We seem to be hearing an awful lot about the Buffalo Bills medical staff these days. The team has made poor or hasty decisions about several injured players, and it's starting to form a narrative. Read about some of the recent missteps and see if you agree:
An overly optimistic opinion of Shaq Lawson
Lawson, considered one of the top ten talents in the 2016 NFL Draft, fell to the 19th overall pick in part because of a shoulder injury that was considered a risk by some teams. It wasn't Lawson's first injury either, as he dealt with an ankle injury in the last couple games of his college career. The Bills made a (now notorious) proclamation that they weren't worried about his shoulder injury on draft weekend, circulating reports that the team planned to have him play one season through his condition and then undergo surgery in the 2017 offseason. They then had to dodge plenty of flak when he aggravated the injury, allegedly by working against a tackling dummy in practice. Lawson is now in the estimated four- to six-month recovery period following his shoulder surgery.
Making the situation more curious is a line from Vic Carucci's recent mailbag article:
I think the Bills were hoping against hope that Lawson would push through this year as best as possible, but at some point during rookie minicamp, he came to the realization that what he was able to do successfully in college just might not work as well in the NFL.
He saw the operation as being better for his chances of living up to lofty expectations. The Bills had no choice but to go along with his wishes.
As Ryan Talbot noted on Monday, this is a significant difference, suggesting that the Bills organization was still planning to have Lawson play through his injury until he forced their hands. It would appear the player didn't agree. The official line out of One Bills Drive was that the team's decision makers made a collective choice to have Lawson undergo surgery in order to prolong his career.
Mishandling Seantrel Henderson's illness
Buffalo's right tackle has been fighting Crohn's disease since the middle of last season. According to a new report from Tyler Dunne speaking with Henderson's agent, the team failed to properly diagnose the illness when Henderson was first dealing with stomach pains. The tackle lost 20 pounds and was hospitalized after the Eagles game, and has since undergone two surgeries to remove infected areas of his intestine.
Not only did the Bills mishandle the diagnosis, but Henderson's agent alleges that the team's communication was "unusual," with none of the coaches reaching out to him during the tackle's recovery process.
A blasé assessment of Leodis McKelvin's ankle injury
If you think back to the 2014 season, McKelvin suffered an ankle injury that caused him to drop onto Injured Reserve for the last chunk of the season. Spending much of the ensuing offseason rehabbing, McKelvin was still expected to return to the field as a rotational starter in 2015. On the first day of training camp, he was placed on the Reserve-Non Football Injury list, and Rex Ryan called it "a little injury," saying he wasn't concerned with it.
One day later, McKelvin was driving a scooter around, having had what Ryan called "a setback" in his recovery. The team said they hoped he would be back soon.
The next time he saw the field? Week 9 of the regular season, almost a full year after initially injuring that ankle.
Indecision on LeSean McCoy's hamstring injury
Perhaps no one felt the roller coaster effects of an injury-plagued season as much as Buffalo's lead rusher. During a joint practice with the Browns, McCoy strained his hamstring, (Editor's note: While the original article called his injury a sprain, we have since been corrected that McCoy's injury was a strain, which is very different) putting his availability for week one in doubt. The team forced the issue by cutting Fred Jackson, and McCoy did end up debuting, albeit on a "pitch count." He clearly wasn't at full strength, rushing for 3.39 yards per carry in the first three weeks of the season. At that point, the Bills started questioning if McCoy should sit after all, and Ryan deferred to Buffalo's "experts" to decide that he should take time off.
That's just the tip of the iceberg
Over the last couple of seasons, we've seen more perplexing injury situations than we'd want from an NFL team. Sammy Watkins came back too quickly from his broken rib, EJ Manuel was rushed back from knee injuries, and the chain of communication does not seem to be present between the medical staff, the coaches and scouts, and the players. At what point will someone be held accountable? While the injuries haven't reached the abysmal problems affecting the New York Giants every day, it's still affecting Buffalo's on-field performance and off-field reputation. For the health of the players and the good of the team, someone should be held accountable.