The Green Bay Packers lost running back Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury this week. Much like hamstring injuries, neck injuries are starting to become an epidemic in Green Bay.
Franklin is the fourth player in recent memory to either have his career ended or threatened by one. Turns out, there were several players before that who fall into the same category.
We can’t say for sure that the Packers have lost more guys to neck injuries than any other NFL team, but they certainly have to be near the top of that list if they’re not in the lead.
At some point, these things go from fluke occurrence to recurring problem. That’s not to suggest the Packers aren’t doing enough to prevent neck injuries. We’re not doctors and we don’t know how these guys train or if these types of injuries are even preventable.
However, the numbers keep adding up. So you can’t ignore the fact that it’s become a problem.
Here’s a look at the guys the Packers have lost or stand to lose because of neck injuries.
Boy, a couple of the local media guys were real proud of themselves for digging this one up. Way to go guys! Way to do your job! Toburen was a linebacker who played two seasons for the Packers (1961-62). He made his first start in November of 1962 and that would also be his final NFL game. During the game, Toburen hit the Colts’ Johnny Unitas and caused a fumble. On the tackle, his head hit Unitas on the hip and Toburen broke his sixth vertebrae and displaced his fifth. He spent the next six weeks in a body cast, but was eventually able to resume his life as normal.
Lewis was the 11th overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft and he was doing his part to live up to that status. He had 16 interceptions in his first three years in the league. In week 3 of the 1986 season — a Monday night game against the Chicago Bears — Lewis tackled receiver Willie Gault. In the process, Lewis’ head connected squarely with Gault’s shoulder. He was stretchered off after losing feeling in both arms, the second such time in Lewis’ career that had happened. Doctors told Lewis he risked not only paralysis but death because of a congenitally small spinal-cord canal if he kept playing. He walked away from the game a few days after the injury.
Sharpe would have been one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history if his career hadn’t been cut short. He should still be in the Hall of Fame, but that’s another story. Sharpe was a five-time All Pro, led the NFL in receptions three times and touchdowns twice. Sharpe first injured his neck while blocking in the second to last game of the 1994 season. He’d injure it again in the last game of that season during a tackle. Those injuries were classified as stingers, but doctors soon found that Sharpe had two vertebrae that were unusually loose. They required spinal fusion surgery and it was ultimately determined that it was unsafe for him to play again.
He may be a punchline now, but Chmura was a hell of a tight end for the Packers in the 1990s. He made three Pro Bowls in his seven-year career, including two straight in 1997-98. In week 2 of the 1999 season, Chmura suffered a herniation of the C5 and C6 discs in his spine. He would miss the rest of that season and the Packers would ultimately release him in 2000. Now, you can debate whether they released him because of the injury or because of the hot tub, but the fact is Chmura would have put himself at risk if he had tried to play again.
The Packers drafted Berry in the fourth round of the 2000 draft, thinking he would eventually take over for either LeRoy Butler or Darren Sharper. Unfortunately, his NFL career would end one game into the 2000 season. In week 1, Berry was blocking during a kick return when his helmet hit the helmet of Bears running back James Allen. That resulted in a bruised spinal column and Berry never played again.
Murphy was a second-round pick in 2005 and his career was ultimately undone by none other than The Closet Pooper, Najeh Davenport. In his third career game, Murphy took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Carolina’s Thomas Davis while trying to recover a Davenport fumble. He was placed on injured reserve, but tests ultimately revealed Murphy had spinal stenosis. The Packers would release him in April of 2006. Three games, five catches, 36 yards.
Unlike the majority of these guys up to this point, Palmer didn’t and probably wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He was a seventh-round pick by the Rams in 2006. After they cut him, the Packers picked him up and he spent 2006 and 2007 with the team. A guard, Palmer was primarily used on special teams. Of course, that would be his undoing. He suffered a neck injury while blocking on a kick return in September of 2007. The Packers released him after the season and he never played again.
The Packers drafted Thompson in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. He would start three games as a rookie at defensive end, but was primarily a special teams player. In December of 2009, Thompson collided with running back Kregg Lumpkin during practice and suffered what was termed a stinger. Thompson had missed time during the preseason with a similar injury. He ultimately decided to retire and did so the following April.
You all remember Nick Collins because the Packers haven’t had a decent safety since he patrolled the back end of the defense. Collins was a second-round draft pick in 2005 and became an immediate starter. He’d make three straight Pro Bowls from 2008-10. It all unraveled in week 2 of the 2011 season, when Collins awkwardly tackled Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart. The neck injury would force Collins to have spinal fusion surgery and Packers wouldn’t clear him medically to resume his career. He was released in April of 2012.
Last year’s losses
Jermichael Finley was lost in week 7 when he suffered a bruised spinal cord. He had spinal fusion surgery and remains a free agent. Johnny Jolly suffered a neck injury in the December game against Dallas. He had spinal fusion surgery in January and remains a free agent. Franklin suffered his injury in week 12 against Minnesota. The Packers released him on Friday.