It was March 16th, around a quarter before 7pm. I just wrapped up my last patient in the clinic, ironically a thigh injury. As I returned with a bag of ice, the news was breaking on the ESPN ticker. Von Miller to Buffalo. Crushed ice went everywhere, thigh thrusts erupted.
The Buffalo Bills made moves. However, free agents rarely come without some warts. For this free agent class, there are some legitimate injury concerns. The question is, how concerned should we be?
After back-to-back All-Pro selections to start his career, Miller had a rough third season. In 2013, he was suspended for the first six games of the season for a drug violation. Late in the season, Miller tore his ACL. Fortunately, it was an isolated ACL injury. This allowed Miller to come back in almost ‘Adrian Peterson’ time, in which he played all games in 2014 and garnered another All-Pro selection.
When an ACL injury occurs, there is always concern for future injury. However, when the injury is ‘clean’ (which means no additional ligament, cartilage, and/or meniscus injury), the prognosis is better. The average time of a second ACL tear is two years (1). At this juncture, Miller is nearly 10 years post ACL surgery. There should be no concern here.
Miller had another major injury recently. In 2020, Miller required surgery to correct a dislocated peroneal tendon of his ankle.
Although they require a lengthy recovery time, the repairs do well. The re-dislocation rate is less than 1.5%, long term (2). Miller returned this past year, posting 9.5 sacks in 15 games, and four in the playoffs. He may be 33 at the start of the 2022 Bills season, but Von Miller’s injury history will not have a significant impact on his play.
Howard suffered a myriad of ankle and hamstring injuries in his short career thus far. In his first two years in the NFL, 2017 and 2018, Howard missed eight combined games for ankle injuries. In 2019, he missed two games for hamstring issues. The big injury occurred in 2020, where he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in October.
Howard returned in 2021 and had his worst statistical season of his young career. Accounting for research, TEs have the high rate of return to play of all NFL skill positions. However, WRs have the lowest rate of return (3). Considering the type of TE Howard usually is, a vertical threat, I am very concerned with his medical history and future success.
Saffold carries a lot of baggage. He missed 28 games in his first six seasons in the league. He suffered from multiple knee, neck, back, and most importantly shoulder injuries. Both of his shoulders have required surgical repairs.
Fortunately, Saffold appears to have regained some youth. He has only missed four games in the last six seasons. This trend is important, and ideally should continue. However, his history cannot be discounted and there should be concern how he bodes for a 17 game schedule and playoffs at 34 years old.
Shaq was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2016. Before his career even started, he was having surgery on his right shoulder and landed on the PUP list for the first six weeks of his rookie season. This was likely due to a labral issue from college. He went on to miss another five games in 2017 for ankle and groin ailments. He also had a knee scope during that offseason cycle. In 2018 and 2019, Shaq missed three games total for hamstring injuries. After departing Buffalo, Shaq has been generally healthy. His medical history should not be a concern.
Phillips wreaked havoc for the Buffalo Bills in 2019. He left in free agency in 2020 to the Arizona Cardinals, and has had some ailments the past two years. In 2020, he missed seven games for a hamstring injury. He followed that up with an odd ‘undisclosed’ injury in 2021, where he missed the first five games. His season ended for a ‘knee’ injury that saw him miss the final four games. In total, Phillips has missed 16 games in the past two seasons. This is not a good trend, and his health may be a concern for the Bills in 2022.
DaQuan Jones & Tim Settle
Neither player carries any significant injury history. DaQuan did have a bicep repair in 2017, missing the final four games of the season. Fortunately for Buffalo, there are no concerns with these two hog mollies.
Medical histories can create pause in excitement for these free agent additions. However, the Buffalo Bills medical facilities and staff have been fantastic during the McDermott era. They should be able to limit and prevent future ailments better than most. Lorenzo Alexander touched on this in his Q&A back in 2020.
- Stuhlman CR, Owens CJ, Samuelson EM, et al. Recurrent Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tears in the National Football League: A Case-Control Study. Orthop J Sports Med. 2019; 7(12): 2325967119891413. Published 2019 Dec 24. doi: 10.1177/2325967119891413
- van Dijk PA, Gianakos AL, Kerkhoffs GM, Kennedy JG. Return to sports and clinical outcomes in patients treated for peroneal tendon dislocation: a systematic review. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2016; 24(4): 1155-1164. doi: 10.1007/s00167-015-3833-z
- Barton D, Manoharan A, Khwaja A, Sorenson J, Taylor M. Return to Play Following Achilles Tendon Rupture in NFL Players Based on Position. Foot Ankle Spec. 2021 Oct 5: 19386400211040351. doi: 10.1177/19386400211040351. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34609159.