Monday was a dark day for the Buffalo Bills, sure, but a particularly dark day for their medical staff.
With the 19th overall pick, the team took a player they expected to start Day One in Clemson edge rusher Shaq Lawson. They could've gone with a potential quarterback of the future (Paxton Lynch?), an athletic linebacker (Darron Lee?), a freak of a defensive tackle (Robert Nkemdiche?), a mountain of a defensive tackle (Jarran Reed? Kenny Clark?) or a wide receiver but Lawson was the pick because he was a playmaker who'd help immediately. And when asked about the ESPN report that Lawson could require surgery after next season on his shoulder and miss 4-6 months, General Manager Doug Whaley was quick to say everything is fine.
"(Our) medical staff cleared him, said he can play," Whaley said. "Now, if something happens, it’s going to happen, but it’s nothing that we’re real worried about or we wouldn’t have taken him. We got complete faith in our medical staff and they signed off on him, so we’re excited to have him."
After one pad-less swim move, the Bills will be without Lawson until, at least, midseason.
One source now says that "multiple teams" took Lawson off of their draft board completely due to the shoulder and Lawson himself admitted the day after the pick the Jacksonville Jaguars flagged him. No, this doesn't mean the selection is a bust — not at all. Maybe Lawson eventually does wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and has a very long, very successful, very disruptive NFL career. He brings the violent temperament coach Rex Ryan needs. But taking a player with such red flags runs counter to the win-now drum the front office and coaching staff has been beating. From the moment Ryan took over in January 2015 to now, everything the Bills have done has been with the motive of winning sooner rather than later.
Trading for LeSean McCoy. Giving Richie Incognito a second chance. Signing Charles Clay. Re-signing Jerry Hughes. Investing in the left side of the offensive line. Giving Rex the ability to do whatever he'd like on defense from hiring Rob Ryan to going D-D-D on draft weekend.
And then — as team sources told The Buffalo News — Sammy Watkins' broken foot was brought to the limelight. Now, the medical staff will need to redeem itself in a big way by giving Watkins rest, rest, rest and more rest. Possibly Watkins did play through pain in his foot last year but he didn't have surgery until about a month ago. The wide receiver was in town for Day 3 of off-season workouts last month so what exactly went down is murky. What we do know is that Watkins broke a small bone in his foot that required a screw to be inserted.
Right now, it sounds like Watkins may have suffered a Jones fracture, common in sports. NFL Network reported Watkins had surgery in Charlotte with Dr. Robert Anderson. The bone he broke was the fifth metatarsal, the same as Dez Bryant and Julian Edelman before him. The injury itself isn't too catastrophic. Watkins was quick to tell the world he's absolutely fine on Twitter by tweeting a photo of his feet. But problems do arise when athletes try to rush back too soon. Dallas' Bryant hurried back from his Jones fracture in 2015 and ended up needing a second surgery. The year prior, in the NBA, Kevin Durant did the same and was shut down for the season.
Atlanta's Julio Jones suffered the injury in 2011 and re-injured it in 2013, hence the receiver cautioning Bryant to ease back on a conference call last season.
“With Dez, he's just going to have to take time and get healed up properly,” Jones said, via the Star-Telegram.com. “You don't want to rush it and then it sets you back. If you come back too early, then it can put you back again. So, my thing to Dez is, just get fully healthy and then you can go out there and help your teammates.
“It was very difficult for me, but I understood the bigger picture. The next year I didn't want to be going through the same thing again, and I've been back a year now and going into this year I haven't had a foot injury or problem at all with my foot.”
So the good news for Watkins? It's the offseason. The Bills don't play a game that matters until Sept. 11 against Baltimore, four months away.
After telling Whaley, Ryan and the Bills that Lawson's shoulder was A-OK before the draft, the medical staff (one that did not pump the brakes on Torell Troup a few years back) must show a lot more discipline here. Watkins, who has suffered a myriad of injuries in his young career, needs to be on the field for the Bills to have any shot at contention this season. Behind him, there's Robert Woods, sixth-rounder Kolby Listenbee and several vets fighting for their NFL lives. The team opted not to sign a veteran early in free agency or draft one in the early rounds.
They need Watkins. And Watkins, arguably the NFL's best deep threat last season, needs his feet at 100 percent.
Sure, there will be conditioning concerns. Watkins won't be able to put much weight on his foot for a while, so the training staff may stick him on the elliptical for a long time. And, sure, Watkins will probably want to push the envelope. After injuring his calf last season, he vowed to play on, saying "if it pops, it pops."
But the concern of Watkins injuring his foot again, missing substantial time and the Bills missing the playoffs a 17th straight season should trump everything.