Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher has signed a one-year, $9.4 million contract to play for the Indianapolis Colts, and there is great rejoicing in central Indiana.
Let’s put a hold on planning the championship parade though. Fisher is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the AFC Championship Game while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Buffalo Bills. That injury was the reason Fisher was available, as the Chiefs would not have otherwise cut him to save some cash and cap space.
When healthy, Fisher is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He was the #1 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, and has anchored the Chiefs line since. Inserting a fully rehabbed Fisher into an offensive line with Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, and Braden Smith would give the Colts a dynamic group of maulers to open gaping holes for running back Jonathan Taylor and protect quarterback Carson Wentz.
But rehabbing a torn Achilles is a dicey proposition. While the tendon is often stronger as the result of the surgery, the atrophy that sets in while the leg is immobilized can be a very difficult hurdle to clear on the way toward a full recovery. The timing of the injury, January 24th, means Fisher would need to bounce all the way back in seven months to play the entire season. That seems unrealistic.
Here is the data of rehab times and return windows for players who have a surgically repaired Achilles, according to a 2017 study by the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society:
“Seventy-eight Achilles tendon ruptures were identified in professional football players during the 2010-2015 NFL seasons. 58% of these injuries occurred during the preseason. Of those that suffered an Achilles tendon rupture, 26% did not ever return to play in the NFL. Players who did return to play in the NFL took an average of 9 months to recover after the date of injury. Across all positions, there was a net decrease in power ratings by 22% and a net decrease in approximate value by 23% over 3 years following player return after Achilles tendon rupture. Across all positions, running backs saw the biggest decrease in production with a 78% decrease over 3 years post-injury in both power ratings and approximate value.”
This was published four years ago, so there is a likelihood further advancements have been made that might shorten the recovery time a little bit. It’s important to note that a left tackle’s work is done as much with the upper body as the legs. So if the window is nine months as suggested by the AOFAS, that would put Fisher back on the field in mid-October – maybe six or seven games into the season.
That’s a great reason to be optimistic about the 2021 Colts and to be bullish – again – on how general manager Chris Ballard executed the draft. When he took Kwity Paye at #21 rather than trade back with that pick to gain equity that could be used to trade up from #54 (the pick he eventually used to select Dayo Odeyingbo), people assumed the Colts would have a problem filling their urgent need at left tackle. While Fisher being healthy for 10-12 games appears to be the best case scenario, it sure beats a rookie out on the island learning on the fly while Wentz bears the brunt of his mistakes.
A lot has to go right for the Colts to be as good on the field as they appear to be on paper, but signing Fisher is a significant step in the right direction.