After retiring earlier this offseason due to a career-threatening neck condition, could All-Pro linebacker Zach Orr return to play for the Dallas Cowboys?
Last week, former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Zach Orr announced his intent to return to the NFL after retiring earlier this offseason. Could the Dallas Cowboys be willing to give him a second chance?
After posting a career-year in Baltimore, the 25-year suffered a neck injury just prior to the end of the season that ultimately revealed a rare congenital spine deformity that forced him to up and retire in January.
After receiving a much more optimistic second opinion, Orr has decided to try and play football again. And if he can be medically cleared, one NFL team will be getting an All-Pro linebacker that posted a whopping 132 total tackles, five pass defends, three interceptions and forced a fumble last season.
Prior to his announced retirement in January, the Ravens were in talks trying to extend Orr’s contract. But due to him hanging up his cleats, the deal never got done. In fact, the Ravens failed to place Orr on their reserve/retired list, and the player never filed his retirement paperwork with the NFL. The result? The three-year veteran is now an unrestricted free agent and eligible to sign with anyone.
Currently, Orr is making the rounds trying to find a new home. He’s apparently already made trips to visit the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts. Could the Cowboys be Orr’s next landing spot?
Looking at the depth of Dallas’ roster, you’d likely say no. All eyes during training camp will be on 2016 second round selection Jaylon Smith, who spent the entirety of last season sidelined due to a devastating knee injury he suffered while in college.
Although Smith has looked good in small glimpses, it is unknown how much he’ll be able to contribute this season. Some fans believe he’ll be the starter in Week One, which is highly unlikely. The Cowboys seem committed to taking things very slow with Smith.
The better bet to start for Dallas at middle linebacker is Anthony Hitchens. The former fourth round selection out of Iowa is in the final year of his rookie contract.
Along with Hitchens, two-time Pro Bowler Sean Lee is a lock to start at weakside linebacker. Also on the depth chart are linebackers Damien Wilson, Mark Nzeocha and Kyle Wilber. And a dark horse to also make the roster at linebacker is John Lotulelei, a futures signing who has performed well this offseason.
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So where would a player like Orr fit in to that crowded depth chart? Actually, he may fit perfectly.
First, you must remember that Orr still has to clear medicals in order to be allowed to play. So there are questions about his immediate health. So Orr shouldn’t be added to a team looking for an instant starter, or at least without a very talented back-up plan. Dallas has that.
As for the Cowboys, no one knows how much Smith will be able to contribute this year. There is a real possibility he could start the season on PUP, especially if he experiences a setback during training camp or in the preseason.
Hitchens is a viable starter. But Orr is likely better, being named an All-Pro last season at middle linebacker. Zach’s presence within the Cowboys’ linebacker corps would insure Dallas gets the most out of the position this year.
Hitchens is also a free agent next season. At this point, it’s unclear if he’d be re-signed by Dallas. Adding a player like Orr now could allow the Cowboys to make a smoother transition to Smith beyond 2017, and provide Dallas insurance in case Jaylon doesn’t become the player that they hope he is.
Nzeocha and Wilson are promising young players who likely aren’t ready to start just yet. But both provide great depth at the position.
Signing a free agent like Zach Orr comes with major risk. But his value as an insurance policy for the Dallas Cowboys could make his addition invaluable.