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Optimum Performance: New Orleans Saints’ Jairus Byrd must be patient in recovery of meniscus tear

Saints free safety Jairus Byrd (31) during day 21 of the New Orleans Saints training camp at the Saints facility in Metairie, Monday August 25, 2014.(David Grunfeld, / The Times-Picayune)

Saints free safety Jairus Byrd (31) during day 21 of the New Orleans Saints training camp at the Saints facility in Metairie, Monday August 25, 2014.(David Grunfeld, / The Times-Picayune)

The season-ending knee injury to Jairus Byrd certainly raises the question about the decision to make Byrd the highest-paid safety in the NFL.

Here’s the cost of that decision, according to Sportrac — a $54-million dollar contract with $26 million guaranteed, an $11-million signing bonus, and an annual salary of $9 million.

Would you pay $54 million for previously known damaged goods to shore up your fantasy team’s weak defensive secondary? Here is what | The Times-Picayune columnist Larry Holder said in his column Oct. 3:

“Byrd came to the Saints with question marks surrounding his health. He missed six games last season in Buffalo with a foot injury. Then Byrd underwent back surgery earlier this offseason, forcing him to miss all of the (Saints) team’s offseason workouts, including organized team activity and minicamp sessions.”

Before we look any further into this questionable decision by the Saints, we must remember a similar decision — signing QB Drew Brees — after he sustained what many people called a career-threatening injury to his throwing shoulder while with the San Diego Chargers.

The Saints made the right call.

Let me ease your mind with another point. Byrd had his knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear performed last Friday by noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews – the same surgeon, who repaired Brees’ injured shoulder.

At a recent press conference, Saints head coach Sean Payton described Byrd’s injury as a “bucket- handle tear” to the meniscus.

According to Charles P. Murphy, a board certified orthopedic surgeon and founder of the Orthopedic Center Sports Medicine located in metropolitan New Orleans, “A bucket handle meniscus tear is a more severe type of meniscus tear which allows the torn portion of the meniscus to flip on itself locking the knee and preventing full motion. Most of the time a bucket handle tear will be repaired to provide the best LONG TERM outcome.”

“The meniscus,” according to WebMD, “is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus)–one at the outer edge of the knee and one at the inner edge. The menisci keep your knee steady by balancing your weight across the knee.”

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), “Meniscal tears are among the most common knee injuries. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are at risk for meniscal tears. However, anyone at any age can tear a meniscus.”

Sports-related meniscal tears, says the AAOS, “Often occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears. Sudden meniscal tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist the knee, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved.”

However, Byrd’s meniscal tear occurred on a non-contact play. “(Byrd) spun around and got a one-handed pick, something he practices every day. He got up to run and then he collapsed,” Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said.

The type of meniscus surgical procedure — removal of the damaged meniscal tissue (meniscectomy) or meniscal repair — will determine the extent and the length of the rehabilitative process.

The AAOS notes “rehabilitation time for a meniscus repair is about 3 months.”

Assuming that Byrd underwent a repair of his meniscus, Murphy, who was the first orthopedic referral source of my career, notes, “A repair of a meniscus requires mother nature’s help in actually getting the meniscus tissue to heal. Meniscus cartilage is a very slow healing tissue because of limited blood supply to cartilage.”

Murphy said Byrd might be out for the year “because meniscus tissue is biologically slow to heal. We must protect the meniscus repair patient and go slow in the rehabilitation process to allow time for actual biologic healing of the meniscus tissue itself.”

As to the Saints $54 million dollar man’s future in the NFL, Murphy said “the prognosis for return to play in the NFL is good if the athlete allows adequate time for biologic healing of the meniscus tissue. If the athlete attempts an early return to sports he must accept a statistically increased risk for additional injury.”

Time and healing will determine if Byrd gets off the ground and running again. The ball is squarely in his court.