Got a heart condition? Here’s $28 million. A Mount Vesuvius of puss is erupting from your knee? Here’s $8.5 million. After showering previously injured free agents with money, is it time for the Saints to get their medical advice from a more reliable source?
I’m sick of this. First, there was Jairus Byrd. Then C.J. Spiller. Then James Laurinaitis. And now Nick Fairley. Do the Saints literally dumpster dive in surgical rehab facilities for free agent players with previous injury histories?
To be Fairley (get it?), the defensive tackle journeyman was flagged for this very same heart condition that may force his retirement way back at his 2011 NFL Combine. Just recently, the condition was found to be more dangerous than previously thought. But the Saints doctors just put Fairley through a full physical exam before inking him to a 4-year, $28 million deal.
The worsened condition was found by a separate doctor AFTER the ink dried on his fresh contract. I wish only the best for Fairley going forward, and hope he remains happy and healthy over a long life. I can’t say I wish the same for whoever is in charge of vetting player personnel injury history for the Saints.
For instance, have the Buffalo Bills figured out that we’ll take their walking wounded after they’ve carefully weighed their own options to resign the player? Byrd nursed a gnarly case of plantar fasciitis during his final season with the Bills only to later injure his back during what would become his last Pro Bowl.
I remember reading articles back then about how fantastic the Bills training and medical staff were, so I had some reticence when the Saints signed the now former-ballhawk to the richest safety contract in the history of the league. I thought, "Maybe the Bills know something the Saints don’t, and that’s why they are letting him walk after such a productive first five seasons."
The Saints signed Byrd in March 2014 on the first day of free agency. By late May, Byrd had gone to see a specialist in Los Angeles who recommended surgery for one of his discs. Payton claimed it was "asymptomatic but it’s something we wanted to do." A disc issue needing surgery is rarely, if ever, asymptomatic. I didn't require surgery for a bulging disc in my L5-S1 lumbar region that I got playing collegiate volleyball in 2003. You know when I felt 100% again? Never.
It took until I became a personal trainer in 2007, four years later, for my daily pain to reduce from a 7 on the pain scale to a 3. Eight years after the initial injury, in 2011, I started doing yoga and the pain went down to a 1 or 2. Today, 14 years later, I still experience some pain and had a terrible recurrence three months ago that took me out for a full week.
Of course everyone heals differently and injuries differ across populations, but I think everyone can agree that back pain can knock even the toughest athletes out of commission. How could the Saints minimize such a debilitating injury?
To add insult to injury, the Saints weren’t done sifting through the Bills’s trash heap just yet. They then signed C.J. Spiller who was coming off a broken collarbone. No biggie; those heal okay, usually, unless you’re Tony Romo. The bigger issue was Spiller having knee surgery in August, missing training camp, three games, and then never finding his footing in the offense before being placed on IR and, later, released.
Sometimes the timing of these surgeries is what pisses me off most. If Max Unger’s foot has been hurting like hell since week 13 last year, why didn't he have surgery day one of the offseason? Instead, the Saints waited till May for Unger to get a surgery that requires months of recuperation. The hospitals should be jammed at the end of football season in January and February; not May, June, July, or August. Get help, get rehab, retrain the body, and be back for offseason activities. It sounds almost too easy….
Instead, here’s the Saints Medical Modus Operandi:
- Saints player gets injured either at our own workouts or before walking into the building
- Saints either don’t initially diagnose injury or claim it is less serious than it is
- Saints player gets second and sometimes third opinion from outside doctors
- Saints player undergoes surgery (which wouldn’t have been necessary if the player had been properly rested from the onset of the injury)
- Saints player re-injures ailment from returning too quickly or never fully recovers
- Saints cut player in hopes of lowering salary cap to sign another player soon to be injured by our out of shape and incompetent training staff
Case in point. James Laurinaitis. In a phone interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as late as April 2017, Laurinaitis detailed a painful knee injury he had been dealing with since 2014, a full year before being released by the Rams and later signed by the Saints.
General wear and tear in the knee had led to continual inflammation and soreness. "That’s when I started getting gel injections to try to stop the deterioration of the knee," he said. "Once you start to lose cartilage, or get a gap in your cartilage, there’s really no growing it back."
The Rams trainer worked with him to strengthen the surrounding muscles of the knee, but the linebacker began requiring knee fluid draining procedures to be ready for Sundays. "And way too many CCs (of liquid) coming out of that thing," Laurinaitis said. Delicious. He’s got a daiquiri flowing from his knee? Let’s sign him to a three year, $8.25 million contract!
After trying out for the Kansas City Chiefs and feeling his knee swell on the plane ride home, the Rams all time leading tackler knew it was time to retire. "I told myself when I entered the league, I didn’t want to steal from the game," Laurinaitis said. Well, thanks a lot James, because you sure had no problem taking $1.6 million from the Saints for five games, 17 combined tackles, and one fumble recovery.
Still, I can’t fault the player for getting paid by the amateur. It’s no one’s fault but the Saints’ if they want to continue making terrible investments on the backs of incompetent decision influencers. I just hope injured Saints linemen Nick Fairley, Terron Armstead, and Max Unger are working with multiple doctors and trainers outside of Airline Drive, Metairie. It would be extremely competent of them to do so.