Over the last couple of weeks, there have been huge discussions over the apparent effect of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) on players in the NFL. Following, what is being perceived as, an unprecedented amount of injuries this offseason, some are pointing to the new “practice restrictions” as the primary suspect. Theoretically, several of the main points make sense, although it is unclear if those reasons are, in fact, the driving force behind the injuries. One common point suggests that the reduced amount of physical contact in the practices is leading to a lack of preparation for getting hit, making cuts, and tackling at “game speed.” Thus, when the players take the field in full-pads or in scrimmages against other teams, their bodies are unable to withstand the increased level of physicality. Others point to the increased delay between the organized team activities (OTAs) and the start of training camp as a potential cause for the rash of injuries. They suggest that players, as a result of being away from team facilities, are not maintaining their expected level of conditioning and, as a result, are reporting to training camp overweight, out-of-shape, and with their bodies ill-prepared to perform at the level expected of them from their coaching staff.
Irregardless of the reasoning, these new restrictions on camp, agreed upon in the last collective bargaining session, appear to be having an adverse effects on a number of teams. Just in terms of shear star power, the list of players incurring “season-ending” injuries at training camp is already fairly substantial:
- Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles WR (ACL)
- Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers OT (ACL)
- Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks WR (hip)
- Dan Koppen, Denver Broncos C (ACL)
- Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers WR (ACL)
- Chris Culliver, San Francisco 49ers CB (ACL)
- Joe Morgan, New Orleans Saints WR (ACL)
- Arrelious Benn, Philadelphia Eagles WR (ACL)
- Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens TE (hip)
In fact, according to Roto World’s team injuries listing, there were 46 players that suffered potentially season-ending injuries prior to taking their first preseason snap. To make matters worse, that doesn’t even include player like Michael Crabtree, who are “expected” to return at some point late in the regular season, or players released by their team after suffering an injury.
However, it isn’t just the scare of injuries that is causing some media personalities to rise in uproar. Many pundits and analysts have noticed a shocking new trend in this first preseason game; a point highlighted by our very own Sam Bradford. Instead of the typical “one or two series” for the starters, we have been seeing 1st-team players on the field well into the second quarter of football games. Naturally, more casual fans would like to see the starters on the field for as long as possible. In all honesty, outside of “depth chart junkies,” who really cares how a handful of undrafted free agents and “fringe” prospects look against another team’s third-stringers?
However, if the assumption is made that “starters” are getting more reps as a consequence of fewer “quality” reps during training camp, then we have reached another problem…
More time for players like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey means significantly less time for players like Andrew Helmick, Justin Veltung, and Emory Blake. More reps for Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead means less quality reps for Benny Cunningham and Chase Reynolds. If the goal of the preseason is to round out the roster with the best talent, how can it be done with less tape on each player and fewer quality reps against comparable NFL opponents?
The new CBA restrictions, to this point, appear to be pressing teams towards playing their starters for longer during preseason games. If Sam Bradford is playing into the second quarter in the preseason opener, will he be playing into the third quarter by Week 3? It is a fair question…
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the NFL and the NFLPA will be looking heavily into these preseason changes heading into next year. Both governing bodies will likely have a bone to pick, especially if this apparent increase in injuries can somehow be correlated with new regulations on offseason workouts. At the end of the day, we all just want to see our team playing the best football they can, with the best roster they can obtain. Having injured superstarts and less time to round out the roster in preseason are certainly counter-productive to those goals. Lets hope that this issue gets addressed in the coming year, both for the fans and the players on the field.