The agent for Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly expects his client to be ready to play football by early training camp after undergoing neck-fusion surgery in January.
Jolly had surgery to fuse the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae on Jan. 10, as first reported Thursday by Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Jack Bechta, Jolly’s agent, confirmed the surgery via email.
Packers safety Sean Richardson had the same vertebrae fused in January 2013 and didn’t play until 10 months later, Nov. 24 against Minnesota, the Packers’ 11th game of the season. However, Bechta said Jolly’s prognosis appears to be better than Richardson’s was and that his client has a good chance to play from the start of the season for whatever team signs him.
“Johnny is not symptomatic,” Bechta said in the email. “He should be ready around the start of camp.”
Jolly, who turned 31 last week, will be an unrestricted free agent. He’s scheduled to undergo an MRI on March 11, which is the first day of free agency.
Bechta gave no indication of the degree of interest the Packers have shown in re-signing his client.
Jolly’s fusion was low enough on his neck to suggest that as long as it fuses well, teams should have little concern about clearing him medically.
Fusions higher in the neck can be more problematic, especially if there are aggravating circumstances, because there’s a greater risk of catastrophic injury with so few disks above the fusion to compensate for the missing disk. Former Packers safety Nick Collins had a C-3/C-4 fusion in 2011, and the Packers’ medical staff never cleared him even though the fusion healed well. Collins hasn’t played in the NFL since.
On the other hand, tight end Jermichael Finley late last year had the same C-3/C-4 fusion as Collins yet appears on track to play this season. Coach Mike McCarthy expressed optimism at the NFL scouting combine last week that the team’s medical staff will clear Finley and that the Packers will try to sign him.
Jolly made a remarkable return to football and played in 13 games last season after missing three years because of an NFL suspension. He finished second among Packers defensive linemen in tackles (38), had one sack, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery.