General manager Ted Thompson said the Green Bay Packers remain in wait-and-see mode about the playing future of former Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins.
Collins, 28, sustained a career-threatening neck injury at Carolina last season and had neck fusion surgery in September. Collins is still in the process of gathering medical advice, agent Alan Herman told the Green Bay Press-Gazette this week.
“It’s still in process, which it has been,” Thompson said during his pre-draft news conference on Thursday. “It’s a process that continues. We don’t have any determination at this point.”
Collins and the Packers have not met to discuss his future and probably won’t until after the draft, Herman said. That puts Thompson in a position in which he might feel compelled to select a safety early in next week’s draft as a precautionary measure in the event Collins chooses to retire or the team does not feel comfortable letting Collins play again.
“I don’t know,” Thompson said about whether it would be nice to have some finality on Collins’ future before the draft. “I think it’s more important to make the right determination at the end of this. I’m sure he’s anxious and all of our people are anxious but I think it’s more important being right than being fast.”
Without Collins for much of the season, the Packers wound up yielding an NFL record for passing yardage. While that’s certainly not all the fault of returning starter Morgan Burnett and Collins’ replacement, Charlie Peprah, the team probably needs a safety who can cover more ground than Peprah. Internal options include M.D. Jennings, an undrafted rookie last year who played on special teams, and Anthony Levine, an undrafted rookie in 2010 who has served two stints on the practice squad.
Alabama’s Mark Barron is the best safety in the class but figures to go long before the Packers are on the clock with the 28th overall selection. Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith is considered the second-best safety and a late first-round prospect.
Even though the Packers apparently have pinpointed a pair of first-round safeties, Thompson said he won’t force the issue and “target” any particular position, whether it’s safety or outside linebacker.
“We won’t do it intentionally,” Thompson said. “Maybe subconsciously. We don’t draft that way. You draft for the long-term investment for your team. We don’t draft for the immediate need or perceived immediate need.”
With a week to go until the draft, Thompson was battling a cold, a byproduct that he half-jokingly chalked up to “watching tape for 10 days in a row” with his personnel staff, many of whom have children.
True to his nature, Thompson wouldn’t divulge anything about the team’s draft plans and dodged a question about the “strongest” position group in this class.
“Those are kind of the questions I don’t answer,” Thompson said. “I’m not trying to be slick but … from a league-wide standpoint, this is a really good draft and everybody will be happy and all the teams will draft well. I think that’s the message everybody wants. There’s always areas going into the draft that you think are strong and other areas that you think might not be as strong as they were before, but it all works itself out. Most drafts will wind up being about the same in terms of quality and how those players eventually impact the league and individual teams. I think year to year, it’s usually about the same.
Coming off a 15-1 season, there would seem to be little room on the roster for 12 draft picks — one in each round, two compensatory picks apiece in the fourth and seventh rounds, plus a seventh-rounder acquired from the Jets for Caleb Schlauderaff.
Thompson, however, is content to stockpile players and let things sort themselves out in training camp.
“We’re always trying to add quality and class and competition to our team,” he said. “Things happen, people get hurt. I don’t think you ever have too many guys so we’re not concerned about having too many.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.