Former Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr is retiring again … this time officially for good.
In a personal essay he wrote for "The Players' Tribune," Orr said 17 NFL teams, including the Ravens, would not clear him to return to the field for fear of a back/spine injury.
After leading the Ravens in tackles and being named a second-team All Pro last season, Orr first announced his retirement on Jan. 20 after a Ravens back specialist discovered he had a rare congenital spine condition in which his C-1 vertebrae (at the top of his neck and just below his skull) is not completely developed.
However, after getting a second and third opinion from two other independent back specialists, both telling him that they felt he could continue playing football, Orr announced on June 28 that he wanted to return to the league.
Since the Ravens did not give Orr a restricted free-agent tender, he became an free to sign with any NFL team. Orr wanted to return to Baltimore, however, and he first contacted General Manager Ozzie Newsome about a potential return.
The Ravens flew Orr to Baltimore for a workout and a physical, but team doctors stood by their initial decision and said they could not clear him to play. "They said it was too big a risk, both for them and for me," Orr wrote.
Orr wanted to see if another team would clear him to play. If one did, he was going to return. He visited five more teams and interviewed with another 11 over the phone. None cleared him.
Here's Orr's summary of what has transpired over the past nearly two months:
"Some teams looked at my C-1 and said that it was too big a risk and wouldn't clear me. Others looked at my C-1 and said that it wasn't a big concern, but that they were concerned about my herniated disc. I could have spinal fusion surgery to fix the herniated disc, but fused vertebrae would put increased pressure on my C-1, which was already weak. So they wouldn't clear me, either.
And a couple of teams noticed something else when they looked at my MRI and CT scans.
They noticed little white spots on my spinal cord, which is a sign of damage to the cord as a result of my herniated disc. That was something else that could put me at an increased risk for a spinal cord injury.
So if a team wasn't bothered by the C-1, they were bothered by the herniated disc. Or the spots. It was always something.
Six teams in person, 11 more over the phone — that's 17 teams, more than half the league — and I couldn't get one to give me the green light. Because at the end of the day, my spine was too jacked up."
Orr wrote that the Ravens' back specialist originally told him that his C-1 vertebrae could "explode" if he took a hit the wrong way. They told him, "You could die, on the spot."
After hearing that, Orr quickly made the decision to retire. He didn't think there was another option, so he did not at that point seek a second opinion outside of Ravens team doctors and specialists.
"I don't want my life to end on a football field," he wrote. "I don't want to die during a commercial break."
Orr cleared up a few misconceptions in his essay. He wrote that the Ravens "never tried to talk me into coming out of retirement." Nor did his family. It was his decision to attempt a comeback.
Now that the door has shut once and for all, Orr wrote that he's "more at peace this time around because the teams have spoken. If there was any way I could come back, I would. Now, I know that is not possible."
The title of the essay is "Always a Raven," and Orr specifically thanked Owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh, Linebackers Coach Don "Wink" Martindale and teammates C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Daryl Smith and Anthony Levine.
"And lastly, shout out to the best fans in the world. I'm gonna miss that sea of purple on Sundays. I'm gonna miss the electricity of M&T Bank Stadium. I'm gonna miss seeing everybody around town wearing their Ravens gear on Purple Fridays," Orr wrote.
"And you know what? I'm one of you guys now. I'm joining the Flock. I'll be wearing my purple on Friday and rooting the Ravens to victory on Sunday."