GREEN BAY – Nick Collins clearly wants to play football again, but according to agent Alan Herman, the former Green Bay Packers safety’s medical status has not changed.
Collins, a three-time Pro Bowl safety whom Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday was on his way to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, suffered a neck injury at Carolina on Sept. 18, 2011. The Packers released Collins on April 27, 2012.
Collins posted multiple Tweets on Monday indicating he wants to play in 2014. He is a free agent and free to sign with any NFL team, but that team’s doctors would have to clear him to play.
Nickdapick36 is ready for action.— Nick Collins (@nickdapick36) February 3, 2014
Who's looking for a top notch free safety. This kid is ready to dominate #2014— Nick Collins (@nickdapick36) February 4, 2014
Based on his former teammate Tramon Williams’ Twitter account, Collins and his wife were vacationing with Williams and his wife and wide receiver James Jones and his wife when he posted his Tweets.
Reached on his cell phone Tuesday evening, Herman said that Collins’ medical status had not changed and that doctors still believe Collins is at too much risk to return to football. Herman did not specify which doctors had said that.
He declined further comment on whether any NFL teams had expressed an interest in Collins and did not want to discuss why Collins might have written what he did on Twitter.
Collins played in 102 career games (including playoffs) with the Packers and delivered one of the signature plays in the team’s Super Bowl XLV triumph after the 2010 season: A 37-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Packers-centric magazine Packer Plus last month, Collins made it clear that he misses playing.
"The guys that I played with, they're like brothers to me. Charles (Woodson), Tramon (Williams), all those guys with the Super Bowl, of course,” Collins said. “I got three little boys and they always ask me, 'Are you going back to play football?' I think that's the toughest part about not playing the game. They are so used to me doing it; me being out there on the field doing the thing I love most, and that's to play football."
Certainly fans and former teammates alike would love for Collins to be cleared to play. Rodgers is among them.
“That would be incredible [if Collins could play again],” Rodgers said during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com Tuesday. “Nick is an unbelievable talent. I believe, personally – and I’m a little biased because we were drafted in the same class and I got to see him play for a number of years – I believe he had Hall of Fame potential without a doubt.
“The guy could cover more field than [almost anyone]. The only I guy I saw that could compare was Sean Taylor with the amount of ground those guys could cover, and [Earl] Thomas does it now for Seattle. There’s very few guys that can go sideline to sideline as a deep safety, and Nick could do it.
“He’s a great locker room guy and just a fun guy to be around. It’s been great to have him at games the last two years, but I know inside he still has that itch. It’s tough when you’re told you can’t play anymore before you’re ready to give that up. I don’t know what his medical status is, but Nick is a good friend and an incredible talent.”
After his injury, Collins underwent spinal fusion surgery on the C3/C4 vertebrae, and the Packers sent Collins to a number of other specialists in order to gather multiple opinions on whether he should be cleared to return to action. The doctor who performed Collins’ surgery, Dr. Frank Camissa, and the Packers’ team doctor, Dr. Pat McKenzie, had their own input on Collins’ future but also presented those other opinions to Collins.
In the end, the Packers decided they weren’t comfortable with Collins resuming his football career with them. Both coach Mike McCarthy and Herman said after Collins’ injury and surgery that if Collins were their son, they would not allow him to play again.
“That’s probably one of the worst parts of your job (as a coach), walking out on the field, looking over a player – especially when it didn’t look very serious, and then you get out there …” McCarthy said at the 2012 NFL Meetings, his voice trailing off. “I don’t want to be put in that position again. And this is not about me. I’m just talking about, if that was my son, If Nick was my son, I would not let him play.”
At the time of Collins’ release, Packers general manager Ted Thompson issued a statement, which read in part, “From the beginning of this process, we have taken our time and sought numerous medical opinions while maintaining consistent dialogue with Nick. In the end, we were not comfortable clearing him to play again. As with all of our players, Nick is a member of our family and we thought of him that way as we came to this conclusion.
“Nick is a part of our core, and this is a very difficult day for all Packers. Making this kind of decision is never easy, especially when it involves someone like Nick Collins. He has meant so much to the community, his teammates and the organization. He is a good man and will always be part of the Packers family.”
Wide receiver and kick returner Terrence Murphy, who like Collins was a 2005 second-round draft pick, suffered a bruised spinal cord on a helmet-to-helmet hit during a kickoff return at Carolina on Oct. 3, 2005. Murphy was released by the team on April 21, 2006, even though he wanted to resume his playing career following the injury.
In the end, Murphy was unable to resume his NFL career. Instead, he started working on his master's degree in finance, opened a real estate development company, launched a Christian ministry and spent the 2007 offseason with the Packers as a coaching intern. Collins, too, has expressed an interest in coaching if he cannot resume his playing career.
"I had more life to live after that," Murphy once said of the injury. "I was good at [Texas] A&M. I broke every record on the board at receiver. And then I came here. I knew all four positions at wide receiver the second week of training camp. I know I would have been pretty good. Without a doubt. But it came down to, I want to be able to play with my kids when I'm 35 - not be in a wheelchair."
In an interview in May 2012, former Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, who referred to Collins as his “little brother,” tried to explain how difficult it was for Collins to be told he could no longer play.
“That was tough,” Woodson said of Collins’ release. “For one, for him to sustain that injury, it was hard enough. And now he’s faced with the decision of, does he come back to play after being released by the only team he’s known in the NFL? It’s hard for a young man who’s only 28 years old to be sitting here figuring out what he’s going to do with the rest of his life, when all of his life he’s been a football player.
“For a guy like Nick, or somebody like me, who’s been playing football since you were seven or eight years old, that is your profession. That is what you do. Now, he’s faced with the decision, does he try to move forward and try to do something else, or does he take that chance (and play)?
“I don’t know what to think about whether he should try to play or not. Because I know how serious that injury was, I think about him like a brother, and I don’t want anything to happen down the road where it’s more serious than it was before. That’s something Nick is going to have to have long, long thoughts and probably sleepless nights thinking about, but I know he’ll come up with the best decision.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.