Even by NFL standards, last weekend was a milemarker if you’re keeping track of the football carnage. By the time Week 7 ended on Sunday, there was a trail of wounded and battered players.
Roll call, please.
Reggie Wayne — Out for the season with a torn ACL.
Sam Bradford — Out for the season with a torn ACL.
Brian Cushing — Out for the season with a broken fibula and torn LCL. Almost exactly a year ago he suffered a knee injury that cost him the last 11 games of the season.
Doug Martin — Out for the season with a torn labrum (shoulder).
Jermichael Finley — Out indefinitely after being carried off the field on a backboard and taken to a hospital. He reports that he is out of the ICU and was able to walk to the shower.
Jay Cutler — Out four weeks with a groin injury.
Nick Foles — Out indefinitely with a concussion. He had replaced the injured Michael Vick as the Eagles’ quarterback. Team officials say Vick will play this week even though he is not “100 percent” healthy.
Lance Briggs — Out six weeks with a fractured shoulder.
Injuries are the great flaw in America's favorite game. What can the NFL do about it? Not much, other than turn it into a flag league, which is pretty much what it has already done, given the many constraints that rules have placed on defensive players, from the types of hits they can make to the 5-yard rule for pass coverage.
Let’s see, no hitting in the head area, no hitting low in the ankles and knees at certain places on the field, no hits if the player is considered defenseless. The target is getting smaller and smaller, and the rules are actually making it more dangerous for defensive players.
Today’s players: Bigger, stronger, faster and injured. It’s physics. Bigger players hitting bodies at faster speeds equals more force and more broken bodies. Please, don’t tell me you believe the increase in size during the last two to three decades is natural; it far outstrips the growth of the general population. Players can manufacture pounds of muscle, but they don’t increase the size and strength of the tendons and ligaments that hold them together.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that 181 players were on the injured reserve list BEFORE the season even began — easily a league record. Since then, the broken bodies have piled up.
Imagine the marketing problem NBA officials would have if they had the NFL’s injury rate and had to play on without their marquee players. In a quarterback-driven league, the Eagles, Bears, Vikings, Texans, Rams, Browns, Jaguars and Bills have all lost their starting quarterback to injuries, sometimes more than one.
Two of the Packers’ top three receivers are down and all three of their running backs have missed games, as has their superstar linebacker, Clay Matthews. Dallas running back DeMarco Murray was inactive Sunday with a knee injury. Arian Foster, one of the league’s biggest stars, missed most of last week’s game with an injury. The Falcons’ top two receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones, missed last week’s game (and Jones, a superstar in the making, is done for the year).
Champ Bailey, the Broncos’ great cornerback, made his first appearance of the season last week after being sidelined with a foot injury; he reinjured the foot and is out again. The Patriots lost to the Jets last week while playing without three of their best defensive players — Aqib Talib, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo (the latter two are out for the year).
The injuries are affecting playoff races as the injuries pile up. The Eagles, Bears, Rams and Bills are in big trouble. Among the other players who have missed playing time with injuries: Ahmad Bradshaw, Ray Rice, Stevan Ridley, Danny Amendola, Miles Austin, Percy Harvin, Dennis Pitta, C.J. Spiller, James Jones, David Wilson, Brandon Jacobs, Santonio Holmes, Michael Crabtree, Fred Davis and Shane Vereen.
There are so many injuries that teams could run out of players. The Bills plucked a player from their practice squad, Thad Lewis, and made him their starting quarterback. But practice squads might not be enough. Forbes magazine writer Monte Burke notes that in 2010, 352 players went on the season-ending Injured Reserve list, missing an average of nine and a half games.
“The NFL, of course, already has the greatest and cheapest (read: free) farm system in the professional sports world: The college game,” writes Burke. “But those players are obviously not able to join NFL teams in mid-season. A developmental league could help fill that void — and could have other benefits as well.”
NFL Europe went out of business in 2007, but for 15 years it served as a developmental league, not only providing players to fill in for injuries but giving second chances to players such as Kurt Warner, James Harrison, Fred Jackson, Jake Delhomme and Brad Johnson.
At the current rate of attrition, NFL teams are going to need help from somewhere.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org