Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly expects to be able to play this season and might even be cleared to return to football by the time free agency opens next month.

Jolly’s agent, Jack Bechta, said on Thursday that his client underwent single fusion neck surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a bulging disc in his neck between the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae.

It’s the same surgery that Packers safety Sean Richardson had last January. Richardson was able to return midway through last season and play an active role on defense. Jolly is expecting the same prognosis, if not better.

Bechta said Jolly has already begun light exercises and is scheduled for another MRI on March 11, the first day of free agency.

“I talked to the Packers [last week] about Johnny at the combine, and they said they love him,” Bechta said. “They’re just in a wait-and-see mode.”

The C-5/C-6 fusion surgery is much easier to come back from than fusions that are done higher in the neck. Former Packers safety Nick Collins had a C-3/C-4 fusion and was never cleared. That's the same fusion tight end Jermichael Finley had last season, although last week coach Mike McCarthy expressed optimism that Finley would be cleared.

Jolly’s comeback story was one of the more remarkable ones in the NFL last season. He returned to the league after serving jail time and a three-year suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy. He was open about his addiction to codeine.