September 6, 2013 - 10:30 AM
By Jerry Sullivan
Mario Williams says he's healthy and ready to go for the opener against New England. His foot injury has apparently healed, and coach Doug Marrone suggested that his star pass-rusher is 110 percent. Marrone said the same thing about EJ Manuel, so things are looking up for the Bills, who need their top players to be at optimum health -- or even better, for the 110 percenters -- to deal with the vaunted Patriots.
I'm not 100 percent sure what was ailing Williams, though. The Bills never reported the actual diagnosis. But when Jairus Byrd revealed that he was suffering from plantar fasciitis -- an inflammation in the connective tissue in the bottom of the foot -- he said it was "what Mario had." So the assumption is that Williams was also suffering from the condition, which has no cure aside from rest and therapy.
Williams suffered from plantar fasciitis during his rookie year with the Texans in 2006. In the second half of that season, in which he failed to live up to the status of No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Williams rarely practiced but never missed a game. He was given high marks for playing through injury.
There had been no reports of recurring plantar fasciitis with Mario during the intervening seven years. So evidently it's an injury that can come and go. A history of plantar fasciitis, along with a variety of other minor ailments during his time in Houston didn't stop the Bills from giving Williams a $100 million contract last year in free agency. Presumably, the condition won't flare up again any time soon.
That brings us to Byrd, who supposedly suffered from plantar fasciitis a year ago, but played through it. There were no reports of the condition. It only surfaced after he signed his franchise deal with the Bills and reported to the team, clearly disillusioned with his inability to get a long-term contract.
I'm reluctant to question a player's injury. Byrd went to a specialist for plantar fasciitis. But you can't help being a little skeptical here. If Byrd had signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Bills, do you really think the plantar fasciitis would have become an issue? Do you think Byrd would have taken the $20 million signing bonus, then announced the injury and sat out practice?
I doubt it. It seems to me that plantar fasciitis is a very convenient injury. It's legitimate, but difficult to judge. It has no cure, and as we found from Mario, it can disappear for years. It's a pain in the soft tissue of the foot, a sore foot -- both feet, in Byrd's case. It can be a serious condition, one that compromises careers in all sports. It's what shut down Albert Pujols this season. But word of Byrd's injury surfaced at an awfully convenient time, and I wonder if his agent, Eugene Parker, is trying to make things as difficult as possible for the Bills.
Maybe the Bills were concerned about the injury and were reluctant to pay Byrd elite safety money because of it. I know they had some concerns about Andy Levitre's knee when they decided not to pay him. I do think Byrd would have toughed it out and played through his foot injury if he had signed a long-term contract. He has played hurt in the past, same as Mario Williams.
But the uncertainty of a plantar fasciitis injury can allow Byrd to drag this thing out if he wants to use it as leverage against the Bills. It can be a lingering thing, just like a contract dispute.