Jernigan Feared He Would Never Play Again
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Tim Jernigan's outlook has changed these days.
That perspective will come when you're in your mid-20s, at the top of you're professional career and it's all threatened.
Activated from the non-football injury list earlier this week after missing the first 10 games of the season, Jernigan stood at his locker Friday and admitted that he thought his football career was in jeopardy when he suffered a back/neck injury which required surgery in the spring.
"It's been a long road," he admitted. "It's a blessing, man. I'm just glad to be out there with my brothers playing football again."
The Florida State product was a key part of the Eagles defensive line rotation in the team's run toward Super Bowl LII last season and was projected to be that again before a herniated disc derailed things.
Philly.com's Les Bown reports that Jernigan woke up one day with "excruciating neck and arm pain" and an MRI ultimately revealed a herniated cervical disc requiring fusion surgery back in April.
The surgery allows Jernigan to keep going with his NFL career but not without risks. Such a procedure creates an added weight on the discs above and below the original issue, creating an increased chance of another herniation which could be a career-ending scenario.
"One day when this thing is over with, or I'm wrapping it up, I'll get more in detail about everything, but I'm lucky to play football again," Jernigan explained.
There is of course often an ugly side of the business of football and the Eagles felt forced to address the four-year, $48 million extension Jernigan signed before he was injured due to the uncertainty of the situation, removing what were significant guarantees.
The positive spin is that if Jernigan stays healthy and performs he can still earn the money.
"I think everything worked out for the best for both [myself and the team]," Jernigan said.
The rehab was a long and arduous one in which Jernigan was unable to lift weights for months, kind of an important part of any 300-pound defensive tackle's workout regime. Watching the Eagles' 4-6 start and being unable to help has also been difficult.
The darkest days were buoyed by his family, particularly his 3-year-old daughter Naomi.
"My family is a big reason I'm here today," Jernigan admitted. "… I was kind of up in the air and trying to figure things out and my oldest daughter told me she wanted to go to the Super Bowl again. She definitely gave me that lift to say, 'Get your butt back out there and keep playing football.'"
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen