BALTIMORE — On Wednesday, former Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr stated on Good Morning Football that he plans to revive his NFL career, despite what the Ravens team doctors initially told him in January.
Almost immediately after the 2016 season ended, it was revealed that the team doctors discovered a spine condition in which one of Orr’s vertebrae is not fully formed. Those doctors told Orr that continuing to play contact sports would put the then 24-year-old linebacker, now 25, at risk for paralysis or even death.
On Jan. 20, Orr officially announced his retirement from the NFL after just three seasons.
After receiving second opinions from several doctors, Orr appears to be attempting an NFL comeback.
“[My condition] – it is rare,” Orr said. “But there’s no actual evidence or facts that I’m at a higher risk than any other player. And it’s actually been documented that a college player who had the exact same condition that I have returned to play with no problems.”
Before Ravens fans start talking about an Orr/Ravens reunion, it should be noted that he is now an unrestricted free agent. He never filed retirement paperwork in January, and the Ravens did not place him on a reserve/retirement list. Orr would have been a restricted free agent, but the deadline to extend tenders to RFA’s has passed, meaning that Orr is now an UFA.
After winning a starting middle linebacker job in training camp last year, Orr led the team in tackles with 132. He also recorded three interceptions and a forced fumble. A former unrestricted free agent, Orr came out of nowhere and was a play-maker on defense, something the Ravens have struggled to find since winning Super Bowl 47.
Orr’s abrupt retirement in January shocked Ravens nation, and those close to him expressed how it was hard to see such an amazing guy hang up the cleats at age 24. Now with a possible second chance at football, Ravens fans are clamoring for Orr to come back to Charm City. After watching his most recent season, who would not want to see Orr back in a Ravens uniform in 2017?
When Orr announced that he was done playing football in January, the Ravens assumed that he was done for good. After going through the offseason without even considering this new development from Orr, the organization should not feel pressured into bringing him back.
Orr was not the only key piece on defense that the Ravens lost this offseason. They traded defensive end Timmy Jernigan to the Eagles, and fellow defensive end Lawrence Guy signed with the Patriots. After losing three starters on the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens put a heavy emphasis on defense this offseason, using five of their seven draft picks on defensive players. The team also brought in free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. After all of these moves, both media and fans have projected Baltimore’s defense to be top-notch in 2017.
The question of who will start alongside C.J. Mosley at middle linebacker this season is legitimate. As of now, the Ravens plan to have an open battle for that spot during training camp, with Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, and Albert McClellan in the mix. Rookie Tyus Bowser also has experience playing inside. Whether drafted or undrafted, the Ravens have brought in linebackers to compete, and they are expecting one of these players to step up and win that job, just like Orr did.
It will be compelling to see what kind of interest Orr gets on the open market. He played terrific football last year, but will teams be open to giving a player with a rare spine condition a contract? Even though Orr says his new doctors now feel he is not at a severe risk, back conditions & injuries are nothing to play with.
As Ravens fans start thinking about Ozzie Newsome striking a deal with Orr, they should be reminded that the offensive line still needs some upgrades. During a conference call with fans a few weeks ago, owner Steve Bisciotti said that the Ravens plan on bringing in a veteran offensive lineman, whether that be in free agency or trade.
As of now, there are very few free agent offensive lineman on the market, making this move something the Ravens might hold off on until training camp begins. Signing Orr would surely be a nice boost for the defense, but it would limit how aggressive the Ravens could be in their quest for an offensive lineman.
Orr’s decision to come back is a surprising development. His teammates, the coaching staff, the front office, and Ravens fans have all said nothing but great things about him, and they would all love a reunion. At this time, the offensive line is still the most glaring position for the Ravens to address, and Newsome should not let Orr’s announcement get in the way of improving his team.
Back in January, the Ravens wished Orr well, and they should continue to do so as he pursues a second go-round in the NFL.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun