The Buffalo Bills took a real swing at a blast from the past, signing former Broncos EDGE Shane Ray. The former first-round pick in 2015 started his career off, living up to his top-round billing. But several injuries didn’t only derail him; they sent him literally to another country and out of the league.
Ray has the potential to be a redemption story about never giving up, but his injury history may also be too great to overcome.
Below are Shane Ray’s publicly reported injury history and concerns.
Toe injury, side not specified, Citrus Bowl.
Ray suffered a turf toe-like injury in his final collegiate game against Minnesota. During the draft process, there was a discussion about whether he required surgery to correct the issue.
He followed up with a specialist who indicated surgery was not required and rehab was the best course of action. He stated that he got it smashed and the alignment of the toe needed to be corrected.
2015 Denver Broncos
Right Knee MCL sprain, Week 6, missed 2 games.
Ray suffered a right knee MCL sprain against the Cleveland Browns that cost him two games. Despite returning in Week 10, he still lingered on the injury report for the next two weeks.
Illness, Week 14, missed 0 games.
He was on the injury report prior to Week 14 against the Oakland Raiders, initially deemed probable before suiting up.
Left wrist injury, preseason, missed 8 total games, missed 6 to begin the season, went back to IR at end of the season for final two games.
Ray originally injured his wrist in practice, taking on a block when his wrist was flipped back, causing a wrist dislocation. He was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with a torn ligament in his wrist.
He underwent surgery to place screws and repair a tendon as he put it. The words ligament and tendon may have been interchangeably used in this case. At some point, he underwent another procedure on the wrist while he was out. He was placed on injured reserve after roster cutdowns, missing six weeks. He was able to return and appear in eight games before getting shut back down for the last two games of the season.
During that second IR stint, he underwent a third procedure to remove the screws, his third surgery of the year. After starting OTA’s in June 2018, he began developing issues again in the wrist. He was scheduled for a fourth surgery to perform a bone fusion and deal with irritation, but he elected to focus on rehab instead.
Ankle injury, side not specified, Week 11, missed 0 games.
While dealing with the wrist injury, Ray also was on the injury report due to an unspecified ankle injury in Week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He did not miss any time but was questionable for the following two games.
Left high-ankle sprain, Week 6, missed 2 games.
Playing against the Los Angeles Rams, he suffered a left high-ankle sprain that forced him out of the following two games.
Illness, Week 16, missed 1 game.
Ray missed the Oakland Raiders game in Week 16 due to illness.
2019 Baltimore Ravens
Signed with Baltimore in the off-season, cut during final roster cutdowns.
2021-2022 Toronto Argonauts
Torn bicep, side not specified, missed 6 games.
Appeared in 18 total games over two seasons. Suffered a torn bicep on October 1st, ending his season. According to the article, he also suffered several undisclosed injuries in 2021 that limited him to just five games.
As you just read above, Shane Ray’s injury history is complicated. Following the wrist injury, one can see why he bounced around and even had to go to Canada to continue his career. Looking at all the injuries, there are varying levels of severity. His knee injury, both ankle injuries and toe injuries are overall non-factors moving forward. It’s been several years and they are football injuries that happen.
Playing in the CFL the past two seasons, I have found that injury records are minimal when performing research which paints an incomplete picture. However, after that 2021 season, he appeared to bounce back before suffering the biceps tear.
The two injuries that are worth discussing are his biceps tear from last year and the wrist injury that nearly cost him a career altogether.
Looking at the biceps tear, he most likely tore at the distal attachment where it connects at the elbow. This happens when a player is engaged with a block or tackle and the elbow is suddenly extended. This overloads the already contracted muscle, tearing the tendon. This required surgery and ending his season.
Fortunately, for those that do undergo a biceps repair, over 90 percent of players return to play at their prior level of performance. There does also not appear to be any change in career longevity or long-term issues. For a comparison, Bills DT DaQuan Jones suffered one several years ago while he was with the Tennessee Titans and returned to full form the next season.
As for Ray’s wrist, he is over five years removed from where the wrist gave him extensive problems. Looking into exactly what happened took some time, but it appeared that when Shane Ray suffered his wrist dislocation, he suffered a lunate dislocation with a scapholunate ligament tear. These are both common areas to injure during significant wrist injuries.
Considering he reported that he dislocated the wrist, he may have also suffered a dorsal radiocarpal ligament which caused the lunate to dislocate into the carpal tunnel. There was likely extensive damage at that time too so to see multiple ligaments damage wouldn’t be surprising despite reports indicating that he only tore one ligament.
Reports did not indicate what the complications were but not every surgery is perfect or without issues. Due to wrist complications, he lost the ability to hand fight, grab, tackle, and block. He played the 2017 season with a brace/cast on the area according to pictures from that time. During the initial wrist injury, he also wasn’t able to weight lift how he wanted, preventing him from maintaining his power and strength.
Addressing the other surgeries, he may have had persistent pain in the area, restricted range of motion, or median nerve complications causing tingling, numbness, and weakness. That may have led to his second surgery if the median nerve was compromised or if he required debridement of the area. Blood flow may have also been an issue presented as transient ischemia of the lunate which happens 12.5 percent of the time in these cases. This is also known as Keinbock’s disease.
Looking at the timeline, Ray likely underwent a scapholunate ligament repair initially followed by some revision or debridement for his second surgery. The third surgery removed the screws with potential other work completed at this time. To find a similar situation, in the article linked above, the collegiate player continued to have problems to the point where he was medically disqualified from football.
There were discussions about whether Ray needed a bone fusion that would have fused the lunate to another carpal bone, possibly the scaphoid. However, he elected to rehab the wrist instead of undergoing this procedure. An alternative procedure could have been a proximal row carpectomy, the same procedure that current Miami Dolphins EDGE Jaelan Phillips underwent in college.
This wrist injury is also similar to what former Bills DE Jerry Hughes suffered during the 2020 season. He played the entire season before undergoing surgery in the offseason to address the issue. You can read more here. Hughes didn’t have the complications that Ray had and appeared to only require one procedure.
Looking at players who have suffered a wrist dislocation, there isn’t a ton of research out there indicating performance afterward. There is an article from 1994, but it is not available and at this point would be outdated.
Other players include RB David Johnson, OT Darrel Williams, and S Marcus Williams.
Johnson never really regained his All-Pro form following his injury with the Cardinals, running for 940 yards the year after returning from the injury, but never improving off that.
Darrel Williams returned to play at offensive tackle for the Rams, including 16 games in 2017, before going to the CFL.
Marcus Williams dislocated his wrist last year but was able to return late in the season for Baltimore.
Considering how it has been several years since the procedure and he has passed several physicals in both the NFL and CFL indicates the wrist is somewhat functional. It would not surprise me to hear that he has arthritic changes which could affect his performance. He has shown the ability to play, but does he exhibit the skills that made him a first-round pick? That’s the hope for him to experience a career renaissance.
Buffalo Bills Injury Outlook
Based on the anecdotal comparables, players can return to play following the injury but long-term performance may suffer as a result. When the players were drafted can also play a part in whether they get second and third chances as we are seeing with Shane Ray right now.
If Shane Ray can find the fountain of youth in Buffalo, fantastic! But the fear is that he is much older and while his wrist may be functional, it may not allow him to be elite. If he makes the roster and is a rotational defensive end that is bottom of the roster or even practice squad, that’s fine too.
If he suffers another injury in general, he may have a short leash in that they won’t make a lot of effort to keep him around.
Making the roster will be a big accomplishment in itself. But I’d temper the expectations that he performs at a Pro Bowl level. This is a great signing because he’s cheap, the Bills aren’t heavily committed, and any production they get is a bonus. If he can provide veteran leadership and help the young players learn, that’s more than enough.
I hope Shane Ray makes the roster and positively contributes to a Bills team looking to finally get back to the Super Bowl.
Top Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports