The Ravens are losing one of their best young defensive players to retirement.
Linebacker Zach Orr is hanging it up at the age of 24 because of a congenital neck/spine condition, the Ravens announced Friday. The Ravens met with Orr to make sure he was completely certain of his decision to retire once they found out about his intentions, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Speaking at a news conference, Orr said he was “kind of forced to walk away” after an MRI for a herniated disc revealed the neck/spine condition.
“I’m blessed and thankful that I’m able to walk away from the game in good health,” Orr said.
Orr’s agent, Rob Sheets, said neck specialist Andrew Dossett informed Orr two weeks ago of his condition. Dossett told Orr his C1 vertebra was only 80 percent formed and that he would be unable to pass a physical to play football again, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported.
“(Dossett) hadn’t even closed the door, and Zach turned to me and said, ‘Are you going to be OK?'” Sheets said, per Garafolo. “The kid was about to get the most traumatic information he’d receive in his life and the first thought he had was for his agent, not himself. If that doesn’t speak to the character of the man, I don’t know what does.”
In addition to his ailing neck, Garafolo added that Orr “was playing with a cracked bone in his shoulder late in the season.” He missed the team’s final game of the season with what the team deemed a neck issue. He was placed on injured reserve.
It’s fair to say the Ravens were surprised by Orr’s retirement.
“When I got the news about Zach, I had to do a double take because I never expected to hear something like that,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said via the team’s official website. “I don’t think there has been any player that has been more inspirational to me over the last three years than Zach.”
The former undrafted free agent appeared ready to continue Baltimore’s legacy of do-everything linebackers. In 2016, he led the team with 130 tackles and was second on the team with three interceptions. It was his first season as a full-time NFL starter after playing sparingly his first two seasons.
Alongside first-round pick C.J. Mosley, the pair made up one of the more promising young positional groups in the NFL. The Ravens were fifth against the run in 2016, ninth in points and seventh in total yards.
Orr was named a second-team All-Pro this season.
As Rapoport mentioned on Good Morning Football Friday, this was something the Ravens knew was coming, though it did not make it easier to plan around. Orr was viewed as one of the franchise’s bright young stars. Though he was entering restricted free agency this offseason, a significant pay day was likely around the corner.
The Ravens already had some patchwork upgrades to make on their defense this offseason and Friday’s news simply adds to the degree of difficulty. Replacing a linebacker with that kind of production is no small task.