Seven-time Pro Bowl tailback Marshall Faulk, the ninth-leading rusher in NFL history and a future Hall of Fame member, will undergo knee surgery next week that will sideline him for the 2006 season and possibly end his career.
The surgery, confirmed Friday by Rams first-year coach Scott Linehan, will be an extensive reconstructive procedure and will probably require eight to 12 months of rehabilitation. It was earlier believed that Faulk was considering less-invasive arthroscopic surgery. At age 33 and facing a daunting rehabilitation regimen, Faulk could retire instead of trying to resume his career in 2007.
"We were hoping for the best, but we've been planning for both
scenarios," said Linehan. "I
think reality is setting in for sure that potentially his career is
Agent Rocky Arceneaux reiterated to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week that Faulk would probably require further surgery to address persistent swelling in his knee, and Rams officials acknowledged Friday that it is their understanding the 12-year veteran will proceed with the operation. One club official and one coach told ESPN.com that Arceneaux's remarks are consistent with what they know about Faulk's physical status.
Faulk is now approaching double-digit surgeries on his knees. He had arthroscopic surgery on both knees this offseason and one has not responded well to his rehabilitative efforts. Even some Rams officials aren't certain yet which knee will be addressed with next week's pending procedure. Nor are they certain yet of how the team will treat Faulk's case.
"It's still TBD, to be determined, right now," said one club official Friday morning. "The guy has been a great player here, and you want to treat this with some [sensitivity]."
The most likely scenario is that St. Louis will place Faulk on injured reserve, which, by definition, would end his 2006 season. Such a move would cost the Rams $2 million and would prompt speculation that he will not return to the playing field.
St. Louis also has the option of waiving Faulk injured, but the Rams don't seem inclined to do so, just for the purpose of potentially saving some money on his contract.
There have been reports that Faulk will sit out this season, do some broadcasting work and then re-assess his physical status next spring. But Arceneaux, who has not returned messages, conceded this week that Faulk's knee has swelled after even modest workouts, and that could signal the end of his career.
As a contingency against the possibility that Faulk might retire or that his knees might finally be beyond repair, the Rams earlier this spring signed former Green Bay backup Tony Fisher to bolster the depth chart behind starting tailback Steven Jackson. But Fisher has principally been a third-down back for much of his four-year career and has never logged more than 70 rushes in a season. As a result, the Rams have begun to seek other alternatives at tailback.
St. Louis is one of several teams that has contacted New Orleans about reserve tailback Michael Bennett and is exploring other possibilities as well.
In his second season as the starter, Jackson, the Rams' first-round choice in the 2004 draft, is expected to shoulder an even more ambitious workload as first-year coach Scott Linehan re-emphasizes the running game. But even if Jackson gets 20 carries a game, as he hopes, the Rams will still need a solid backup to spell him at times.
"You can't just play one running back and expect him to survive
the season," Linehan said.
Faulk is coming off a 2005 season in which he carried only 65 times for 292 yards and caught 44 passes for 291 yards. His rushing yards, receiving yards and all-purpose yards were the lowest of his career. Beset by the recurring knee problems, Faulk has not posted a 1,000-yard rushing season since 2001.
The former San Diego State star, who entered the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts as a first-round pick in the 1994 draft, has 19,190 all-purpose yards, the sixth-most in league history. He was chosen the NFL's most valuable player in 2000.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.