David Wilson says he feels no pain, has been working out since February and was participating in non-contact drills in OTAs last week. But, after reviewing Wilson’s MRI today, doctors are still refusing to clear him for contact after a January cervical fusion surgery to address a herniated disc in his neck and spinal stenosis. Wilson's next chance to gain clearance won’t be until July 21.
As yet, no specifics have been given on why Wilson hasn’t been cleared. But I think one scenario is more likely than others.
Part of Wilson’s surgical procedure in January involved clearing out the soft disc tissue between two of his cervical vertebrae and filling it in with a bone graft – fusing those two bones together permanently. In most cases, it takes about three months for the bone graft to fully heal but it can take longer. Though Wilson could be cleared to lift weights and do some football-related activity once his strength and range of motion had fully recovered, doctors will not clear him for contact until the graft has fused appropriately.
I’m basing my speculation on Wilson’s current activity level, the report that another MRI and exam have been scheduled in just six weeks and optimism from multiple sources that Wilson will eventually be cleared to play. Those factors suggest Wilson continues to make progress in his rehab, today’s MRI showed more healing in the bone graft than his last MRI and that there are no other medical reasons for concern.
The other, and much more worrisome, possibility is that doctors have seen enough healing on Wilson’s MRI to be comfortable with graft healing but continue to have concerns about the extent of narrowing in Wilson’s spinal column. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see Wilson gaining clearance in six weeks. But, again, I think the first scenario is more likely.
[EDIT: Wilson confirmed that the primary concern is the healing of his bone graft later in the day, saying "we want to wait until (the spine is) fused all the way."]
Opinions will differ on whether this should be considered a setback for Wilson.
Some will argue that today’s news isn’t a major concern. Wilson’s rehab is clearly going well and his conditioning has progressed quickly. And there seems to be optimism that Wilson will gain clearance in July, in time to practice in camp. Others will argue that it’s now over four months since his fusion and there is still not enough evidence on MRI to clear him for contact. The sooner Wilson can be cleared for contact, the sooner the Giants can feel comfortable with him as a key member of their running back depth chart.
I think the truth is somewhere in-between. I don’t believe today’s news is a definite indication that Wilson’s career is more likely to be over than continue. But until Wilson is cleared for contact, there’s a chance he won’t return to the field. Today’s news means that the Giants can’t be certain Wilson will play this year until the day training camp starts.
That’s a setback of sorts, whether he’s cleared to put on the pads for the first week of camp or not.
Check back for more on David Wilson's injury after his July MRI and for analysis of major NFL injury throughout the summer months. Also, follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, commentary and analysis of this injury and others around the NFL.