Zach Orr retired in January after doctors discovered a congenital neck/spine condition. The 24-year old linebacker was coming off an 89 tackle season that saw him named second team All-Pro. Via the Baltimore Sun:
Orr said a postseason CT scan revealed that he has a rare congenital spine condition — his C1 vertebra isn’t fully formed at the top of his spinal cord — that would have put him at increased risk for paralysis, or worse, if he continued to play. He said doctors and specialists marveled that he was able to play football this long without having a serious health problem and told him that he would no longer to be able to pass an NFL physical, given his known condition.
Knowing all that, the Ravens did not tender Orr. Six months later, Orr is reportedly considering a comeback after receiving “more encouraging diagnoses about the congenital spinal condition which initially seemed to doom his NFL career.” He broke the news on Good Morning Football on Wednesday. While most people might worry that Orr is putting his health in jeopardy by even entertaining the idea of playing football again, some are just worried that he’s found a loophole that future players might use to become free agents.
Yes, the Ravens could really get hurt… Can you imagine being this cynical about anything? Or that worried about protecting the sanctity of a collective bargaining agreement? Instead of, you know, the guy who might be putting his life on the line to play football again? Orr was told one of his vertebrae wasn’t fully formed and he was risking death or paralysis by playing football and he retired. His potential return shouldn’t make you worry that players now have a blueprint to get out of a contract. Via NFL.com:
Doctors initially told Orr he was at risk of death or paralysis by playing with the condition, which he’s had since birth. But former Baylor quarterback Seth Russell told Orr he should visit Sanford Emery, a West Virginia spine specialist who treated Russell when he suffered a neck injury in 2015.
Russell’s advice sparked another round of medical evaluations. Orr said several doctors have told him he’s at no more risk of serious injury than a player with a fully formed spine. Doctors told Orr their only concern would be if he played with herniated discs. The herniated discs he suffered last season have subsided.
At no point does it say that he doesn’t have this spine condition. He just found some doctors who pointed out that even really healthy people can suffer devastating injuries playing football. Just don’t play with a herniated disc like last season! Maybe the Ravens losing the restricted rights to a linebacker isn’t the scariest part of this story.
Somehow I don’t think this is going to lead to a bunch of fake retirements so that players can avoid having contract offers matched, but what do I know. All you need is to find one doctor with morals loose enough to put his reputation on the line by diagnosing a guy with a condition he actually has and saying playing football is dangerous. I just hope no more multi-billion dollar corporations get hurt the way the Ravens did. That would be a real tragedy.
UPDATE: Pro Football Talk is also worried about players using this “loophole” in the future.