Shoulder surgery for Shaq Lawson one week ago was successful. The rehab process will be in full swing soon enough for Buffalo's top draft choice, but at this point a definitive timetable for the talented pass rusher is not realistic.
That according to Bills general manager Doug Whaley, who made an appearance on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 Tuesday. Whaley explained that so soon after surgery it's too difficult to ascertain exactly when Lawson can expect to be game ready.
"It's too early in the process, but with everything that we thought going into the surgery it's safe to say he's going to miss some of the early part of the season," Whaley said. "Let's clear the air because I know there's a narrative out there. We were aware of the shoulder, but we wanted to take measures to prevent another flare up during the season.
"From ownership on down, and this is where you really have to commend Shaq and his representatives to say let's take this pre-emptive measure and not have another flare up during the season -- and to sidestep his personal goals and look out for the team and the longevity of his career, we're excited about the person we got in Shaq and everybody was on board from ownership on down."
Whaley explained that Lawson was cleared to play this season, a diagnosis that still held true even after the decision was made to have the team's top draft choice undergo pre-emptive surgery last Tuesday. Following Lawson's shoulder flare up at rookie minicamp, he could've rehabbed the condition and returned. However, the club's top decision makers met with Lawson about what was best for all parties. It was then that the decision was made to be proactive with the pass rusher's shoulder condition.
"The more and more we thought about it in talking about it with ownership, the head coach, the medical staff and myself and Shaq and his representatives, we said, 'Let's be proactive with this thing. Let's not have an incident which may come up five months from now or five days,'" said Whaley. "So the unpredictability of when it could happen again we decided to remove all doubt. We said, 'Let's get the shoulder surgery done now and that's pre-emptive and then we remove all doubt as to when this could flare up again either during the season or two years from now.'"
That decision was made the same day the Bills announced they'd be retiring Hall of Famer Bruce Smith's jersey at the team's home opener this fall.
"I said to Shaq, 'We're not here (making this decision) for you for this first year. We want to have you here long term and be retiring your jersey. We need to look at it that way,'" said Whaley. "We want this guy here for 10 to 12 years so if we have to sacrifice some games on the front end we're okay with that."
Whaley understands that Bills fans are disappointed the team's first-round pick, who was supposed to help turn Buffalo's defense around, won't be available at the start of the regular season. However, he doesn't subscribe to the notion that Buffalo should not have drafted him because of it.
"We thought even with the way he played with his shoulder, because he's had it for a while in college that he could come in and be a day one starter," he said. "This guy could play with that limitation on his shoulder if it ever flared up again. It didn't preclude us from taking the guy or thinking about his abilities. When you add that into the total equation and decision you're saying, 'If he was this productive this shoulder and every once in a while it aggravated him in college, imagine how much more his talent level will go up when he doesn't have those flare ups and he's not having to rehab a week here or a week there and missing practice. So that was the whole thought process in taking Shaq."
Whaley doesn't deny that Lawson's development as a rookie could be compromised to a degree knowing he'll miss all the offseason work on the field leading up to the regular season. But Lawson will be in all the position group and defensive team meetings, and Buffalo's GM is convinced that the pass rusher's talent level will overcome a lot of the time he'll lose while rehabbing.
"He'll be a little rusty," Whaley said. "But we think the caliber of talent that he is and the player we think he can become that it'll be short span in which he'll be able to get up to speed."