Less than six months after the discovery of a rare congenital spinal condition that pushed Zachary Orr into retirement, the former Ravens inside linebacker is exploring a comeback.
The 25-year-old told NFL Network that additional medical opinions in recent weeks have countered the original determination that he would be at serious risk for paralysis or even death by continuing to play football. A CAT scan at the end of last season revealed that the top of Orr’s spinal column never developed fully, a condition he was told less than one percent of the world had. He has apparently been told by several doctors since then that he would be at no greater risk playing with the condition than any player with a normal spine.
Former Baylor quarterback Seth Russell advised Orr to visit Dr. Sanford Emery, a West Virginia orthopedic surgeon who treated Russell when he suffered a neck injury two years ago.
“It’s actually been documented that there was a college player who had the exact same thing that I had who returned to play with no problems,” Orr told “Good Morning Football” on Wednesday morning. “My range of motion, my muscle functions, everything is normal. I’m feeling good and ready to go and willing to sit down to talk to whoever about whatever. It’s a real exciting time that there is a chance for me to come back and everything, and I’m ready to do that.”
An interesting wrinkle to this story is Orr’s current status as an unrestricted free agent, which would allow him to sign with any team. He entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, but the Ravens did not tender the linebacker since he had retired. Before the surprising discovery of the spinal condition in January, Orr was likely to receive a second-round restricted tender worth $2.746 million for the 2017 season. He never filed any retirement paperwork with the league.
Of course, the real question now is whether the Ravens — or any other team — will clear him to play football again. Orr finding outside medical opinions giving him the green light to play is one thing, but doctors the Ravens trust did not believe in January that it was safe for him to continue his NFL career.
With the league’s ever-increasing public emphasis on player safety, any potential organization clearing Orr would face scrutiny after the severe nature of the original diagnosis. According to ESPN, the former undrafted free agent from North Texas will visit the Detroit Lions on Thursday with other teams already reaching out to express interest.
“I just want to play football. Perfect scenario, of course, [would be] Baltimore,” Orr said. “I have a great relationship with everybody in that organization and teammates that I’ve gotten to know really well that I’ll talk to the rest of my life. Baltimore would obviously be favorites, but I just want to play football.
“At the end of the day, that’s what I want to do. I love ball, and I’m ready to give whoever my all out there on the field.”
The Ravens broke their silence on Orr’s announcement late Wednesday morning.
“I spoke with Zach yesterday and he informed me that he would like to continue to play football,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. “He is a free agent.”