didn’t look very serious, and then you get out there …” McCarthy said at the NFL Meetings last month, his voice trailing off. “I don’t want to be put in that position again. And this is not about me. I’m just talking about, if that was my son, If Nick was my son, I would not let him play.”
McCarthy then added that the decision the doctors make will be in Collins’ best interest and the Packers will not put him at risk.
“Dr. Pat McKenzie and our medical staff, they’re conservative by nature. I think if you ask anybody who’s gone through our program and worked in other places, they’d say, ‘Hey, they do a good job taking care of their players. They’re conservative,’” McCarthy said. “”We’re not going to put him in harm’s way. If he’s on the field, he’ll be cleared, he’ll be 100 percent and everybody will be comfortable with it.”
If Collins does want to keep playing, he wouldn’t be the first Packers player to suffer a neck injury and try to continue his career elsewhere. Wide receiver and kick returner Terrence Murphy, a 2005 second-round draft pick who suffered a bruised spinal cord on a helmet-to-helmet hit during a kickoff return at Carolina on Oct. 3, 2005, was released by the team on April 21, 2006, even though Murphy wanted to resume his playing career following the injury.
In releasing Murphy, general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement: "After several tests and consultations, we have concluded that Terrence will not be cleared to play for the Green Bay Packers. Terrence is an outstanding person and player who is very well thought of by everyone within the Packers family. We wish him nothing but the best in whatever direction his life takes him."
In a telephone interview after the announcement, Thompson acknowledged Murphy did not agree with the Packers' decision, which was based on examinations by several medical experts.
"I'm not going to get into too much detail about what we discussed with Terrence because of privacy issues, but I think it's fair to say that he'd like to continue to play," Thompson said. "Suffice it to say, we came to the determination that we would not be able to clear him to play."
In the end, Murphy was unable to resume his NFL career. Instead, he started working on his master's degree in finance, opened a real estate development company, launched a Christian ministry and spent the 2007 offseason with the Packers as a coaching intern. Collins, too, has expressed an interest in coaching if he cannot resume his playing career.
"I had more life to live after that," Murphy once said of the injury. "I was good at A&M. I broke every record on the board at receiver. And then I came here. I knew all four positions at wide receiver the second week of training camp. I know I would have been pretty good. Without a doubt. But it came down to, I want to be able to play with my kids when I'm 35 - not be in a wheelchair."
Collins, a married father of four, will now face that same decision.
"When your kids grow up and they get into sports, you want to be there for them, cheering them on,” Collins said after the season. “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."
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