New Orleans Saints quarterback Heath Shuler, a first-round draft pick four years ago, waited for a doctor's decision Thursday that could end his season, if not his disappointing career.
Shuler flew from the Saints training camp in La Crosse, Wis., to Birmingham, Ala., to have his injured left foot examined by orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.
Shuler was expected to have his foot placed in a cast for two weeks, but it was not clear if he would be able to salvage this season, let alone a career once expected to see him among the top NFL quarterbacks.
"It's not looking real good," coach Mike Ditka said Wednesday.
The foot has continued to bother Shuler since he had surgery in December to remove crushed bones and repair torn ligaments, He had a cast on the foot from Aug. 2 to Aug. 6, but that apparently did not help.
"The only other option is surgery again," Ditka said. "This is the conservative option. They're going to try to bend the left toe down in a resting position and see what happens. These are some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country, and they certainly know what they're doing. They think that when he did the vertical jumps at the start of camp that he landed on it and he might have torn some scar tissue."
After a record-breaking career at Tennessee, the Washington Redskins made Shuler the third player taken in the 1994 draft, expecting quarterback-friendly coach Norv Turner to make him an NFL star.
But a 13-day holdout while a $19 million contract was completed turned Redskins fans against Shuler. He followed that up with poor play, forced passes and fumbles. Finally, a shoulder injury benched Shuler and allowed Gus Frerotte, a seventh-round pick out of Tulsa, to take over.
Ironically, Andrews this spring also worked with Frerotte, who fractured a hip last season.
The Saints gave a third- and fifth-round draft pick to the Redskins for Shuler in April 1997.
The starter for nine games, Shuler completed 52 percent of his passes, threw only two touchdowns and was intercepted 14 times. He was also sacked 21 times in 10 games befoe being put on injured reserve Nov. 19.
Shuler was able to practice just four times during training camp this summer. He left one practice early.
Shuler received a $430,000 reporting bonus in July. He has received over $1.9 million in New Orleans, including a $1 million signing bonus. He is scheduled to count $1.2 million against the 1998 salary cap, including a base salary of $546,250.
Similar foot injuries ended the careers of former NFL running backs Larry Csonka and Calvin Hill.
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