Rodgers: Packers, NFL better with Jermichael Finley playing

Jermichael Finley, who still hasn't been medically cleared by an NFL team to play due to last season's spinal injury, no longer has a Packers locker, but his former coach and quarterback hope to see him back in Green Bay.

In late May, Jermichael Finley's agent said the tight end had received medical clearance from the physician who performed his spinal surgery. But two months later, Finley still hasn't been signed by the Packers or any other NFL team.

Mitch Stringer / USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Throughout the entire NFL offseason, Jermichael Finley still had his own spot in the Green Bay Packers locker room. Despite his free agent status and uncertain recovery from neck surgery, Finley's nameplate remained even as others' (such as Johnny Jolly's) were removed.

When training camp began, though, "Finley" had been replaced with a generic "Packers" placard over the locker that had been his since being Green Bay's third-round pick in 2008.

However, that signage change doesn't reflect the feelings of two of the most notable people in the Packers organization.

"Jermichael Finley is a Green Bay Packer, in my opinion," head coach Mike McCarthy said.

But even in McCarthy's strong stance, he noted the obvious reason for why Finley isn't actually a member of the Packers roster.

"It's a medical situation," McCarthy said.

That's been the case since Finley was carted off of Lambeau Field with a spinal contusion on Oct. 20, 2013, an injury that required fusion surgery of his C3-C4 vertebrae. In late May 2014, Finley's agent said the 27-year-old tight end had received medical clearance from the physician who performed the surgery, Dr. Joseph Maroon. But two months later now, that hasn't done anything to get Finley a contract with Green Bay or any other team.

"This league is better with Jermichael in it and this team is better with him in it," Aaron Rodgers said.

Rodgers became the Packers starting quarterback the same year that Finley was drafted by Green Bay. In the six years that followed, Finley posted 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"I have had a couple of conversations with him; he looks incredible," Rodgers said. "If you follow him on Twitter, he looks pretty amazing, and he's worked his tail off. For him, it's a matter of getting cleared."

Rodgers mentioned that Green Bay has had "a number of those injuries," a list that in recent years added the names of safety Nick Collins and running back Johnathan Franklin. The hope for Finley is that his situation ends up more like current Packers safety Sean Richardson, who underwent spinal fusion surgery on his C5-C6 vertebrae and was eventually medically cleared by Green Bay's doctors.

"A guy like Sean Richardson . . . the struggles he went through waiting to get cleared, and it took longer than they thought," Rodgers said. "But now he's back out there and he looks like himself, playing well."

If Finley does get medical clearance from an NFL team, there's still the issue of him signing a contract. Given the circumstances, it's highly unlikely Finley would get the type of deal that's reflective of his pre-injury work in the league. It would probably be a short-term contract that doesn't pay much, and therein lies another important topic of consideration: Finley's insurance policy. If he never plays football again, Finley would collect $10 million tax-free from the insurance policy that he took out years earlier.

But, in the event that all works out in the best case scenario for him, it's at least possible the new "Packers" sign that sits above that locker gets changed back to the old "Finley" one.

"We're still open to that and watching that," McCarthy said.

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