March 16, 2015 - Dr. David Chao
Monday Morning MD: Veteran Combine not really a Combine at all
The inaugural Veteran Combine to be held March 22nd is misnamed. The Indianapolis spectacle called the Combine is a week- long event with well over 300 draft eligible collegiate players that teams want to get to know. The Veteran Combine is a single day event with just over 100 former NFL players that are well known to league insiders. NFL executives universally acknowledge the most important part of Combine is the medical evaluation. The Veteran Combine will have no medical component. It is really just a one-day workout. Many say the second most important aspect of Combine is the interview sessions. Once again, the Veteran Combine will have no formal interview process. I am not saying the creation of a Veteran Combine is a bad idea. I actually hope it works out for NFL teams and its former players. I am just saying it isn’t anything like a true comprehensive Combine. Instead, it is a consolidated free agent tryout and should just be referred to as a Veteran Pro Day like the ones held at university campuses for college players. Hopefully, this will be a good forum for veterans to get some exposure. “Out of sight, out of mind” is something that can happen, and this puts former players in front of scouts. However, if this really is intended to encourage teams to sign players, perhaps a medical evaluation should be considered. Most of the players invited have recently played in the NFL and their health status may have had a role in causing their exit from the league. Collegiate players that never missed a game are still medically evaluated. A veteran player’s health status has likely changed since his Combine medical evaluation. Some players are specifically released for health, cumulative trauma or age-related issues. Why not have a medical physical if this is seriously intended to land jobs for former players? It might make sense to give certain veterans a chance to prove their health at a medical only combine (see MMMD item 7 below). After all, many college prospects participate only in the medical portion of Combine and choose to work out only at their school’s Pro Day. Of course, free agents can hit the circuit and do individual physicals but this process is repetitive and costly. When I was interviewed in the SiriusXM NFL studios last year by former player Ross Tucker, he gave me grief for how thorough I was as a team physician performing his free agent physical when he had just gone through the same process days before with other clubs. For example, a player on a job hunt might get the same five sets of x-rays during five different team visits. This problem should be improved somewhat by the league-wide electronic medical records system that was fully implemented this past season. Excluding the interview process is less of an issue than not having medical. The NFL is a small fraternity and the reputation of a player who has been in the league is well known. Likely, advance reconnaissance has been performed before an invitation for a club visit is made. Teams have an entire pro personnel department dedicated to knowing players who have been on team rosters. There is also some truth in the idea of a “good old boys” network, and it is not an accident that players rejoin previous coaches or executives like former Eagle Jeremy Maclin reuniting with Andy Reid in Kansas City during free agency this past week. The bottom line is, the Veteran Combine is a misnomer since it is just a workout and has no medical evaluation, interviews or other trappings of the Indy experience. It should really just be renamed to Veteran Pro Day. MMMD 1: Frank Gore started the dominos of free agency The NFL landscape might look much different if the former 49er running back stuck with his initial intention to join the Eagles. Instead, a never before seen chain reaction was started with $1.321 billion ($590 million guaranteed) spent in the first 72 hours of free agency. Was it fair of Gore to change his mind? Some say he should have been a man of his word. Others say he never signed a contract, so he was never truly committed. I would point out that teams have backed out on players before, like when the Raiders pulled out on Rodger Saffold last year. If a team can renege on a verbal agreement with a player and still follow league rules, then why can’t a player have buyer’s remorse and change his mind as long as he also follows the rules? MMMD 2: Are young retirees the new trend? Four players, age 30 or under, retired from the NFL last week while teams still coveted their services. Is this the latest reaction in the health and safety era? At the age of 27, Jason Worilds is walking away from potentially more signing bonus money than he made his entire career. Jake Locker is a former eighth overall pick in the draft and is retiring at the age of 26 after only 30 NFL games. Patrick Willis, with seven Pro Bowl appearances (and no one doubting an eighth) announced retirement. A 29 year-old Maurice Jones-Drew is stepping away from the game healthy as well. There is no way to know what each athlete’s personal motives are for moving on from football. Willis’s toe injury undoubtedly played a role, but how much was long-term health a factor in each one’s decision? No one directly cited concussion or other football dangers, but one has to think that played some role. Just like it is a parent/kid’s choice to play Pop Warner football, it is a NFL player’s right to walk away on his own terms. Good luck to all four in their future endeavors. MMMD 3: Will the Eagles medical gambles pay off? Chip Kelly is the talk of the NFL with his aggressive off-season. Of note, he traded for two players coming off ACL tears. The Eagles acquired Kiko Alonso in an unusual player-for-player trade involving LeSean McCoy. For a defensive player, returning to 100% after ACL surgery is trickier as it is harder for the knee to react. He does have the advantage of being hurt in July, leading to more recovery time. Philadelphia also acquired Sam Bradford who is coming off consecutive ACL tears. Although players can do well from a second knee ligament surgery, I would at least suggest a brace when he returns. Bradford does have experience in college with the spread offense but Carson Palmer, as a pocket quarterback, will have an easier return from his revision ACL surgery. It is entirely possible that both Alonso and Bradford recover well (and I hope they do); however, there is no certainty both will. MMMD 4: Darrelle Revis contract worked out just like he planned I wrote exactly one year ago that Revis’ short-term deal indicated his personal confidence that his second year back from ACL surgery would be a big one. It routinely takes a second season for a cornerback to shine as he makes a living reacting to the opponent’s cuts. Revis knew his knee would be in top form this past season. He banked on excelling with the Patriots and took a short term deal which has now paid off in a $70 million Jets contract. MMMD 5: Jimmy Graham’s shoulder play a role in trade? Certainly the Saints as a franchise are undergoing significant player turnover. Is that the only reason they traded their star tight end? Graham had a significant shoulder issue last season that caused missed games and reduced playing time, leading to a down year. Was it the team direction or its worry about the injury that led to the trade with the Seahawks for center Max Unger? The shoulder damage has not been spelled out in the media, and I never identified a particular injury mechanism on film. Whatever it was, Graham passed a Seattle physical to finalize the deal, and we will have to see how it plays out. MMMD 6: End of thoughts for 18 regular season games The majority of the candidates for NFLPA executive director, including leading candidate Sean Gilbert, favored adding two games to the regular season. The current players, the current NFLPA president and the current executive director did not. With yesterday’s re-election of the current NFLPA leader, any thoughts of expanding the regular season probably died for the foreseeable future. Perhaps my proposal to add a second bye week as a safe way to extend the season and produce more income should be reconsidered. MMMD 7: Why not a true veteran medical combine? Every year there are many free agent players with pending medical issues. Jake Long, coming off his 2nd ACL tear, was cut by the Rams. Reggie Wayne had off-season triceps repair surgery and was released by the Colts. Brett Keisel says he is not ready to retire yet but he is no longer a Steeler after his season ended with an elbow injury. Why not gather these players in one location and have them checked out? Hopefully this would allay injury fears and streamline the process for released players to get resigned. Right now the cumbersome protocol requires each player to fly to every individual team that might be interested to have a physical performed. Follow David on Twitter: @profootballdoc Dr. David Chao is a former NFL head team physician with 17 years of sideline, locker and training room experience. He currently has a successful orthopedic/sports medicine practice in San Diego.