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Former All-Pro linebacker Zach Orr exploring comeback, could the Lions get him?

Just five months after injury forced him to retire, Zach Orr is looking to rejoin the NFL.

Philadelphia Eagles v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

No player had a more bizarre 2016 season than the one of linebacker Zach Orr. Orr began the year having never started an NFL game in his two-year career after going undrafted in 2014. He would end the season not only starting 15 games, not only leading the Baltimore Ravens in tackles, but also with second-team All Pro honors. Less than three weeks after the regular season ended, Orr announced that a rare spinal condition is cause for him to retire at the young age of 24.

“A CAT scan revealed that I have a condition I was born with that less than one percent of the world has,” Orr said in a somber press conference from January. The condition, he said, puts him at a bigger risk of paralysis or even death.

However, Orr announced Wednesday morning on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football that he has received a second opinion on his spinal condition and he’s very much considering a return to the league. “There's no actual evidence or facts that I'm at a higher risk than any other player,” Orr said. “It's actually been documented that a college player who had the exact same thing that I have that returned to play with no problems."

Despite retiring as a Raven, Orr was set to become a free agent in 2017, meaning if he’s reinstated, he will immediately become a free agent. Orr expressed an interest in returning to the Ravens, but didn’t close the door on exploring his options. “I mean perfect situation, perfect scenario, of course Baltimore,” Orr told the morning TV show. “But I just want to play football. And at the end of the day, that's what I want to do. I love ball and I'm ready to give whoever or whatever my all out there on the field."

The Detroit Lions could certainly use a guy like Orr. Obviously, there’s a huge injury risk there, but Detroit has both little depth and little talent among their starting crew. Rookie Jarrad Davis is set to be the starting middle linebacker in 2016—and that wouldn’t change if they added Orr—but their weak and strong side linebacker spots are still in flux.

Tahir Whitehead looks like the leading candidate to start at the WILL position, but he is coming off an injury and is set to become a free agent after next season. In essence, the Lions don’t really have any long-term plan at linebacker outside of Davis. Youngsters Antwione Williams and Jalen Reeves-Maybin could come into play, but with both players selected in the final day of the NFL Draft, it may be asking too much for either of those players to develop into a full-time starter.

If healthy and able to return to his 2016 form—a big “if”—Orr would add playmaking ability to a linebacker corps that had none last year. No Lions linebacker tallied an interception, a sack or a forced fumble in 2016; Orr had three interceptions last year, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Of course there are a few hurdles the Lions would have to jump to get Orr. First and foremost would be medically clearing him. Even if Orr’s condition doesn’t have any long-term risks, like his original diagnosis claimed, he is still coming off shoulder surgery from January. There’s no guarantee he’ll play at his 2016 level.

But money could be the tougher hurdle to jump for the Lions. Detroit currently has the second-fewest cap space in the NFL, with just $5.78 million in room according to the NFLPA Salary Cap Report. Though Orr comes with significant injury risk, he’s incredibly young and coming off an incredible season in the league. At this point in free agency, it’s unprecedented having a player with that much potential hitting the market. He could come with a hefty price tag, and the Lions simply could not get into a bidding war right now.

In the end, Orr would be a dream scenario for the Lions if they could guarantee he’d be healthy. But there are significant risks to taking him at this point and money may make it impossible anyways.

UPDATE: Orr is visiting the Lions, according to ESPN Dan Graziano:


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