GREEN BAY – Defensive end Josh Boyd departed Lambeau Field propped next to assistant trainer Kurt Fielding in the bed of a green-and-yellow motorized utility cart, his raised thumb letting 78,000 spectators know he was quite alive although certainly not well.
Mashed under a pile of bodies, Boyd had just suffered a fractured right ankle and torn ligaments through no fault of his or anybody else’s. Some rose to their feet applauding No. 93’s efforts as he disappeared through the tunnel leading to the Green Bay Packers’ X-ray and treatment areas.
Ten seconds later, the whistle blew and play resumed between the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.
Mike Pennel, who was lined up next to Boyd in the middle of the Green Bay line that warm September night a year ago, stood helmet in hand ruminating as his hurting friend finally had to be lifted into the cart.
Every time Pennel straps on his gear for a game in Lambeau Field he considers himself a modern-day gladiator.
“That’s exactly how I feel,” Pennel said Thursday after practice. “I watch ‘Gladiator,’ ‘300,’ ‘Troy,’ a lot of movies. It can happen like that to anybody, man. You just keep praying that you don’t get hurt and keep working hard every day.”
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No one could know at the time but Boyd, the team’s fifth-round draft choice in 2013 from Mississippi State, was finished with the Packers.
Boyd is well on the road to resuming his NFL career, and the Packers are one of a number of teams keeping close tabs on his progress. But they’re six-deep now on the defensive line so his return to Green Bay is unlikely.
Pennel understands that some outsiders regard players as disposable parts, even pieces of meat in a $13 billion entertainment industry.
“But a lot of (players) wouldn’t have any opportunities to provide for their families or be able to live out their dreams,” he said. “It allows them to play in the NFL; they’ve been thinking about this since they were 5 years old.
“It’s a harsh truth that the business is the way it is. He was a good dude. You hate seeing guys like that get hurt, but in this type of business you get hurt. That’s one of the things you can’t control.”
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The only sympathy for players, according to linebacker Jayrone Elliott, comes from family members.
“It’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of job,” Elliott said. “It’s crazy. You never know when it’s your last play, but we kind of know what we’re getting ourselves into.”
At least Boyd wasn’t left holding the bag financially after the injury. NFL players basically took a bath in negotiations with owners that led to a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, but one of their few victories came in injury protection.
Back home in his native Mississippi, Boyd was able to turn the corner in his rehabilitation after a second ankle surgery. He didn’t return messages Thursday left through Rodney Edwards, his agent.
Boyd’s first operation was performed in Milwaukee by a surgeon that Boyd was unable to identify last year. He attended meetings and rehab sessions all last season, and rejoined the team in April for the offseason program.
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On May 9, 10 days after a draft in which the Packers selected a pair of defensive linemen in the first four rounds, general manager Ted Thompson released Boyd with the notation as “failed physical.”
“I know it was a shock to everybody when he got cut,” Pennel said.
Boyd wasn’t close to full health because of what Edwards said was the decision to keep his client in a cast for too long. The agent said an excessive buildup of scar tissue was preventing Boyd from moving the ankle sufficiently, and a second, successful procedure was performed.
Acting upon recommendation of the Packers’ medical staff, Boyd went to Arizona to continue his rehab under trainer Brett Fischer.
“He’s looking good right now,” Edwards said. “He’s running. He’s 90, 95 percent. His career is far from over.”
Boyd, 6 feet 2 ½ inches and 305 pounds, worked out for Seattle on Oct. 11 and Chicago on Oct. 21. A personnel director for an NFL team said Boyd, 27, would be an attractive player if he can pass a physical because of past performance and the acute shortage of replacement D-linemen.
“I will predict he will be back in the league in probably the next three or four weeks,” Edwards said. “We’re just monitoring the situation and want to try to get with a team that is going to make a Super Bowl run.”
Boyd was paid his entire $585,000 base salary last year after being placed on injured reserve the day after the injury occurred. It was the third year of his original four-year contract, and didn’t contain the split provision like the first two years that would have paid him about $200,000 less for going on IR.
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Under provisions of the 2011 CBA, Boyd is receiving 50 percent of his $675,000 base salary for 2016, or $337,500, and that amount is counting against the Packers’ salary cap.
It’s a new benefit for players who suffer a serious injury and are released without being able to pass a physical the following season. If Boyd, however, didn’t have an additional year on his contract, he wouldn’t be receiving a dime this year beyond medical/rehab bills for which the Packers still would be responsible.
If and when Boyd signs with another team, his benefit payments from Green Bay would cease.
Under the previous CBA, former Packers vice president Andrew Brandt has written in the MMQB that no player was eligible to receive more than $350,000 for the year after the injury occurred and no money at all for the subsequent year. Under the 2011 CBA, players with long-term contracts can receive 30 percent of their base salary in extended injury protection in that second year following injury.
Presently, Boyd is one of 21 players receiving injury protection from NFL teams whereas eight are getting extended injury protection. Four players – wide receiver Marques Colston, linebacker Jon Beason, kicker Shaun Suisham and tight end Scott Chandler – top the list with benefits between $1 and $1.1 million.
Boyd grew up in Philadelphia, Miss (pop. 7,477). “Real country,” Elliott said. “Nothing fancy. Cracked a lot of jokes.
“When he stepped on the field he played angry. Off the field he was a nice, fun guy.”
Edwards said Boyd and his fiancé, who have been together since early in his Green Bay career, are expecting a child. Boyd talks all the time to Datone Jones, another member of the Packers’ draft class four years ago.
They roomed together in that first offseason, that first training camp at St. Norbert College and for road games.
“We used to talk about the persons we wanted to be when we were roommates,” Jones said. “I know his parents really well. They raised a good kid.
“He’s a college grad and he played in the NFL. Who can beat that?”
Now you know what became of No. 93, the defensive end who gave the organization his all for 549 snaps before the bell of injury tolled.