Neck injury might end QB's season

Quarterback Rich Gannon, who has been soliciting medical opinions on the neck injury he suffered two weeks ago, will rejoin the Oakland Raiders this weekend in Indianapolis. But the odds that Gannon will play again this season are growing and the team might decide in the next few weeks to put him on injured reserve.

Gannon, a 17th-year veteran, fractured a vertabra at the base of his neck in a helmet-to-helmet collision with Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks on Sept. 26 and shortly thereafter returned to his home in Minnesota. He has visited with a specialist there, and on Wednesday met with another in New Jersey. He also might solicit additional opinions.

Raiders officials have been careful in their public remarks about Gannon's future, both for the short- and long-term, but there have been hints he will not play again in 2004 and that the injury might end his long and productive career.

Earlier this week, wide receiver Jerry Rice opined that he doesn't believe Gannon will return this season, and that he might be forced into retirement. Suffice it to say the Raiders, who signed former Giants quarterback Kerry Collins during the offseason to eventually replace Gannon, will err on the side of caution.

"I'd love to have him back," coach Norv Turner said. "But when you get into the neck injuries ... I just think you've got to do what it best from a personal standpoint."

Doctors initially said Gannon would be sidelined for at least six-to-eight weeks, but sources close to the quarterback acknowledged there is no timetable for determining when or if he can play, and he remains in a stiff, plastic collar that provides stability to his neck. Gannon will rejoin the team for its Sunday game against the Colts, is expected to accompany the Raiders back to Oakland following the game and to meet against with doctors there.

Without going into detail, Turner said that Gannon's sessions with neck specialists to this point represent "a confirmation of what the [team] doctors have said."

One of the game's most notable competitors, and a player whose intangibles have always superceded his physical abilities, Gannon clearly is the kind of veteran who would prefer to leave the game on his own terms. Neck specialists, however, may not permit him that luxury.

Gannon, 38, has not commented on his injury. If the Raiders do place him on injured reserve, it could end his tenure with the franchise. His base salary for 2005 is scheduled at $8 million and, even if healthy, it is unlikely, with Collins aboard, that the Raiders would have retained Gannon beyond this year.

This marks the second season in a row that Gannon has a serious injury. He played in only seven games in 2003 before suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder and had to undergo surgery to repair the damage.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.