In fact, Finley said he'd be cleared for contact in the next three or four weeks. That would coincide with the start of free agency. Agents and teams can start negotiating on March 8, with contracts free to bed signed beginning at 3 p.m. (Central) on March 11.
Of course, Finley's doctor signing off on Finley's return is different than teams' medical staffs. Like Finley, Nick Collins had fusion on his C3 and C4 vertebrae. Collins, at the pinnacle of his career at the time of the injury, never got close to another shot in the league.
This will be the ultimate risk-vs.-reward decision for the Packers and other potential free-agent suitors.
"This is just one man's opinion and it's something I've thought a lot about," a scout told Packer Report recently. "We all want to win games but at what cost? Could the thrill of winning a Super Bowl outweigh the devastation of signing a player like him to a contact and the worst-case scenario playing out? Again, this is just me and I obviously haven't seen the results of a physical, but there's no way I'd sign him."
Finley told ProFootballTalk.com that he's already been cleared to run routes and catch passes.
The injury, sustained against Cleveland on Oct. 20 and repaired by the Steelers' team physician, Joseph Maroon, came in the midst of a breakout season. Finley, in his sixth season, finished with 25 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns. What was most impressive was his work after the catch. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley had 238 yards after the catch. Among tight ends with at least 25 catches, Finley led the league with 9.5 yards after the catch per reception. Almost unbelievably considering he missed the final 10 games, Finley tied for seventh among tight ends by forcing 10 missed tackles.
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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.