Matt Milano’s Pectoral Strain: Injury concerns and impact on contract talks

Happy week five, everyone! Winning if fun, the offense is fun to watch, and the defense is frustrating as hell. However, the Bills are 4-0, and we’re on to Tennessee. I’m going to switch it up this week because while the team is battling your usual in-season bumps and bruises, the team is overall pretty healthy, especially in comparison to the rest of the league. Allen’s shoulder seems fine, the guys on the weekly injury report are practicing in full by Friday, Norman is back (loved his game), and big Jon Feliciano should be back soon as well. Notably in this game, the Bills appear to have lost Levi Wallace for an extended period of time with what looks like a high ankle sprain and Matt Milano to a pectoral injury. This week, I am going to focus on Matt Milano due to his popularity, contract status, and injury history.

Matt Milano’s importance to the defense:

Fans all watch the games and/or have access to high quality content and in depth reviews via multiple outlets on social media. I don’t have to sit here and tell you all how important Milano is to this defense because if you’re reading this blog, I’d bet you already know he’s pretty damn important. Most of Bills Twitter seems to be in agreement with “pay Matt Milano”. Since arriving to Buffalo, take a look at his stats:

  • 2017- 16 GP, 49 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery,  1 INT, and 2 passes defended
  • 2018- 13 GP, 78 tackles, 1 sack, 3 fumble recoveries, 3 INT, and 7 passes defended
  • 2019- 15 GP, 101 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 0 INT, 9 passes defended.
  • 2020- 3 GP, 18 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 passes defended. *having missed 1 game already and looking at another possible 4-6, he’s on track to play around 9-11 games.

Matt Milano’s importance goes way beyond what his stats show, however. The continuity he brings to this defense along with his chemistry with Tremaine Edmunds is vital to the success of the defensive unit. Edmunds trusts Milano to do his job, allowing Edmunds to play freely in the middle of the field. Milano is also incredible as a blitzer and in pass coverage. Milano’s ability to go stride for stride with opposing RB’s in the flat or on wheel routes is fantastic and brings a sneaky key element to the defense that allows them to call a variety of plays from certain defensive packages. His ability to impact both options of run plays or passes to the TE over the middle impact what plays opposing teams can call on offense.

 Milano is very reliable in the run and pass game, and it is easy to see the struggles the defense goes through when he’s off the field. We all watched Ryan Fitzpatrick shred the middle of this defense in week two with Mike Gesicki. There is no reason Miami should have ever had the lead in the 4th quarter of that game and drop 28 points on us. Matt Milano could show the film of that game in his contract negotiations alone and prove his worth, but I will dive further into his contract later on in this blog.

Let’s take a deep dive and look at the defensive stats for games they played sans Milano

  • 2018 week 15 vs Detroit: 13 pts allowed, 313 total yards (208 passing, 105 rushing), 5.7 yards per play, 2 TDs, and 0 forced turnovers
  • 2018 week 16 at New England: 24 pts allowed, 390 total yds (117 passing, 273 rushing), 5.3 yards per play, 3 TDs, and 3 forced turnovers
  • 2018 week 17 vs Miami: 17 pts allowed, 225 total yards (126 passing, 99 rushing), 3.7 yards per play, 1 TD, 4 forced turnovers.
  • 2019 week 7 vs Miami: 21 pts allowed, 381 total yds (272 passing, 109 rushing), 5.8 yards per play, 3 TDs, and 2 forced turnovers.
  • 2020 week 2 at Miami: 28 pts allowed, 410 total yds (311 passing, 99 rushing), 5.7 yards per play, 4 TDs, and 0 forced turnovers.

Minus the week 17 game vs. Miami in 2018 (Kyle Williams’ last game, the final straw for Adam Gase in Miami, and Josh Allen’s coming out party), these results are pretty rough. He is clearly a key player in this defense.

Matt Milano’s injury history:

Matt Milano is a fantastic player and is severely underrated. He is a perfect match for Sean McDermott’s defensive system as well. He’s reliable, he can cover, he can blitz, and he can blow up plays. However, a common saying is “the best ability is availability”. Let’s take a look at Milano’s injury history since arriving in Buffalo:

  • November 2018- concussion and was “week to week”
  • December 2018- fractured fibula and placed on season ending IR
  • October 2019- hamstring strain, missed week 7 game vs Miami (would have missed 2 games but had BYE week prior to Miami game)
  • September 2020- hamstring strain in week 1 vs Jets, missed following game in Miami
  • October 2020- pectoral strain, expected to miss 4-6 weeks with grade 1-2 strain

In the big picture, he really hasn’t missed many games in his career. However, it is important to note the types of injuries and the impacts they can have in the future. He will be 27 this summer and, obviously, his body isn’t getting any younger. Soft tissue injuries are a pain to deal with, both literally and figuratively. They tend to linger throughout seasons and carry high risks of re-injury. Milano’s one concussion and fractured fibula do not worry me as much in regards to future injuries. However, the hamstring issues the past two seasons and now the pectoral strain worry me when it comes to aggravating them again in the future.

Current Pectoral strain:

If you guys and gals have been reading my blogs since the summer, then you will remember the one I wrote about Jon Feliciano and his pectoral injury. The key here is that Milano suffered a strain or partial tear, where Feliciano suffered a complete tear, which is why he had to have surgery. Considering the possibilities, Milano got lucky here, as his season could have been over. Now, since it’s only a partial tear, how is this treated? It is treated just like all those other nagging soft tissue injuries: Rest! Milano will need a few weeks (specifically 4-6 weeks, thanks to my co-pilot @ThighDoctor) of rest and recovery while the muscle repairs itself, and he should not attempt to play through this, as it can cause further damage.

The most common cause of this injury is from excessive tension on a maximally eccentrically contracted muscle. As you can see, his left arm is at full extension here while attempting the tackle but is being met with tension/resistance due to the ball carriers forward momentum. This could have easily been a complete tear as JJ Watt experienced last year on a very similar type of play. Here is a picture of how Milano suffered the injury courtesy of @ThighDoctor, who has been diving deep into the all-22!

Contract extension?

Obviously, Matt Milano’s rookie contract expires at the conclusion of this season. Brandon Beane has a big decision coming up on whether to extend Milano or not. His impact and importance on the defense is not even debatable. He is an absolute stud, and the defense is clearly different without him on the field. Per Spotrac, Milano’s market value comes out to an estimated contract of four years worth $52 million total, with an average salary cap hit of around $13 mil. Now, Spotrac comes up with these numbers by looking at similar contracts signed recently by players at his position. An interesting note is that many of the LB’s who were extended were between the ages of 24-26. Milano will be 27 years old this summer, so I’m not sure how much that will impact his negotiations.

Brandon Beane also has a track record of being a wizard when it comes to controlling the salary cap. For example, Big Baller Beane extended his franchise LT Dion Dawkins, and his new contract never exceeds a cap hit of $13.8 million. All-Pro and top two CB in the NFL, Tre White, got a new deal that never exceeds a cap hit of $14.6 million. Brandon Beane has shown the ability to reward players with new (and well deserved) contracts without mortgaging the future. Will he be able to do the same with Milano? Will Beane balk at a hefty extension with Milano’s soft-tissue injury history? Will he have no choice but to extend him due to his importance to the defense? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. With the possibility of Milano missing around six games this season between the previous hamstring and current pectoral injury, did he lose any leverage in negotiations?

With the salary cap lowering to approximately $175 million next season, my gut tells me Matt Milano tests free agency and is unlikely to return to Buffalo. I hope my gut is wrong, because I’d love to see him remain a Buffalo Bill.

Thanks for reading!

As always,

Go Bills!

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