Cowboy Up

Tony hasn’t been hurt this bad since Carrie Underwood messed up his ride
Photo Credit: storyspinn

There have been a number of big name fantasy players going down with injuries these first two weeks of the season, and SoR’s resident physical therapist is here to help sort some of it out. If you’re an owner (or would like to be) of Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Miles Austin, Aaron Hernandez or Arian Foster, I suggest you pay attention. It’s a decidedly Cowboy-heavy injury lineup, which is music to this Giants fan’s ears. As always, if you have any injury questions or concerns about any players not discussed here, feel free to further the discussion in the comments section or shoot me an email. Let’s get down to business.

Tony Romo: We’ve all heard the story by now: Tony Romo left Sunday’s game briefly with what was reported as two broken ribs and heroically returned to the game to lead the Cowboys to victory. It was later discovered that Romo had fractured one rib and suffered a punctured lung (pneumothorax). Even as a Giants fan I have tip my hat to Romo, he truly “cowboy’d up” by coming back out to play despite sustaining such a painful injury. Rib injuries suck for both the player and the medical provider because there’s almost nothing that can be done to “fix” the problem or expedite the healing process. The only cure is time. Punctured lungs often accompany rib fractures as the impact causing the rib damage drives the bone into the lung space. A punctured lung can be fatal in severe cases, however Romo’s injury is being described as mild, and the fact that he was able to return to the game is a great sign. Another good sign is the rib fracture itself is non-displaced, meaning the fractured ends are in alignment and not protruding into the body cavity. Healing times for these injuries vary depending on the severity, but typically bone heals in roughly 4-6 weeks.

How long will Romo be sidelined and will he be limited? I expect Romo to practice on a limited basis all week, and as long as he’s given clearance by team doctors I expect him to play. The extra day of rest he’ll get playing on Monday night also helps his chances. If he does suit up, Romo will likely wear a flak jacket and probably be heavily taped to try and provide protection for the area. His effectiveness as a player will hinge upon how well he’s able to handle the pain. Every hit, twist, turn, throw and breath will hurt, and all people have different pain tolerances. Romo has demonstrated that he can tolerate pain and still play at a high level, and I expect him to perform fairly close to his usual standards. It’s a bit risky to start him this week as your alternatives will be limited on Monday night if he ends up sitting, so pay attention to practice reports. My bigger concern with Romo is the health of his playmakers. I’ve had a number of inquires regarding Romo and whether or not he’s a guy to buy or sell, and my advice is to stand pat if you own him and buy him at a discount if you don’t. The loss of Miles Austin certainly hurts him, but (hopefully) getting Dez Bryant back, having a lackluster running game and a banged up defense that will surrender some points, Romo should still be leaned on to carry the offense. His value overall takes only a small short-term hit in my eyes.

Felix Jones: Probably the trendiest player in this year’s drafts has once again suffered an injury. Felix Jones experienced a dislocated shoulder during this past week’s game. Like his QB Tony Romo, Jones was able to re-enter the contest, wearing a specialized shoulder harness. A dislocated shoulder is typically caused by trauma to an outstretched arm and can cause numerous soft tissue and bone injuries (rotator cuff and labrum injuries as well as fractures often accompany a dislocation). No further specifics have been provided regarding Jones’ shoulder. With reports that the team expects him to be available this week, it’s likely that the dislocation did not cause additional damage. How will Jones perform with the injury? Luckily for Felix he’s a RB and not a QB. A QB with a dislocated throwing shoulder would be out a number of weeks. For a RB, it’s possible he’ll be able to play with minimal limitations as far as his ability to run the ball. The harness he wears stabilizes the shoulder and helps prevent the ball and socket joint from dislocating again. Where Jones may be limited is in his ability to contribute as a receiver and blocker. He’ll likely be restricted in his ability to elevate the injured arm over his head or away from his body with any power or control, and this will hinder his abilities catching the football or extending his arms to take on blocks. If this is Jones’ first dislocation, healing time is roughly 4-6 weeks until he’s back close to normal. Should Jones abuse the arm and/or re-injure or dislocate again, he could be in trouble. Chronic dislocations are surgical candidates, so hopefully he avoids that.

As far as fantasy value, Jones takes a hit in my eyes. One of Felix’s redeeming qualities was his ability to make big plays catching passes out of the backfield and carrying the entire Dallas rushing workload, and I see him being limited in both regards. If his effectiveness as a blocker is hindered, he’ll probably see fewer snaps on passing downs as well. Yes the Cowboys will likely run the ball more to protect Romo, but Felix’s injury (and his history of injuries) will also likely result in more reps for the other backs, eating into Jones’ touches. If you can land Jones cheap I wouldn’t fault you for it, but in my eyes he’s more of low-end RB2 at best until he can prove his health and we see how limited he is by the shoulder.

Miles Austin: In the midst of an absolute monster game in week 2, Tony Romo’s go-to target Miles Austin re-aggravated a hamstring strain that he dealt with during the preseason. Hamstring strains are notorious for being easy to re-injure, and Austin is yet another example. Football is all about explosions of activity in short durations, and that sort of activity wreaks havoc on muscles that generate power, such as the hamstrings. How long Austin will be out depends on the grade of the strain, which has not been released. While he hasn’t been officially ruled out yet, reports out of Dallas have Austin potentially returning in a month after the Cowboy’s bye week. Hamstring injuries are 4-6 weeks to recover from depending on the severity, so the post-bye week timeline falls in with that nicely. I’d anticipate not having Austin in fantasy lineups until week 6 at the soonest.

Austin obviously takes a hit in terms of value as he’ll likely miss at least three games recovering from the injury. It’s the smart thing to do from the Cowboys’ perspective, and frankly fantasy owners should be pleased that he’s not being pushed too hard. Rushing back from hamstring injuries can be risky business. If Austin’s hammy is allowed to fully heal before he returns to the field, his chances of re-injure are greatly reduced. Austin will be a bit of a risk for the rest of the season as recurring hamstring issues are common, but if you can land him for 50 cents on the dollar you have my blessing.

Aaron Hernandez: One half of the dynamic TE duo in New England suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) during last weekend’s game. As with any Patriot who suffers an injury, very little is being report as far as specifics. Reports on his recovery time have been anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks, and the Patriots are not going to divulge any additional information to clarify things. The MCL is located on the inner thigh-side of the knee and is one of multiple ligaments that provide stability to the knee joint. It’s typically injured by a blow to the outside of the knee or twisting with the leg planted. The MCL is vital to the stability of the knee, particularly when cutting or planting, both of which are important to a football player. Recovery time varies depending on the grade of the sprain. A grade 1 sprain, which is essentially an excessively stretched but not grossly torn ligament, typically requires 1-2 weeks to heal. A grade 2 sprain involves a partially torn ligament and is typically 4-6 weeks in recovery time. A grade 3 sprain is a full blown tear and surgical intervention is often required. Hernandez isn’t on the IR so I don’t think he’s got a grade 3, but he’s still likely suffered some damage. It’s hard to predict recovery times with Patriot players, so monitoring his practice reports will be critical.

This certainly hurts Hernandez’s value. Hernandez is the hybrid-type TE who often splits out wide or in the slot position and runs routes like a WR. His best attribute is his athleticism, and that might be hindered a bit here. The MCL is not nearly as vital or famous a structure as the ACL in terms of knee stability, so while he’ll need time to recover and may be a bit rusty or hesitant in his first game or two back on the field, this injury shouldn’t hinder Hernandez much in the long term. I’d anticipate missing him from your lineups for the next 4-6 weeks, and I’d probably keep him benched until he plays in a game and demonstrates no ill effects from the injury. He’d be a decent guy to target for later in the year; however, with the TE position as deep as ever you shouldn’t break the bank to acquire his services.

Arian Foster: A consensus top 3 overall pick in this year’s drafts, despite hamstring problems entering the season, had to sit the 2nd half of Sunday’s game against Miami because of “fatigue”, which Foster himself later confirmed as a re-aggravation of his hamstring injury. This is a perfect example of why you don’t try to rush back from hamstring injuries. I remember seeing Foster’s MRI picture on twitter before the season began, and my initial reaction was that there was a significant amount of inflammation present in the hamstring, indicative of some tearing. Of course MRI is done in many “slices”, so you can’t necessarily draw a conclusion off one picture, but it was enough to push Foster down my own personal draft board. While this re-injury doesn’t appear to be as serious as Miles Austin’s (the Texans wisely sat Foster the entire 2nd half to avoid further damage), the points made regarding Austin’s hammy apply to Foster as well.

Foster’s value takes a big hit here. Texans coach Gary Kubiak has already stated that Ben Tate, who has run exceptionally well behind that beastly Houston O-Line, will be the lead back until Foster proves he’s 100% healthy. With the way Tate has played and the nature of hamstring injuries, I seriously doubt that Foster will ever have the complete stranglehold on all the carries in Houston like he did last year. Foster slides down to #10 in my RB rankings (which is still generous) and has the potential to slide even further depending on the outcome of the next game or two. I’d take Rice, McFadden, Peterson, McCoy, C. Johnson, Mendenhall, Forte, Turner and MJD ahead of Foster if we drafted today. If I could find a panicking Foster owner who would move him straight up for a Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Beanie Wells or Felix Jones type, I’d gamble and make the move, but there are too many red flags here to consider Foster among the truly elite fantasy RB’s until he proves it to us otherwise. You’ve been warned.

Don Brown is the resident Physical Therapist here at SoR. He takes care of all our knife wounds and shares his expertise on the injuries of the sporting world. For any further questions or comments, he can be reached at