When Johnny Jolly was reinstated from suspension by the NFL last season, no one knew if he would make the Green Bay Packers roster, let alone be effective.
Not only did Jolly prove too good to cut during training camp last season, he went on to start eight games and led all Packers defensive linemen in tackles per snap (one every 7.55, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Jolly may not be a Pro Bowl caliber player, but he proved his worth last season and best of all, he made a comeback from a troubled past and stayed out of trouble.
Assuming Jolly is healthy, the Green Bay Packers should fill the roster spot opened through the release of running back Johnathan Franklin to sign the veteran defensive lineman. Currently, the Packers have 89 of 90 potential roster berths occupied.
Granted, the decision whether or not to sign Jolly lies primarily with the Packers medical staff, a consistently conservative bunch.
Jolly underwent single fusion neck surgery this offseason to repair a bulging disc between the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae, the condition that landed him on injured reserve late last season.
There's no guarantee Jolly will ever play football again, but there is reason for hope, especially compared to a player like tight end Jermichael Finely, who similarly went through neck-fusion surgery.
Injuries lower on the spinal column are easier to come back from than those higher on the neck—nearer the head—where Finley's injured occured and, likewise, Nick Collins before him.
Chances are better that Jolly is eventually cleared from injury than Finley and there's less to worry about from a financial perspective as well.
Whereas Finley—a player that was making $7 million before his injury—might be seeking a contract providing him with the most financial security possible, Jolly would probably be willing to accept a contract with minimal financial risk to the organization.
It wouldn't be surprising if Jolly even accepted a provision in his contract that lowers his base salary if he's placed on injured reserve, much like recent contracts signed by Packers free agents such as Seneca Wallace and Cedric Benson the past couple seasons.
The Packers don't have to sign Jolly now.
By all means, they can use the next five weeks to allow Jolly to heal and put his injury as far behind him as possible before the start of training camp.
With minicamp over, there's no reason the Packers need to use the roster spot to take a look at some potential-laden rookie, because they're not going to get an opportunity to see such a player until the start of training camp as it is.
It doesn't hurt that Jolly missed the entirety of the offseason program seeing as the Packers already know what he's capable of, and due to injury, he likely wouldn't have been able to participate anyway.
One avenue availble to the Packers to bring Jolly along slowly is to place him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list when training camp opens. They did the same with safety Sean Richardson, who had his own spinal fusion surgery between the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae, last year.
Having Jolly potentially joining the Packers at mid-season could be viewed as a breath of fresh air, perhaps more than any journeyman free agent or waiver wire pickup could provide.
Doctors will have the final say on Jolly's status, but at 31 years old, he's also three years younger than fellow free agent Ryan Pickett.
The Packers have the space on their roster to add another player, and it makes sense for them to fill it with Jolly.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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