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Why might the Jaguars be hesitant to re-sign DL Dawuane Smoot?

Though the Jags appear hesitant to resign the veteran defensive lineman after his Achilles injury last year, medical literature offers a different outlook

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Negotiations with Jacksonville Jaguars veteran free agent defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot appear to be in a state of limbo. Neither side has revealed much information since GM Trent Baalke insisted back in late March that they are “working hard with his agent” to retain the six-year veteran.

Judging solely from his stats, with 11 sacks in the last two years as a key rotational player, retaining Smoot seems ideal. However, as Jags fans may painfully recall, Smoot tore his Achilles tendon in the Jags’ 19-3 win against the New York Jets in Week 16 of the 2022 season. Considering the severity of such an injury, forecasting his future production is a bit more difficult.

The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the human body, connecting the bodies of the gastrocnemius and soleus (the calf muscles) to the posterosuperior calcaneus (heel bone). When you flex your calf and the muscles contract, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel to point your toes downwards (plantarflex), as you do when walking or jumping. This movement is what allows NFL players to push off the ground and accelerate, as defensive linemen do when they explode off the line following the snap.

However, repeated use can strain and wear down the tendon, and an intense pull or stretch can cause the weakened tendon to snap, leading to an Achilles tendon rupture.

Achilles injuries have long been the bane of NFL players, often carrying worse prognoses than ACL tears, the most common season-ending injury for NFL players. Jags fans may recall that the same injury occurred to James Robinson back in 2021. After a dominant rookie season, he has since bounced around from the Jags to the Jets to the New England Patriots, where he was recently cut prior to training camp. Considering their recent experience with players returning from Achilles injury, it makes sense that the Jags might be wary of resigning Smoot to a long-term deal.

However, the same injury can bode differently for different players. So what does the data say?

One study analyzed publicly available records of NFL player injuries and found that 72.4% of players were able to return to the NFL following surgical Achilles tendon repairs. However, the mean length of career after injury was significantly shorter, and the games played per season also decreased. For some positions, including RBs and LBs, performance was significantly worse following injury. Notably, while DL was the most common position to undergo Achilles tendon repair, there was no significant difference in pre and post-surgery career performance for DL.

Another study showed significantly decreased performance in year 1 following Achilles tendon repair, however, performance appeared mostly recovered in year 2. There was no positional breakdown of long-term performance in this study.

It is worth noting that the outcome for each player is highly variable and can depend on the severity of the injury, type of repair, and other characteristics of the individual. However, if we use general trends in existing medical literature as a gauge, it seems that Smoot may be able to return to his pre-injury form after some time to readjust.

Combined with his reportedly solid work ethic and his history of production with the Jags, fans should continue to keep an eye on the situation and should not be surprised if he rejoins the team in 2023 and continues to make an impact.