Zach Orr is trying to resurrect his NFL career.
Orr said Wednesday on Good Morning Football he’s exploring the possibility of coming out of retirement after receiving encouraging diagnoses about the congenital spinal condition which initially seemed to doom his NFL career.
At his retirement news conference in January, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker announced he had a career-ending spinal condition. “If there’s some miracle way where I can play the game, I promise I’d be the first one to grab my cleats again, start back training and try to find a way to get back out there,” he said.
Orr has received additional opinions from doctors about his spinal condition over the past few months. Those opinions have been optimistic and countered those offered by the doctors who advised Orr to retire at age 24 when they discovered one of his vertebrae wasn’t fully formed.
“When I first found out the news, it was definitely shocking and devastating,” Orr said. “Not only for me and my family, but pretty much everybody that kind of knew me. But just being around and doing other things, a lot of former players were telling me, ‘You might want to check it out. Because a lot of crazy things happen.’
“I had my mind made up. I was like man, the doctors told me I was done. This is a serious issue. So I’m going to leave it alone. But I just kept hearing that from multiple people and some were telling me to just go check out and seek out some more opinions and things like that and come to find out my condition, it is rare — .01 percent of the people have what I have — 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 thing that I have that returned to play with no problems.”
Doctors initially told Orr he was at risk of death or paralysis by playing with the condition, which he’s had since birth. But former Baylor quarterback Seth Russell told Orr he should visit Sanford Emery, a West Virginia spine specialist who treated Russell when he suffered a neck injury in 2015.
Russell’s advice sparked another round of medical evaluations. Orr said several doctors have told him he’s at no more risk of serious injury than a player with a fully formed spine. Doctors told Orr their only concern would be if he played with herniated discs. The herniated discs he suffered last season have subsided.
“As far as me physically, mentally, I’m ready to go,” Orr said. “I’m feeling better than ever. I’m feeling like I have these past offseasons and everything like that. So I’m ready to go.”
There’s another twist to Orr’s story: If he chooses to play again, he can sign with any team immediately as an unrestricted free agent. If he hadn’t retired, he would’ve been a restricted free agent this offseason.
Orr didn’t file retirement papers in January and the Ravens didn’t place him on their reserve/retired list because no one expected him to play again. The period to extend tenders to restricted free agents has passed without the Ravens tendering Orr — a move the Ravens didn’t consider because they assumed he would stay retired. Orr informed Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome on Tuesday he would like to continue playing football.
An NFL spokesman confirmed the lack of a tender means Orr is an unrestricted free agent.
The third-year veteran registered 132 tackles and three interceptions last season en route to earning second-team All-Pro honors.
Follow Mike Garafolo on Twitter @MikeGarafolo.