Mathias Kiwanuka may never play football again.
That was the impression Giants GM Jerry Reese left on the gathered media at the NFL Scouting Combine Saturday as he reviewed the on-going saga of the defensive end's recovery from a neck injury.
But only a couple of hours later, the Giants released a statement that said Kiwanuka was cleared to return to the field to continue his rehab, and that he is "fully committed" to playing football again despite the risks.
"After I spoke to the media this morning at the combine, I had a conversation with (head trainer) Ronnie Barnes, who confirmed for me that last night we did receive the final written evaluation that gives Mathias medical clearance to return to the field," Reese said in his statement. "The consensus of all of the spine physicians and Dr. (Russ) Warren is that it is safe for Mathias to return to play.
"I have talked to Mathias and he is fully committed to returning to football."
None of this means Kiwanuka is a sure thing to play in 2011. It all depends on how his herniated disc responds to the increased activities.
And if he decides to resume his football career, there would still be the question of risk. Plus, he's a free agent, and there's a question of whether the Giants would want to re-sign someone recovering from a herniated disc. They could well decide to send him off into the free agent market, where he probably would be viewed as damaged goods.
But in the absence of a new CBA, that subject is moot for now. Kiwanuka, Reese said, must first decide on the risk-reward factor of continuing his career at all.
Asked if Kiwanuka could end his career, Reese said, "He's got to make a decision: Do I want to play?" Reese said. "He's got to make that decision himself. There's some risk probably involved. There's risk, period, but when you have a neck injury you have to be careful.
"It's a possibility. Who knows? When you talk about neck injuries, Antonio Pierce, he had a neck injury and boom, it was over, just like that. Neck injuries are serious injuries. We have to be careful with those."
Kiwanuka has been rehabbing at the Giants' training facility, but he'll be thrown out of there Friday if the league can't meet the March 3 deadline for a new CBA. The way those negotiations have gone, it's all but a certainty that the owners will lock out the players.
That means Kiwanuka will have to continue his rehab privately, far from the watchful eyes of the Giants medical staff.
That will make the decision to re-sign him or let him loose all the more difficult once the new CBA comes into play.
"Well, we'll figure that out," Reese said. "The first bridge we have to cross is: Is he available to play? You know, we cross that bridge, we'll figure all that other stuff out.
"I think if he gets cleared by the doctors, I think he'll play," Reese said. "That's the No. 1 variable in the situation: What are the doctors saying? Are you going to risk your health by playing football, or are you going to be OK? I think that's what he's looking for. I think he's trying to get everybody to confirm that. He's been to a lot of doctors. So we're hoping for the best."
He's crossed the first bridge. But many more await.