GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins was six months removed from cervical fusion surgery after he sustained a neck injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season and had made it clear to the team that he intended to resume his career.
But there sat Packers coach Mike McCarthy at the NFL annual meetings on March 28, 2012, when he uttered the words that made it unlikely the team would ever allow that to happen.
"You're talking about a risk assessment," McCarthy said at the time. "That makes me a little nervous."
Sure enough, less than a month later, the Packers released their 28-year-old Pro Bowl safety.
In doing so, general manager Ted Thompson said: "In the end, we were not comfortable clearing him to play again."
Collins has never been invited to play for another team.
Less than two years later, McCarthy and Thompson may find themselves in a similar situation with tight end Jermichael Finley, who said in a first-person account published Tuesday on Sports Illustrated's MMQB website, "Of course I plan to play football again."
The injuries to Collins and Finley were different. Collins sustained a herniated disc and needed surgery to fuse together two of his vertebrae. Finley bruised his spinal cord, and indications are he will not require surgery, although no final decision has been reached.
But what Finley, his doctors and the Packers will have to ask themselves is, as ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell said last week, "If he could have this once, could he have it again?"
And could the results be catastrophic?
Finley admitted he temporarily lost movement after he sustained a hit from Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson. He is expected to consult with additional medical experts over the next several days. If the Packers place him on injured reserve, as they did with Collins, they could buy themselves more time. Finley is in the final season of a two-year, $14 million contract. They could simply decide not to re-sign him, which would let them off the hook from making it a medical decision.
In that regard, Finley was wise to take out a disability insurance policy that he said would pay him $10 million if his injury prevented him from playing in the NFL again. If his agent, Blake Baratz, was the driving force behind that decision, then it's a credit to him for putting his client's best interests at the forefront.
Finley's injury hit the Packers hard. Teammate Andrew Quarless, the first one to reach Finley after the hit, said he shed a tear when he realized Finley could not move. Even after word came back that Finley had regained movement and feeling, receiver Jordy Nelson's eyes moistened when he spoke about it after the game.
Which brings us back to Collins. The Packers' decision to release him wasn't about football. They believed Collins could play effectively; he was in the prime of his career. But they weren't convinced he could do it without additional risk of long-term health effects.
"Nick's a family man; he's a father," McCarthy said back in March 2012. "That's no fun standing over someone [injured on the field] like that. I don't think any coach wants to see one of their players go through that."