During the regular season, details on player injuries are now reported on a seemingly minute-to-minute schedule. Information is less readily available through March. But as teams get closer to free agency, the draft, and post-draft mini-camps, new details emerge.
Players must make final decisions on surgical interventions to give themselves enough time to finish rehab before the end of training camp. Coaches and players are more readily available for questions at the scouting combine, the draft, and mini-camps. And the decisions front offices and coaching staffs make in free agency and the draft sometimes hint at where teams believe their injured veterans may be in their recovery.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be reviewing player injuries by position. I'll examine critical or confusing situations in depth. Expectations on all relevant injuries will be included in a table at the end of each article.
I'll keep each feature up-to-date through OTAs and minicamps, then combine all positions into one feature as training camps and the regular season approaches.
In 2018, it was Andrew Luck's shoulder grabbing many of the offseason injury headlines. After missing all of 2017 rehabbing a shoulder labrum repair, there were legitimate questions about whether Luck would be able to return to play. Not only did Luck return, he returned at an elite level.
There doesn't seem to be as much concern over the two high profile quarterback injuries this offseason. But both Cam Newton and Carson Wentz are rehabbing injuries that may impact their careers immediately and over the long term.
Cam Newton | Arthroscopic shoulder procedure | Late January 2019 | Ready for training camp
Newton underwent surgery to address a partially torn rotator cuff in March 2017. Over the next two seasons, Newton required heavy maintenance and limited throwing schedules during the season. He admitted to a lack of arm strength and the Panthers replaced him in Hail Mary situations. Despite a career-high 67.9% completion rate, Newton's completion percentage on passes over 25 yards plummeted. The Panthers elected to adjust their game plan to account for Newton's limitations and Newton finished with a career-low 7.5-yard average depth of target versus his 9.5-yard career average. (aDOT data per airyards.com.) Per ProFootballFocus data via SI.com, Newton threw only 40 passes traveling 20 or more yards in the air last year.
After a four-interception performance in Week 13 last season, Newton expressed concerns about his throwing velocity and arm strength. By Week 15, the Panthers' decision-makers finally decided to shut Newton down for the season.
In January, Newton had exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder. Although he acknowledged he was "in fear to see what was actually wrong," Newton was relieved to learn his rotator cuff and labrum looked good. His surgeon found minor cartilage wear-and-tear but reportedly only needed to remove scar tissue from his prior surgery. Newton said the outcome was "way better than I thought it would be."
Every rehab report since the January surgery has been positive. Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Newton was already seeing improvements in the range of motion in his shoulder within a week of surgery. Most recently, Newton told reporters he was feeling close to full strength.
However, Newton has not yet been cleared to throw. He wouldn't say what the timetable of his throwing program was when asked in early May. That's not necessarily concerning. Newton struggled through two years of pain and weakness in his shoulder after trying to return from the 2017 rotator cuff surgery in just four months. The Panthers -- like the Colts with Andrew Luck last offseason -- have every reason to be cautious with Newton's recovery.
If Newton throws during the team's May 21-23 minicamp, it's obviously an excellent sign for his recovery. But don't be surprised if Carolina continues to take care with Newton's rehab. The Panthers may remain cautious through their mandatory June 11-13 minicamp.
For now, there's reason to believe Newton's shoulder issues could be behind him. Carolina drafted Will Grier -- a player they reportedly graded higher than Kyler Murray -- but there are no indications they see Grier as a hedge on Newton's short-term health. Any report of a rehab setback would be concerning but expect Newton to start training camp on the active roster and preparing to play in Week 1.
Carson Wentz | Lumbar stress fracture | Mid-December 2018 | Ready for training camp
Wentz reportedly dealt with back pain as early as mid-October before his late-season diagnosis of a stress fracture in his lumbar spine was made.
It's an injury Wentz has dealt with before. Though reportedly not exactly the same, Wentz was diagnosed with a similar stress response in his spine during his redshirt year at North Dakota State. The issue was known to the Eagles during the scouting combine and did not sway the team from taking Wentz second overall in the 2016 draft.
Wentz was originally given a three-month return-to-play timetable. The blood supply to the area of Wentz's injury is limited, however, and recovery from these types of stress fractures is not always a smooth process. Wentz confirmed as much in April. When asked whether his injury had fully healed, Wentz replied, "It's still getting there." He seemed optimistic about his readiness for OTAs saying, "There's no rush ... but that's the goal."
Wentz has said he's been told "once [his injury] is under wraps, it shouldn't ever come back," by his doctors. That's tough to fully accept after he's suffered two similar lower spine injuries before his age 27 season and stress responses and fractures are known to recur.
While a return to full activity during OTAs would be a welcome development, a lucrative contract offer from Philadelphia would be even more reassuring. General manager Howie Roseman says the Eagles are in the planning stages of a long-term deal and "wouldn't hesitate" if the deal was right. Actions speak louder than words, however, and Philadelphia will have two years to assess Wentz's durability after exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Our next data point will be the Eagles' first OTA workout on May 21.
|Player||Team||Injury||Date||Player/Team Says||FBGs Expects||Notes|
|Cam Newton||CAR||Arthroscopic shoulder procedure||Late January 2019||Ready for training camp||Ready for training camp||Could throw during OTAs|
|Carson Wentz||PHI||Lumbar stress fracture||Mid-December 2018||Chance to return for OTAs||Ready for training camp|
|Jimmy Garoppolo||SF||Left ACL reconstruction||Early October 2018||Ready for training camp||Ready for training camp||Expected in 7v7 during OTAs|
|Marcus Mariota||TEN||Ulnar nerve contusion | Recurrent stinger||Multiple episodes 2018||Ready for OTAs||Ready for training camp|
|Andy Dalton||CIN||Right thumb ligament repair||Late November 2018||Ready for OTAs||Ready for OTAs|
|Alex Smith||WAS||Right tibia/fibula fixation | Post-surgical infection||Late November 2018 | Early December 2018||Unlikely to play 2019||Unlikely to return to NFL|
|Colt McCoy||WAS||Right fibula fracture fixation | Follow up procedures||Early December 2018 | March & April 2019||Ready for training camp||Probable for training camp|
Check back for more injury analysis throughout training camp and follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, commentary, and analysis of injury news around the NFL
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