The Dallas Cowboys’ Week 1 win over the Giants was exciting but costly as wide receiver Dez Bryant suffered a broken foot during the game. The injury occurred to the fifth metatarsal of his right foot and will require surgery on Tuesday.
Frequent readers of InStreetClothes.com know the injury well as it was thoroughly discussed last season after Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant suffered the injury during the preseason. However let’s revisit the specifics.
The metatarsals are the long bones that comprise the foot and bridge the tarsal bones of the midfoot to the individual bones of the toe. As its name suggests, the fifth metatarsal is located on the outside of the foot, at the base of the pinkie or fifth toe. The fifth metatarsal serves as an anchor for several muscles, including the muscles responsible for moving the foot and outward as well as up and down. Unfortunately this makes the bone vulnerable to breaking when the ankle is forced inward, most commonly after making a hard cut or landing on the foot of another player.
Fifth metatarsal injuries can occur in multiple locations in a variety of ways. As previously mentioned, avulsion fractures of the bone can occur when a muscle pulls away a piece of bone. Stress fractures in the fifth metatarsal are also common and these generally develop along the mid-shaft of the bone. The most serious of these breaks is the Jones fracture, an acute break that occurs near the base of the bone. Jones fractures are particularly problematic because the amount of available blood to the area is limited, stunting the healing process. As a result, Jones fractures generally require surgical intervention in hopes of avoiding a delayed union or nonunion.
To complicate things surgery does not guarantee a speedy recovery and the odds of a re-fracture in the area are high, as Durant experienced first-hand last year in his lost season. Problems following surgery generally are associated with the surgical hardware as it can bend, fail, or even break. Follow-up procedures are often utilized to address any hardware-related problems, lengthening the time missed.
According to the InStreetClothes.com database, one out of every three NBA players that required surgery to address a fifth metatarsal fracture suffered a second fracture or needed a follow-up surgery, including Durant, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Brook Lopez. NFL players, especially wide receivers are no stranger to the injury either, as Atlanta’s Julio Jones and former Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks have endured the injury in recent seasons. Unfortunately the precedent set by these and other receivers doesn’t bode well for the Cowboys.
Jones initially broke his left fifth metatarsal during the 2011 scouting combine. The Falcons drafted him anyway but he wasn’t cleared to run until 10 weeks after surgery. The foot was a non-factor until the 2013 season when he re-broke the area and needed a second surgery that forced him to miss the final 11 games of the year. Nicks broke his foot during OTA’s in late May of 2012 and spent the next 13 weeks recovering before returning for the final preseason game of the year. The foot remained an issue throughout the season, limiting his snaps in practice and games. More recently rookie receiver DaVante Parker missed nearly three months of activity after the Dolphins proactively addressed a hardware issue with a fifth metatarsal injury he suffered in college.
Dallas has another example to consider having previously dealt with this type of injury. Last season defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal during a summer practice and missed the first eight games of the season after being placed on the PUP list. The team initially believed he would miss eight to ten weeks.
Looking at these examples, the four to six recovery window offered by Dallas appears to be a best-case scenario. Bryant, a fiery competitor, may be his own worst enemy, as rushing back from this injury could prove to be detrimental to his long-term health, especially given his injury history. To start, this is Bryant’s second surgery on his right foot and ankle. During his rookie campaign, Bryant fractured his right fibula and a surgical plate was inserted to stabilize the area. Insuring no extra stress is placed on that area will be key to avoiding any potential cascade injury. Furthermore, the nature of the injury will limit Bryant’s ability to condition and he will need additional time to get back up to speed when he is cleared to resume football-related activity. This will be particularly important when you consider his recent hamstring problems. Any setback there would simply delay a potential return.
Given that the ink on his 5-year $70 million extension with the team is barely dry, I’m betting the Cowboys will ultimately play things a bit more conservatively. History also suggests Bryant will miss more than the currently predicted amount of time, though the Pro-Bowl wide out appears hell-bent on returning to the field as soon as possible. In the meantime the Dallas offense will have to make due without a key piece of their aerial attack as a team with title aspirations looks to make a run at Super Bowl 50.