In the Year of Our Lord 2019, an NFL franchise is doing all it can to force an injured player to postpone surgery for the sake of the team, to the point of withholding his pay. What, exactly, are the Jets trying to prove by insisting that left guard Kelechi Osemele wait until after the season to have the torn labrum in his right shoulder repaired, and by avoiding all questions about the matter?
I put those questions to Overthecap.com founder Jason Fitzgerald, who has also co-authored a book about the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap, and player contracts. He didn’t mince words.
“I have no idea,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s petty and reflects horribly on the team.”
Both sides agree that Osemele sustained the injury before the Jets traded for him in March. The Jets maintain that it’s thus a pre-existing condition, albeit one that wasn’t severe enough for the Jets to flunk him on the physical that was required to complete their deal with the Raiders. Osemele started the first three games of the season and played every snap; he first appeared on the team’s injury report with a shoulder injury on Oct. 2, and hasn’t practiced or played since. His position is that the injury was aggravated during an August training camp practice, and that it’s then when he first learned it had been torn since before the trade. Osemele also said he again felt pain during a Week 3 loss to the Patriots.
“It is called an acute on chronic injury,” one of Osemele’s agents, Andrew Kessler, told me via email. “The shoulder was damaged somewhat before the trade, but he passed their physical and was able to play. Now the injury has gotten worse to the point that he can no longer continue playing without surgery.”
Osemele got a second opinion that the Jets say supports their contention that it’s something he can play through; his camp fired back to say that the second doctor actually said his injury and symptoms warrant surgery.
Osemele then got a third opinion that he told reporters supports his position, adding that he planned to have the procedure done Friday, whether the Jets like it or not. He then posted that physician’s diagnosis on Instagram:
Said Osmele, via NJ.com:
“The team’s position is that I can play through this injury because I started the season playing with the injury, is their stance. So they think that nothing should have changed, the injury shouldn’t have gotten any worse. Basically they’re saying that I just need to keep taking Toradol and brace it up and keep it going.”
Osemele’s agents told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Jets’ insurance provider has okayed the surgery, though the Jets have yet to approve it. Today, at his daily presser, head coach Adam Gase took a bunch of questions about Osemele, and why he hasn’t talked much to him. His answers can best be summed up by his comment, “My job is to coach the team.”
(In fairness to Gase, Patriots wideout Julian Edelman recently said he barely speaks to Bill Belichick.)
Why are the Jets digging in here and fining Osemele his weekly game check of $579,000? As this post was published, the team did not provide an answer to my question about what happened with his post-trade physical, and GM Joe Douglas has not addressed the matter at all. But the CBA, at Article 39, Section 4, is clear as day as to the rights afforded to players regarding a second medical opinion (emphasis mine):
Certain bad NFL teams tend to stay bad. Can’t imagine why.