The Green Bay Packers made official on Friday what we already knew on Thursday when they released running back Johnathan Franklin.
Franklin, 24, was diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury and general manager Ted Thompson acknowledged how well the running back, who was entering his second season in the NFL, handled things.
“It’s never easy releasing a player, but it’s especially difficult when a young man’s opportunity is taken away from him because of an injury,” Thompson told PackersNews.com.
“Johnathan is a great person, a wonderful teammate and a man that lives by his faith. The Packers are fortunate to have had the chance to work with him and we know that he will excel in whatever the future holds for him. He will always be a member of the Packers family.”
Franklin was injured on the opening kickoff of the Packers’ game at Lambeau Field against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 24, sustaining a concussion and a neck injury.
He missed the rest of the season and was attempting to come back from the injury this year when the unfortunate diagnosis on his neck came down.
Franklin had one real opportunity to carry the ball for Green Bay and took advantage of it when he ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in a 34-30 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 22.
He finished his only NFL season with 107 yards and a score on 19 carries, as well as four receptions for 30 yards and four kickoff returns for a 20.5-yard average.
He was the 125th player taken in the 2013 NFL Draft when Green Bay selected him in the fourth round after a record-setting career at UCLA.
Franklin left Westwood as the all-time leading rusher for the Bruins with 4,403 yards and set a single-season school record with his 1,734 rushing yards as a senior.
His teammates responded with support and hope that Franklin can get through this trial and on with the rest of his life away from the field.
“Damn football,” running back DuJuan Harris told ESPNWisconsin.com. “This is life. It’s like losing a family member.
“It’s not about football, it’s his life. He’s just got to be careful. A certain fall or a minor accident or anything could probably change his life. It’s not about football anymore.”
Franklin, however, was providing encouragement to his teammates, sending each of the running backs text messages including a piece of advice.
“Make sure you cherish every moment you get to play.”
Lacy, the Offensive Rookie of the Year last season after gaining 1,178 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns in 15 games, roomed with Franklin during rookie orientation camp last spring.
“We studied the playbook together; we pretty much did everything together,” Lacy said. “And for it to be taken away from him like that so fast, it definitely hurts, it definitely makes you cherish [that time] even more.”
Defensive end Datone Jones played with Franklin at UCLA and they’ve known each other since they each played high school football in the Los Angeles area—Jones at Compton High School and Franklin at Susan Miller Dorsey High School in L.A.
“I’ve known Johnathan since we were in the 10th grade,” Jones said. “We actually committed to UCLA on the same exact day at the same time. To see him work so hard to actually make his dream come true and make it to the NFL, man, it’s tough to see it end this way, because I knew how hard he worked.
“When I found out the news, for me, I didn’t really care about the injury anymore because I knew he was OK in that area. But I wanted to see where his mind was at.
“His spirits were up, he felt like God had opportunity for him.”
On the purely business side of the equation, Franklin’s contract will count at least $101,367 against the salary cap this season because of his rookie signing bonus. The rest of the bonus cap hit will be on the books in 2015 ($202,734) because he was cut after June 1.
Franklin’s 103-yard rushing performance against the Bengals was the most in Packer history by a rookie runner in his first game with a rushing attempt.
It’s a reminder of the brutal nature of the game, even for all of the efforts to make it safer for the players, and all we can do is with Johnathan Franklin the very best as he moves on with what we hope will be a long, productive and satisfying life off the field.