PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In the coming days, Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins will visit a neck specialist to get a medical recommendation on whether he should resume his career. But as we get closer to that moment, it has become clear that the information will represent a starting point -- and not a conclusion -- to the discussion of whether Collins plays again for the Packers.
Twice in four days at the NFL owners meetings, Packers coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged his personal reservations about clearing a player who broke his neck last September. Speaking Wednesday, McCarthy said it will be a "great boost" to get Collins back but that "the personal side of it is a concern." He added: "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 nervous."
At the very least, McCarthy has revealed he is conflicted about Collins' return, a predicament that isn't likely to dissipate magically after Collins' next evaluation. In fact, McCarthy called that moment "a starting point."
McCarthy: "I anticipate that [the doctors] are going to say it's a very positive report because I know they felt good about the surgery. To me, that's really the first step. Then our doctors have to get involved and we'll all sit down and talk to Nick and see where Nick is, so it will be a process that we'll go through."
I don't blame McCarthy in the least. Seven months ago, he watched Collins taken off the field on a stretcher with what turned out to be a serious injury. Collins has been on the Packers' roster for all six of McCarthy's seasons as coach, and it would be understandable if he were hesitant to authorize Collins' return.
Coaches usually defer to doctors in such cases, but it sounds like McCarthy is having a hard time forgetting the moments after Collins' injury. During the NFC coaches breakfast, I told McCarthy it sounded like he was nervous about bringing Collins back even if he is cleared medically.
"I think everybody needs to sit down and make sure we move forward together," McCarthy said. "To have Nick Collins back on the practice field and playing games would be huge, but this is more than football. 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."
It's hard to know for sure what all of this means. If Collins really wants to play, I'm sure he'll put a hard sell job on McCarthy. But when a football coach starts using keywords like "nervous," "personal" and "risk assessment," it's worth taking notice.
If nothing else, McCarthy appears to be struggling with the idea of letting a long-time cog of his team put himself at any further risk. It's a perfectly human reaction, and one that could ultimately end Collins' career with the Packers. Stay tuned.