The Green Bay Packers, uneasy about the long-term healthy of safety Nick Collins after last year’s neck injury and surgery, released the three-time Pro Bowler on Wednesday.
"To my teammates and coaches I'm going to miss going to war with y'all on Sunday!! Green Bay Packer 4life.. Stay up." Collins said on Twitter.
Collins, who had 21 interceptions in seven seasons, ruptured a disc in his neck during last year’s Week 2 game at Carolina and had cervical fusion surgery done on Sept. 30. Collins has been seeking the advice of several medical experts to guide his decision on whether to play again or retire.
“From the beginning of this process, we have taken our time and sought numerous medical opinions while maintaining consistent dialogue with Nick,” general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement. “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.
“Nick is a part of our core, and this is a very difficult day for all Packers. Making this kind of decision is never easy, especially when it involves someone like Nick Collins. He has meant so much to the community, his teammates and the organization. He is a good man and will always be part of the Packers family.”
Players reacted to the news on Twitter.
"The pack lost an incredible man today, @nickthepick36 thanks for being a great player, teammate, and friend. I'll miss u brother," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Receiver Greg Jennings called Collins "simply da best I've seen."
While Collins, 28, has been encouraged by what he’s heard and there is a strong history of players returning after similar surgical procedures, the Packers apparently are not comfortable with the risk.
Coach Mike McCarthy said as much at the league meetings last month.
“To have Nick back would be huge just from a player personnel standpoint, because anytime someone suffers an injury like that, it’s not hard to think that he’s going to come back,” McCarthy said. “If Nick’s able to come back, that’s a great boost for us, but the personal side of it is the concern. It’s an injury that hopefully the surgery has worked and everything’s back in place. But once again, you’re talking about a risk assessment. That makes me a little a nervous.”
Living up to the No. 36 given to him as a second-round pick in 2005, Collins was the Packers’ first safety to garner three consecutive Pro Bowl berths since LeRoy Butler. The Packers’ first Pro Bowl starting safety since Darren Sharper in 2002, Collins intercepted seven passes in 2008. His three pick-sixes were the most by a safety since Kansas City's Lloyd Burruss in 1986, and his 295 interception return yards shattered Bobby Dillon's 52-year-old record of 244.
Collins added six interceptions in 2009 and four in 2010. He helped stake the Packers to a commanding early lead in Super Bowl XLV with his interception return for a touchdown.
With 17 interceptions from 2008 through 2010, the three-time second-team All-Pro ranked second among safeties behind only Baltimore’s Ed Reed (20).
Collins started all 16 games in five of his first six seasons. In 2010, Green Bay ranked second in the NFL in scoring defense. With Collins missing most of the 2011 season, the Packers set a dubious NFL record by allowing the most passing yards in league history.
Clearly, because of his football skill and leadership abilities, having Collins back on the field would have been a tremendous asset for a team that will enter the 2012 season among the Super Bowl favorites. However, the sight of Collins laying motionless on the field stuck with McCarthy.
“To have Nick Collins back on the practice field and playing games would be huge, but this is more than football,” McCarthy said. “Nick’s a family man, he’s a father, that’s no fun standing over someone like that. I don’t think any coach wants to see one of their players go through that.”
Collins has salary cap figures of $4,787,500 for 2012 and $5,950,000 for 2013. With the remaining pro-rated signing bonus ($1 million in both years), the move saves the Packers $2,787,500 for this season.
In his draft preparation, Thompson no doubt has been planning all along for this possibility. In the first round, Mark Barron will be off the board but a source told Packer Report recently that Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith and Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward — a hard-hitting cornerback with the skill-set to play safety — are first-round possibilities.
“We don’t feel we have to target a particular position in the draft. That’s not what we do, and we won’t do it this year,” Thompson said last week.
Behind last year’s starters Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah are M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine, as well as cornerback-safety Jarrett Bush. Charles Woodson also is a consideration to be moved from cornerback.
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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.