Aaron Rodgers faces long but not impossible road to recovery from torn Achilles

Aaron Rodgers ran onto the field carrying an American flag while a raucous crowd and millions of television viewers eagerly anticipated his debut with the New York Jets.

Quickly, it was over.

Rodgers’ season ended after just four snaps. Those realistic Super Bowl dreams turned into another nightmare for long-suffering Jets fans once it became clear Rodgers tore his left Achilles tendon.

An impressive comeback victory over turnover-prone Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills couldn’t hide the reality that the Jets will not have the four-time NFL MVP under center this season.

It’s possible Rodgers may never complete a pass for New York.

The road to recovery for players coming off a torn Achilles is long and arduous. If he decides to play, Rodgers would be trying a comeback at age 40. Considering he’s contemplated retirement the past few years, it’s unknown whether he will even want to return.

Typically, it takes players nine-to-12 months to recover from surgery for a torn Achilles. Some athletes have returned sooner.

“Studies have shown that age is the strongest predictor of outcome after an Achilles repair,” said Dr. Peter DeLuca, Chief of Sports Medicine at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center who spent more than 20 years as the team physician for the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Flyers. “So, the odds are not in his favor. However, there are other factors that play into this such as pre-existing degeneration of the tendon, and there are always exceptions to the rule particularly since he is in great physical condition.”

Aaron Rodgers ruled out for season with torn Achilles

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DeLuca believes Rodgers would be able to throw by minicamp next spring and “should definitely” be able to play Week 1 in 2024.

“In general, 75% of NFL players return to play after an Achilles repair,” DeLuca said. “Their level of performance is decreased after the first year back but returns to baseline after two-to-three years. These statistics are published for position players, but there is no data specifically addressing a QB. It is my opinion that his throwing will not be affected by this injury but his running will be slower.”

Rodgers tore his Achilles after injuring his calf in training camp. The same thing happened to 13-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant a few years ago.

DeLuca said there’s no correlation between calf injuries and Achilles ruptures.

“There is low to very low evidence in the literature that previous muscle injury is a risk factor for Achilles tendon ruptures,” DeLuca said. “Anecdotally, I had two players that had calf strains, rehabbed for six weeks and had an MRI which showed a completely healed strain, who ruptured their Achilles their first game back. We hear these stories, but the literature just doesn’t support this observation.”

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Here’s a list of several star players who suffered a torn Achilles in their 30s and returned to varying degrees of success:

KOBE BRYANT: The Basketball Hall of Famer tore his Achilles on April 12, 2013, had surgery the next day and returned to the court with the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 8, 2013, at age 35. Bryant played only six games before a knee injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. He averaged 22.3 points in only 35 games in 2014-15 and 17.6 points per game in 66 games in his last season in 2015-16.

KEVIN DURANT: The two-time NBA Finals MVP tore his Achilles on June 13, 2019, playing for the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the championship round. He missed an entire season and came back with the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 22, 2020, at age 32. Durant hasn’t played more than 55 games in any season since his return but he has been elite, averaging 28.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists in three seasons since the injury.

DOMINIQUE WILKINS: The Basketball Hall of Famer tore his Achilles on Jan. 28, 1992. He returned to the court with the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 6, 1992, just two months shy of turning 33. Wilkins averaged 29.9 points in his first season back and played seven more years, including two stints overseas.

BRANDON GRAHAM: The Philadelphia Eagles‘ defensive end tore his Achilles on Sept. 19, 2021, and returned for the season opener Sept. 11, 2022, at age 34. Graham had his best season as a pro last year, posting a career-high 11 sacks.

RYAN HOWARD: The 2006 NL MVP tore his Achilles on the final swing of a postseason series on Oct. 7, 2011. Howard returned to the lineup with the Philadelphia Phillies on July 6, 2021, at age 32. The big slugger was never the same, however. Howard averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs in a six-year span before the injury. He averaged 19/66 over the next five.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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