GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Nick Barnett's right wrist was injured and his conscience was torn.
The veteran linebacker believes the Green Bay Packers are going to the playoffs and wanted to be a part of it. Despite the injury, he probably could have come back this season. And he almost did.
"I'm getting to the end of my career," Barnett said Thursday. "I don't know how many years I've got left -- four, five maybe, years. You want to take advantage of every single game or being around here as much as you can. So definitely, it's hard to deal with."
But doctors told Barnett that if he took another hit on his wrist, there was a risk he might end up having a hard time using his right hand well after his career was over. So Barnett reluctantly had the surgery, and the Packers announced last week that he would miss the rest of the season.
Amid increasing awareness of how difficult life can be for retired football players with chronic health problems, Barnett put his long-term future ahead of his short-term goals.
"It was hard as heck," Barnett said. "There's two families you think about. You don't want to leave this family (the team) out to dry because you need to get something fixed. But at the same time, I've got to raise boys. I don't want to leave them. I would like to throw baseballs to them and do normal stuff."
Barnett admitted that if he was at a different point in his career, his decision almost certainly would have been different. Barnett said that if he was a 20-year-old college player, he would have had a hard time sitting out the season.
"You might risk it because you might not get drafted," Barnett said.
Even as an eighth-year NFL veteran and cornerstone of the Packers' defense, his decision might have been different if he had hurt his left wrist instead.
"If it would have been my left hand, to be honest with you, I would have played," Barnett said. "But being that I'm right-handed, for the rest of my life it's going to be kind of hard to not use your right hand the way that you need to use it. But unfortunately stuff happens."
Barnett was injured during the Packers' Oct. 3 victory over the Detroit Lions, had it taped up in a splint and returned to the game. He was inactive for the Oct. 10 loss at Washington as he held out hope he could come back and play.
"I was on the verge of just playing with it," Barnett said. "But as I talked to the doctors and went through everything and just kind of evaluated just everything in general, how I was going to be affected in my future after I played football, the best decision was to fix it."
Barnett said he is scheduled to have pins removed from his wrist in four weeks, then have a cast removed four weeks later. He should be cleared to begin rehabilitation exercises after that, although he'll still have a screw in his wrist for several more weeks.
He expects to be fully healthy for next season.
"Oh, I'll be perfect. I'll be perfect for training camp, hopefully for minicamp and all the good stuff that I haven't been for the past two seasons," said Barnett, who had a season-ending injury to his right anterior cruciate ligament in 2008, returned to start every game in 2009, then had to have another procedure on his knee before this season.
Barnett said the upside of having the wrist surgery is getting his knee fully healthy.
"I'll be fine, I'll be destroying," Barnett said. "You can bet your money next year that I will be a beast. I guarantee you that. Put it in the bank."
And with all the other serious injuries the Packers have sustained this season, Barnett expects the team to be highly motivated next season -- although he's still confident of a playoff berth in 2010.
"I think they're going to go to the playoffs (this year), I still think that's going to happen," Barnett said. "But after every year you see injuries, the next year, you see a pretty successful and (hungry) team. That's what I look forward to, a lot of key guys and a lot of key young players hurt, come back starving because they want to be out on the field and they want to make something happen. I look forward to seeing that."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press