I love the Detroit Lions. I love DeAndre Levy. In 2014, when the two came together, it produced the best linebacker play the franchise had seen since Chris Spielman. But the alchemy between the two has produced disastrous results over the last two years. For the most part, it hasn’t been the fault of either side. Bad injury luck forced Levy to make the sideline his second home over the past two seasons, but if there was ever a chance for DeAndre Levy to recover and become the player he once was, the Detroit Lions killed it with poor decision after poor decision.
Levy recently underwent a second surgery on his right knee after he suffered a torn meniscus back in the fall. At first, it wasn’t clear if Levy reinjured the knee doing something or if this was “clean-up” surgery from the lingering meniscus. Levy made that very clear when he spoke to both the Free Press’ Dave Birkett and ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.
“Turns out there was a little more damage than I was being told and there's no way I should've been back on the field last year.”
He said the latest procedure was "a retouch up on the meniscus and some other damage" he sustained.
Though we have yet to hear the Lions’ side of the story—and we likely never will—Levy’s message is clear: He was nowhere near healthy when the Lions put him back on the field mid-December. In fact, he basically said as much back in March when he told Rothstein that he “wasn’t even close” to healthy when he returned to action against the Bears.
Levy didn’t speak up about this issue during the season at all, but he likely wasn’t permitted to by the team. A few of Jim Caldwell’s mantras from the 2016 season was “we don’t talk about injuries” and “check the report.” Those ideals clearly stretched to the players as well. Back when I spoke to Eric Ebron in October about his ankle and knee injuries, here is what the tight end said to me:
“I’m not allowed to talk about injuries, again, that question and stuff Caldwell has got to answer.”
You have to wonder if Levy ever thought about breaking this rule. Back in December, just before Levy was to return from injury, there were reports that he was going to meet with the media. Reporters waited for that meeting to happen and it never did.
So without an outlet to speak to the public and the go-ahead from team doctors, Levy was pushed back into the starting lineup. Levy could have continued to sit out if he would have liked, but it likely would have drawn the ire of coaches and fans—who had largely bailed on Levy, partially due to the team’s silence surrounding his torn meniscus. But why would Levy choose to sit out? He clearly loves the game, and the doctors, whom he had likely trusted, had given him the green light.
But those doctors very clearly failed him. According to Rothstein, Levy met with four independent doctors, all unrelated to the Lions, and came to the conclusion his knee, now seven months from his initial surgery, had still not healed properly. In fact, there was now “some other damage.”
Even if given the proper time to heal, there’s no guarantee Levy would be ready by the 2017 season, and, even if he was, it’s unlikely that Levy would return to his 2014 form. And even if the Lions afforded Levy the transparency of his injury, there’s no saying whether fans would have been on his side. After all, he still hadn’t managed to consistently find his way onto the field after signing a monster contract before the 2015 season. Many fans, for whatever reason, take that personally.
Still, Levy’s caption on his Instagram post from Wednesday tells the entire story:
Levy feels betrayed by the Lions’ medical staff and it’s hard to see otherwise. On top of that betrayal, Levy may be owed $1.75 million due to an injury guarantee in his contract. He’ll have to prove that his exit physical wasn’t thorough enough to claim that money back, but it certainly seems like he has a case.
Obviously, there is incentive here for Levy to stretch the truth to get that money back on his own. In fact, there are many fan-driven theories out there that Levy doesn’t want to play and is simply trying to collect checks from his lucrative contract extension. However, this is just wild speculation and is essentially debunked by the character endorsements from all of the people and players around him. Levy has said multiple times that he has wanted to play. If he didn’t, there was no reason for him to return in 2016.
At best, the Lions robbed Levy the opportunity to heal properly in preparation for the 2017 season. At worst, they were implicit in damaging his reputation with the fans, endangering his chance at a future in the NFL and robbing him of money he is properly due. That’s not a good look, Lions.