The much-awaited return of All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White has become a source of frustration for Buffalo Bills fans—and redundant soundbites for members of the media—as, 51 weeks after his initial injury, White has yet to return to the field of play.
Here’s a look at the timeline that has kept White, a fan favorite and a cornerstone of a top defense, off of the field for almost a complete calendar year.
Thanksgiving Day 2021
White fell to the turf on a second-quarter play during the Bills’ win over the New Orleans Saints. While covering the Saints’ Marquez Callaway, White zigged while his knee zagged, causing him to collapse on the turf. After getting attention from the Bills’ medical staff, White was able to limp off the field. By halftime, he was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Further review showed that Callaway’s hip may have made contact with White’s knee during the play. While White was in a classic ACL-tearing position, it was possible that he could have escaped without an injury if it wasn’t for the additional contact.
Friday, November 26, 2021
The Bills announced that White was out for the remainder of the season. He had recorded just one interception, well off his usual pace, but had 41 tackles credited to his name in the first 11 games of the season. White had an MRI earlier that day, and it was determined that he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The scan also revealed some damage to the meniscus.
December 14, 2021
White underwent surgery to repair the damage in his knee. The repair included a graft of his patellar tendon to repair the ACL. Additionally, surgeons repaired his torn meniscus—something that can cause stability issues, as well as pain and career-shortening arthritis, if it is not healed properly. (Check out info on basketball player James Wiseman’s injury if you aren’t convinced.)
White admitted to being in a dark place, holing up in the basement of his home while he dealt with the emotional side of suffering the first serious injury of his career.
“Locked up in my basement, they had to come drag me out of there,” White said, noting that the Bills’ training staff practically forced him to get back to work. “The first few months were very hard, a very depressing time. This is unfamiliar territory for me. It was challenging.”
The training staff did their job, though, as White got to work. Head coach Sean McDermott commented that he saw the cornerback every day working to get back to full strength.
When White showed up to training camp, there was hope that the All-Pro could possibly be on a fast track to playing, similar to running back Adrian Peterson. The former Minnesota Vikings star had returned to play just eight months after having his ACL repaired—something that might have been seen as super-human, but gave members of Bills Mafia (and probably members of the Bills camp, although it is doubtful that they would ever admit to it) hope that White might be back sooner rather than later.
That sliver of hope that White might be superhuman came to a screeching halt, as kryptonite must have been dropped into the team’s training camp. White disappeared from the practice field, and there were no more “Tre’ Day” rumors, as sightings of the cornerback ceased.
As August came to a close, the Bills announced that they were placing White on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The season would start with the cornerback not among the players on the roster, and not even eligible to be at the facility for the first four weeks of the season.
October 12, 2022
Bills head coach Sean McDermott announced that White had returned to practice with the team. The announcement, which also included a statement that the cornerback would not be ready to play in Buffalo’s Week 6 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, opened a 21-day window in which the Bills would have to make a decision for what was next for their All-Pro cornerback on his road back.
The announcement also ignited a hopeful fire for fans who had anxiously been awaiting the day their favorite cornerback, and the team’s class clown, was filling their television screens with his antics and shutting down opposing team’s passing games. It was hope that was much-needed, as the Bills had recently lost another key veteran defensive back in Micah Hyde, who suffered a neck injury during the team’s Week 2 victory over the Tennessee Titans. He later underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc. Hyde’s injury, while the most serious of the season, was just one of many that has had the Bills rotating their defensive starting lineup as they look for healthy players each week, so thinking that White could be back sooner rather than later was like a breath of fresh air.
October 24, 2022
The Bills returned to Orchard Park, NY after their Week 7 bye, but the only word being said about White’s probable return to the team’s roster was what has become—almost laughingly—McDermott’s mantra for most of the team’s 2022 injuries. White was considered “day to day,” and was “making progress as expected,” but no timetable for when his first day of play would be was given, with the coach continuing to say that he “will play when he’s ready.”
November 1, 2022
White was added to the Bills’ 53-man roster. This was big news. The team had to make a decision, as the 21-day window for his return was closing that night. They had two choices: designate him to Injured Reserve, which would mean he would not be eligible to return for the remainder of the 2022 season, or add him to the 53-man roster. They chose the latter, again inspiring hope that “Tre’ Day” was coming.
Of course, the team could add the cornerback to their roster, wait a day or two, and then place him on IR, which would only keep White off the field for a required four more weeks. But they didn’t. White has remained on the team’s 53-man roster for more than two weeks (at time of publishing) since this day.
November 6 and November 13, 2022
White, who isn’t popping up on the team’s weekly injury lists, appeared as a “healthy” scratch on both game-day rosters since he returned to the team—something that has drawn questions from Bills fans and critics alike, especially as the team has been without another of their veteran secondary players for both of those games, All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer. He’s missed both of the games that White was eligible to play in. The decision to not activate White drew even more critique in the second of those two games, when the Bills were also down rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam—who had been doing much of the work in White’s absence this season—due to an ankle injury.
November 16, 2022
McDermott slipped just a little in his usual rhetoric. While he still used all the nothing-to-see-here lingo he has used all season, he may have let us have just a little glimpse behind the curtain when he met with media for his usual mid-week, pre-practice Q&A session.
“It’s like a team coming out of training camp. You’re trying to check enough boxes, and then there’s still going to be a gap somewhere in there,” McDermott said about the team effort that has been a part of trying to get White ready to play. “At some point, we got to go.”
November 20, 2022
If White is not on the team’s active roster as they host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday—and if we’re talking about returning from an injury where stability could be a concern, the fact that Snowmageddon Round Two is predicted to hit Orchard Park could put a freeze on returning him to action on a surface that might more closely resemble a hockey rink than a football field—then it will be officially a full year (or more) between snaps for the 27-year-old White.
And there’s more than just the physical to consider …
Now we are getting little sound clips from coaches – and even teammates – that might cast a small light on the shadow that has been the mystery of the Buffalo version of Where’s Waldo?
Playing any sport at a highly competitive level, not to mention the professional level and compounded by having been ear-marked as one of the best in the game at a given position (White has earned both All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors during his short career), takes more than healthy ligaments. It takes a healthy mindset.
It’s no secret that “football ready” is a summer term used to describe the goal of NFL team’s training camps. Players have to get back to being ready to have their bodies take 60 minutes of constant beating after an off-season. They have to get their minds back to over-riding the signals that tell them to let-up and take it easy. They have to get their football IQ back on point as they have to react in fractions of seconds to what opponents are doing. And they have to make it all happen while it looks to the average fan like it is as easy as walking their dog.
That’s why teams have mini camps and OTAs and training camp and pre-season games. Tre’Davious White got none of those this year.
And that could – maybe, possibly, hypothetically – be what has kept him off the field.
Two days before the 12-month anniversary of White’s injury, with the Bills scheduled to play on Thanksgiving Day once again – this time against the Detroit Lions – McDermott expanded on his “at some point we got to go” comment from the week before.
“We are all encouraging Tre,” the coach said, indicating that the source of what’s holding the Bills’ defensive star back might be more of the mental preparation side than the physical (after all he has been medically cleared to return to football activities). “He’s climbed a big mountain to this point, and we keep taking it one day at a time.”
Adding to the possibility that the cornerback could be working through the mind-over-matter aspect of his game, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said that he thinks White has made a lot of progress in the past month.
“I think he’s getting real close,” Frazier said when asked about a timeline in which the team could be expected to have White on a game day roster.
Teammate Stefon Diggs added another voice to the “Has White had to work through the mental aspect of returning from an injury?” conversation, when, after the team’s mid-week practice before they head to Detroit, he stated that the cornerback seems to be getting his confidence back.
“I anticipate him hopefully making his return soon,” the wide receiver and team captain said regarding the now daily “Where’s White?” questioning, adding that his teammate “looks good.”
So, what does it all mean?
How does this all compare to a typical return for a professional athlete who is coming off of an ACL tear? The expectation has to be somewhere between Peterson’s eight-month return and White’s 12-month saga, right?
Wrong. Well, almost. All reports indicate that 12 months is in the “normal” range, with average expectation of returning to action being between 9-12 months. So, if we consider that White returned to the team on October 12, that would be right in the middle of that window at exactly 10 months since his surgical repair. So, as frustrating as it has been to keep waiting “day to day,” White might really be “improving as expected.”
The question as to why the Bills didn’t place White on injured reserve after adding him to the roster, also has a logical answer: the one McDermott has been telling us all along. “He’ll play when he’s ready.” If the cornerback was on IR, that would be four weeks of not practicing, four weeks of not getting game-ready, four more weeks of waiting instead of preparing. Week four of that scenario would be Week 12—the week that the Bills once again play on Thanksgiving Day. In a dome. Without weather conditions to complicate things. And if he had been placed on IR, White would not be eligible to play (not that we’re saying he will play, because... well, you know, we need to take it “one day at a time”).
So, this week? Thanksgiving Day? Later? We don’t know when. It sounds like McDermott doesn’t know when. But, keep the faith, have hope, Tre’ Day is coming—when he’s ready.
Also, consider this ...
What does that mean for the return of Odell Beckham Jr., the free-agent wide receiver who was injured while helping the Los Angeles Rams win Super Bowl LVI? Will a team be willing to take the risk that he will be game-ready, not just return-to-action ready, by the first of January—a short ten months after the now-30-year-old’s own ACL repair? Think carefully, Bills Mafia, before you make too much noise begging for the receiver to join your team’s roster.