Injuries — The Preseason Curse Part I

Quote of the Day:

“The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

The bane of the existence for NFL teams this time is a simple yet dastardly word: injuries. This is the time of year where teams hold their breath on every play of every preseason game and hope they come away healthy. Sitting in team boxes watching these games, the common refrain from staffs all over the league when a player stays down on the ground is “Get up, please get up!” In the case of Osi Umenyiora, he did not get up and could miss the entire season due to an injury in a meaningless game.

There is a definite need for preseason games to evaluate the 80 players on the roster and make those tough decisions, especially on players 53-60. However, the opportunity for injury exists on every play, thus the held breath when a player – especially a starting player – takes awhile to get up.

This is why starters play so little in the preseason. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are nursing injuries; even if they weren’t it would be hard to expose them to much contact. LaDainian Tomlinson has only 14 preseason carries in his eight year career. Seems about right. When we had Ahman Green at his peak, my recommendation was to put him in a glass box in the preseason to only be opened on Labor Day. A running back has only a finite number of carries in his body and it seemed pointless to use those carries in meaningless games.

A sometimes-misunderstood fact is that when players are placed on injured reserve, they are still part of the team’s Salary Cap. Some players have “split” contracts – a lower amount superceding the Paragraph 5 amount in the event the player is placed on a reserve list – that provides the team some cash and Cap relief upon being placed on reserve/injured. Split contracts are a function of leverage at the time of negotiation. Usually, players picked in the third round have one year of split; players in lower rounds may have splits in the first two years of their contract.

Cap managers must maintain room in their budgets for players on reserve/injured. By the end of most seasons with the Packers, our list was up to ten or twelve players. It is not only the cost of paying the injured players, however, but also the cost of the players to replace them, which adds up. Usually, there are very few players with any pedigree on the street, but the Umenyiora case presents an interesting option. The replacement cost for his loss may be 8M – the reported number for which Michael Strahan would return to the Giants to play. Combined with Umenyiora’s 1.7M salary, the injury may cost the Giants close to 10M. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Umenyiora is the latest casualty of preseason games. The movement to shorten the preseason and lengthen the season is underway, although subject to negotiation with the union. That may help this necessary evil of injured players in the preseason.

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