Lost in all the talk of Peyton Manning’s comeback from Neck fusion surgery is another former All Pro player and Super Bowl hero facing a very similar difficult decision later this week. On September 18th former Green Bay Packer stand-out safety Nick Collins was carted off the field at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte N.C. following a neck injury that resulted from a routine tackle attempt of Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart.
Now nearly eight months later, after being released by the Green Bay Packers, Collins will decide whether or not to continue his NFL career. Modern medicine has made it possible for a player like Collins to even have the option to make this decision. In fusion surgery, the soft disc tissue is removed from between the vertebrae – in Collins’ case between C-3 and C-4 – and a bone graft taken either from the patient’s hip or a bone bank is inserted between the vertebrae. A titanium plate is then screwed into the vertebrae to make sure they don’t move while the bone graft fuses to them. “Once everything is healed, the risks are minimal” said Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team neurosurgeon and clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “But there’s always risk. Some choose to retire, some continue to play.” “One certainty is that if the fusion occurs properly, there won’t be a problem with those two vertebrae again. Of all the cervical fusions that have been done on NFL players, not a single one has failed.”
Doctor Andrew Dossett, a spine consultant for the Dallas Cowboys and a former football player at the University of Southern California is quoted as saying “Once fused, then it’s game over, It’s behind a block of bone. Nothing is going to happen to it.” Both doctors have said that Collins should regain full range of motion in his neck with a single-level fusion.
Collins, 28 underwent a series of tests in New York two weeks ago, the outcome of which haven’t been made public, and are scheduled to be released later this week. Those results will determine if Collins will be medically cleared to continue playing out his NFL career. My question is not if he should play, because only he can make that difficult call. But with all signs pointing to him being medically cleared, should the Dallas Cowboys take a chance and sign him to an incentive based contract to patrol the middle of the field in Rob Ryan’s defense? The answer can only be a resounding YES.
In my opinion, the addition of a healthy Collins will give the Cowboys the best secondary in the NFL and will advance their defense light years from where it was at the end of the 2011 season. I would equate the signing of Collins to the one of former Pittsburgh Steeler Thomas Everett, who was added to a young Dallas secondary in the 1992 offseason and along with Charles Haley was viewed as the missing veteran player that made the Cowboys defense one of the best ever, leading to a Super Bowl title 20 years ago.
So remember to pay attention later this week to the news on Collins test results and career decision. If Collins decides to continue playing, although it will be at great risk, he is the missing piece in Dallas and will be viewed by many Cowboy fans as the true risk/reward story of the upcoming 2012 NFL season.