Former Packer Jermichael Finley, you remember him. Tall, bald guy with a propensity for big plays, bigger drops and huge mouth. When he was hot, he was very hot. Six foot five, 250 pounds, Finley was an enormous target, and one that Rodgers favored. He stood above most cornerbacks, and when he’d pull in a catch, those puny secondary would ride along for another ten yards before he would get dragged to the ground.
But two major injuries pretty much halted his career before those flashes of brilliance. We’re nearing the one year mark for the neck injury that likely ended his career, and Packers fans are still calling for his return.
Sure, his own personal physician has cleared him to return. But when it comes to this sort of neck injury, it is about as helpful as if he had a note that said: Please excuse Jermichael from school. Signed, Jermichael’s Mom.
Since the surgery where the bones in his neck were fused together at the site of the injury, no other physician has cleared him to play. Not even the Seahawks’ medical staff when he visited Seattle in the preseason.
Track record of returning to football following a neck surgery is pretty bad. Sure, Peyton Manning did. But look no further than Green Bay for evidence that high-velocity neck injuries are career ending.
Nick Collins always dreamed of returning, often reminding the organization via Twitter that his services were still very much available. And he was one of the first to offer support to Finley as he remained motionless on the Lambeau turf:
Prayers up for my former teammate J. Finley..
— Nick Collins (@nickdapick36) October 21, 2013
Look further back with the retrospectascope, and this pattern repeats itself.
Sterling Sharpe may have gone on to be one of the greatest receivers the game has ever seen, but he too was felled with a neck injury. Despite surgery to anchor his vertebrae together, he never returned.
Or what about cornerback Tim Lewis from the eighties. Watching him motionless on the field during a game against the Chicago Bears is one of my first memories of watching football. He too was one of those players that showed oh so much promise. But in the blink of an eye, he too became a Packer alum following his injury.
Now with this week’s news that the Green Bay Packers released Tight End Ryan Taylor, there has been a resurgence of those calls to resign Jermichael Finley. Not much fanfare with his departure. A brief statement, no explanation and number 82 was gone.
Now there was a roster spot open, potentially a tight end spot at that. Of course it took all of about thirty seconds for fans to renew the calls to bring Finley in to fill that void.
Wait, weren’t these the same fans that wanted to run Finley out on a rail a few years ago for various reasons?
But the Packers already filled that void when they drafted Richard Rodgers. He may not be there yet. And yes, he’s only had two receptions on the season. Yet when the Packers drafted him in the third round this past spring–the same round that the selected Finley–they sent a clear message they were moving on without him.
That’s one of the unspoken reasons why Finley’s name plate wasn’t left over his old locker. The Packers have a new tall, beefy tight end and are willing to invest the time and effort to develop Rodgers into something they had hoped to have in Finley.
Besides, Ryan Taylor’s departure did not signal an opening for the type of tight end that Finley used to be. Taylor rarely was in offensive formations. His role was special teams. And that’s one area that Finley was never a factor. By releasing Taylor, the Packers were freeing up a roster spot to fill a totally different need.
Packers fans are good for a heaping dose of nostalgia. While we keep looking to past when things get rough, heart sometimes over takes reason. We always want That Player to come back, whether it is Finley, Johnny Jolly or Tom Crabtree (who signed with the Saints yesterday! Sorry, bud, can’t cheer for you on October 26. Nothing personal.)
Yet rarely do the Packers knock twice. Sure, we’ve seen running backs like Ryan Grant get called back out of desperation when the team has blown through the starters, the back ups, and a used car salesman because of injuries. But it is not the norm.
Ultimately, that phrase we hear on Hard Knocks rings true. The team has decided to go in another direction.
And can you fault a team for looking forward and not back?