Injuries are the bane of the NFL teams’ – and players’ – existence. Just as the mortality rate of NFL careers is 100% – no one plays forever – the injury rate for NFL players is 100%. Everyone gets hurt.
I am often asked to describe a facet of working in the NFL that people may not realize. I answer that it is the increasing amount of time that is spent dealing with the medical side of football. Injury discussions dominate front office meetings each week in both assessing the damage from the previous game and forecasting availability for the week ahead.
Football is not a contact sport; it is a collision sport. Having seen the triage following the games, this fact is clear. Let’s look at a few situations from the first couple of weeks and the financial impact:
After losing promising tight end Tony Moeaki during the preseason, the Chiefs have now lost their top young offensive and defensive players for the season. Both safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles are out for the season, and both signed contracts within the past eighteen months.
Their combined total contract value is $88 million – $60 million for Berry, the league’s highest-paid safety, and $28 million for Charles.
Their combined guarantee total is $44 million – $34 million for Berry and $10 million for Charles.
Their combined salary total is $6.6 million – $3.25 million for Berry and $3.35 million for Charles. That amount is added to whatever costs they must incur for replacement players.
The Chiefs have a lot of issues on the field right now but, unfortunately for them, they have two of their major investments out for the year as casualties of this physical game.
After standing on the spending sidelines in 2010, no team has been more active in 2011 spending than the Carolina Panthers. Owner Jerry Richardson, one of the NFL owners most involved in the negotiation of the new CBA, is jumping into this new agreement with both feet.
The vast majority of the Panthers' spending have been on their own players rather than free agents from other teams. Using the continued Cap loophole of proration of signing bonuses, they are spending over $180 million while operating under a $120 million Cap!
ICONBeason was lost for the season in Week One.
Two of their recent purchases are now on the injury shelf. After losing linebacker Jon Beason – who signed a $51 million contract with a $20 million signing bonus in training camp – with a torn Achilles’ tendon, they have now lost linebacker Thomas Davis with a torn ACL (for the third season in a row).
Davis signed a five-year $36.5 million contract on July 29th that will pay him $8 million this year ($7 million signing bonus and $1 million salary). Davis also has an $8 million option bonus next March for the Panthers to continue the contract, similar to the option language in the contract of Peyton Manning.
With Davis’s injury history it seems likely the Panthers will not exercise that option, leaving Davis with an $8 million parting gift for the 2011 season and an injury protection benefit of $1 million in 2012.
Packer Déjà vu
After a season where the Packers led the league in players being placed on injured reserve, they lost a key cog in Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Nick Collins suffered a neck injury in the game that will sideline him for the rest of the season. The Packers lose a key player who not only is a valuable asset on the field but an extremely popular and likeable player in the locker room.
I remember when we drafted Nick in the second round out of Bethune-Cookman and the resounding response from pundits and fans was “Who?” Now, of course, Collins has become a Pro Bowl player who was rewarded with a $27 million contract last year, including $14 million guaranteed. He will make $3 million this season
Ironically, the injury comes at the same place – Charlotte – where the Packers lost another promising second-round player to a neck injury. In 2005 Terrence Murphy was injured returning a kickoff and stayed down for what seemed like an eternity.
Murphy, like Collins, suffered a neck injury but further tests revealed that he had stenosis, a condition that narrows the spinal column. We would have never known about the condition had he not been injured that night. Murphy never played football again.
The Packers carried 16 players on injured reserve last season, in part due to the lack of a Salary Cap allowing unlimited expenses in the injured category. Hopefully they won’t come anywhere close to that number this season.
Fines not so fine
In Week One Charles Woodson was fined $10,000 for a punch and Troy Polamalu was fined $15,000 for a horse collar tackle. And this week Dunta Robinson was fined $40,000 for his helmet-to-helmet contact with Jeremy Maclin.
For Woodson and Polamalu, making $9.5 million and $14 million respectively this year, the fines represent less than 2% of their weekly pay. For Robinson, making $8.5 million this year – $500,000 a week – the fine represents 8% of his weekly pay.
Like Polamalu, Brendan Ayanbadejo was fined $15,000 in Week One for a horse collar tackle. He makes $775,000 this year – $46,000 per game. Thus, his fine represents 33% of his weekly pay.
The above points out the vast disparity of percentage of earnings that fines represent in the NFL. There needs to be serious consideration of having player fines for on-field conduct correlated with earnings.
In the new CBA, under Article 46, Section 1(d), the fine schedule for on-field conduct is able to be changed each year, so long as it's submitted to NFLPA prior to training camp and they approve. Although it does not appear that it can be adjusted midseason, this seems like an issue for change in the future.
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