Odds in Browns QB Baker Mayfield's favor to get back to same level after shoulder surgery

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) lands awkwardly on his injured left shoulder as he is brought down by Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) during a game Oct. 17, 2021. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

If the return of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence from February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder isn’t encouraging enough, Baker Mayfield has the medical odds on his side.

Browns quarterback Mayfield is scheduled to undergo surgery Jan. 19, to be performed by Dr. Orr Limpisvasti at the Cedars Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, after suffering a completely torn labrum and fraying in his left shoulder in Week 2 and a fractured humerus in the same shoulder in Week 6.

Dr. Theodore Blaine, a sports medicine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said last week that even if the fracture requires repair along with the labrum, Mayfield should be able to regain his pre-injury form.

“The odds are in his favor in terms of getting back to playing, of getting back to the same level,” Blaine said by phone on Jan. 6. “They’re not 100%, but if you look at different studies, it ranges between 70 to 90% back to play at the same level. That’s looking at all different types of athletes.

“Professional athletes are a different breed, they have better tissues, they heal better, they heal faster, they do better. I’m always more confident in their ability to recover than somebody else.”

Blaine, 55, who grew up in South Euclid and moved to New England in the second grade, remains a Browns fan, but that doesn’t affect his feelings on Mayfield’s recovery.

Although Blaine has no knowledge of Mayfield’s condition, Hospital for Special surgery is where Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love had his torn labrum, torn ligaments and dislocated left shoulder repaired in 2015 after it was infamously yanked by the Boston Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk during the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. HSS has been ranked No. 1 in orthopedics for 12 years in a row by U.S. News & World Report.

Blaine said “there’s a good chance” that Mayfield’s surgery may be done arthroscopically, but that won’t hasten the recovery phase.

“Whether it’s done through a scope or whether it’s done open, the recovery should be four to six months,” Blaine said. “The average return to play is about six months for these kind of surgeries, but ... it’s possible he could be a little bit faster than that.”

Blaine said it’s not uncommon to have a fracture with shoulder dislocation or subluxation, which causes the labral tear.

“The way it tends to happen is the ball of the humerus kind of slips out of the socket and then it bangs against the front of the socket, so it creates a little impression fracture, called a Hill-Sachs fracture,” Blaine said. “It creates a little divot there, so you still have to make a determination of the size of that and whether that needs to be addressed with surgery.” He added that a remplissage procedure “fills the defect.”

If that is required, Blaine said, “That wouldn’t change the overall time frame or the success rate. He should do well either way.”

Mayfield wore two types of harnesses during the season to keep the shoulder from slipping out of place, and Blaine said that is the same course of action HSS recommends for athletes to get through their seasons.

Blaine said Mayfield will begin working with therapists and athletic trainers immediately after the surgery.

“It’s a good thing it’s his non-throwing shoulder because the position of instability, what we call an at-risk position where the shoulder can slide out, is a position of abduction, external rotation where you kind of raise the arm and rotate it out. Obviously, you do that on every throw,” Blaine said. “But he doesn’t do that with his non-throwing shoulder. So the risk is lower for a non-throwing shoulder for recurring episodes of instability.”

Jan 3, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws a pass before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Before he forced his exit from Cleveland, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said on Oct. 7 that he’d been playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder since his days at Louisiana State University. Blaine said that’s possible, depending on the type of tear.

“The labrum is a lining tissue to the shoulder joint, so it goes all the way around, 360 degrees around the clock face,” Blaine said. “An anterior labral tear, which is also called a Bankart tear, is usually associated with instability. That’s the kind of tear that’s harder to play with, that you have to get fixed to get stability back in the shoulder.

“But if you have a tear in the posterior labrum or the superior labrum, that usually is not associated with instability, so you often can play through with that. I don’t know what OBJ had. It’s a different story when you have a thrower versus somebody catching.”

Blaine worked at Columbia Presbyterian, Yale and Brown before joining HSS in 2019. But he still remembers his childhood and how important the Browns were to him and his family.

“You grew up playing with your brothers out in the yard with the Browns and the Bengals helmets on in the middle of the snowstorm. It’s pretty hard to shake that out of you,” he said.

When asked about his optimism that Mayfield can get back to the level of performance that earned Mayfield the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and made him the first overall pick in 2018, Blaine said, “I’m a Browns fan, so I’m always hopeful.”

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