Jets guard Kelechi Osemele said he's been told he needs season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. But the Jets disagree, and their feud could result in discipline if he's not back at practice on Saturday morning.
The strange dispute boiled over on Friday, three days after reports first surfaced -- and sources confirmed -- that the two-time Pro Bowler was headed for surgery. One day later, Jets coach Adam Gase declined to confirm that news, saying "We're going through our process right now."
It turns out the Jets' part of that "process" involved two doctors - their team doctor and one outside doctor - who not only said the 30-year-old wouldn't need surgery, but that he was cleared to play, according to a source. Those doctors also determined the injury was pre-existing, from before he arrived in New York, according to a source, and they believe Osemele can play through the injury -- as he has in the past -- and get it repaired at the end of the season.
But Osemele said the two doctors -- including the team doctor and another in California -- told him he needed surgery to repair the injury he first suffered on Aug. 5 during a training camp practice and then aggravated in Week 3. He also said that right now he can't play at all.
"I think they just want me to play through the injury, but obviously I tried to go and I can't go," Osemele told reporters on Friday. "I've been doing everything I can and it's just not there. I can't control that. It's an injury. It's torn. So until it's fixed, I can't really do anything."
Since the Jets don't agree, they have informed Osemele that if he doesn't practice on Saturday, as the Jets wrap up preparations for their game against the New England Patriots on Monday night, he is facing possible fines or a suspension. Osemele has already missed the last two games and almost certainly won't be able to play on Monday night.
Andrew Kessler, Osemele's agent, called the Jets' stance "disappointing" in a statement e-mailed to SNY and questioned the organization's commitment to Osemele's safety.
"'Kelechi has a torn labrum, there is no debate about this as every doctor who has evaluated him agrees about that,'' Kessler wrote. ''He has been advised by the second opinion doctor that the timing of the need for surgery is based on his symptoms. His symptoms currently dictate that he needs surgery. For the team to question the integrity of how he has told them he is physically feeling is disappointing, to say the least.
"It is hardly putting a priority on player safety.''
Adding to this intrigue is the fact that, according to a team source, Osemele was in danger of losing his job as the starting left guard before his injury re-surfaced. The Jets are pleased with the play of guard Alex Lewis, who was acquired on Aug. 5 -- the same day Osemele first injured his shoulder -- in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens.
Lewis, notably, was a new addition to the Jets' injury report on Friday when he didn't practice due to a neck injury.
It's also worth noting that the Lewis trade was made by current Jets GM Joe Douglas. When Osemele was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in March, Mike Maccagnan was the GM that made the deal.
Osemele told reporters, though, that Douglas has handled this dispute professionally so far. However, the Jets still haven't sent information from the second opinion to his doctor, nor have they signed workers' compensation forms so he can have the surgery, Osemele said.
"He's communicated to me that there's no bad intentions or anything like that," Osemele said. "He's communicated to me that it's miscommunication and that it would be better. So I'm just waiting."
Another factor in this saga is that that multiple NFL sources told SNY that they expect the Jets will be active sellers between now and the trading deadline on Oct. 29, since that would be a chance for Douglas to unload some unwanted players and contracts. Some of those sources speculated that the 6-5, 330-pound Osemele, if he was healthy, could have some value in trade.
Of course, Osemele would have to pass a physical with another team for any trade to happen - and that's something he doesn't seem to think he'd be able to do.
"It's pain, it's strength, it's instability," Osemele said when explaining his injury. "I can't lock my arm out. I can't stop a guy from bull-rushing me. I just can't do my job."
As with all disputes like this, there are financial considerations, too. Osemele is scheduled to make $9.85 million in salary this season, with $5.79 million of that still to be paid. If Osemele had season-ending surgery and was placed on Injured Reserve, the Jets would be required to pay all of it. If the Jets discipline him for not practicing and then, later, cut him, Osemele would have to file a grievance to get some or all of the money owed to him back.
It is unclear if he will attempt to practice on Saturday, or if he and his agents at Athletes First will be able to reach an agreement before any discipline. Osemele, for his part, remained hopeful that the dispute could be resolved so he could get on with the surgery and his rehabilitation.
"It's been killing me," Osemele said. "I'm just trying to get this done. I've done everything I can. I've been at work every day, waking up at 5 in the morning, doing all the rehab and the treatments and stuff like that. I'm like the last dude out of here at night. I'm doing everything I can. I'm working with my agent. We're communicating with the team. There's just not communication between the team and my doctor and my agent. It's just been butting heads for whatever reason.
"Hopefully, it gets resolved soon."