Ryan Ramczyk weighing options with career-threatening injury

Ryan Ramczyk’s injured knee isn’t getting better. The New Orleans Saints right tackle spoke with reporters on Thursday and shared some insight at the uncertainty he’s facing — after missing the last two games (and likely a third this week), all options are on the table. That includes offseason surgery and, worryingly, an early retirement.

The 29-year old has been managing cartilage loss in his knee for years now. He wasn’t able to play in seven games during the 2021 season because of it and was only able to suit up last season after receiving regular injections. This year he’s been given a rest day to start each week’s practice. But time and wear and tear have taken its toll. It’s a really tough break for a player who was so durable to start his career, having missed just one start in his first four years (when he and the rest of the starters were pulled from the meaningless 2018 season finale) before signing a landmark contract extension.

For now Ramczyk is trying to remain patient and follow doctor’s orders. He isn’t expected to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday and is considered week-to-week while resting and receiving treatment, so he at least has a shot at dressing out for the regular season finale with the Atlanta Falcons.

But the future is unclear. Ramczyk’s career could be over. There’s a possibility he’ll have lifelong knee issues because of this injury. If so, that’s something he’s already accepted, telling ESPN’s Katherine Terrell that “It’s what we sign up for. It’s part of the game, the passion we have to put ourselves through this. It’s worth it.”

What happens if Ramczyk is forced into retirement? Right now, he’s got a salary cap hit counting for north of $27 million in 2024. If the Saints release him outright they would take on more than $32 million in dead money. Their most realistic path forward would be treating his retirement just like they did Drew Brees and Malcolm Jenkins: reducing Ramczyk’s $17 million base salary to the veteran minimum (in his case, $1.21 million) and processing his release as a post-June 1 cut, spreading out the remaining payments from his signing bonus over the 2024 and 2025 seasons.

That would ultimately result in about $16.3 million in dead money for each of those fiscal years, saving $15.79 million against the cap in 2024. But it’s by no means a simple solution. The Saints would have to carry Ramczyk’s $32 million dead money figure against the salary cap through the offseason up until June 2, limiting the moves they could make in free agency ahead of the draft.

Another possibility: asking Ramczyk to return some of his signing bonus. It’s a dirty move for someone who’s already experiencing something as difficult as the premature end of his playing career, but the NFL can be a cold business. There’s precedent for it with players like former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland returning most of his signing bonus after a series of concussions, but some teams have taken players to arbitration over it. An arbitrator ruled that former Detroit Lions superstar Barry Sanders had to do just that, and another ex-Lions great, Calvin Johnson, publicly feuded with the team over a similar situation. None of those cases dealt with as much money as what sits between the Saints and Ramczyk. At the same time, an arbitrator may not rule in the team’s favor, making it a fruitless endeavor.

It’s unfortunate that this is what things have come to. Hopefully Ramczyk and the doctors he’s meeting with in the spring can find a way to better manage his knee and help him continue to play at a high level. But there’s a deadline. $6.5 million of Ramczyk’s base salary will become guaranteed on March 15 (the third day of free agency), and the Saints must reach salary cap compliance sooner than that, by March 13 (the start of the new league year). This won’t be a decision anyone involved can put off until the eleventh hour.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire