NFLPA Investigating Injury Cost of Expanded NFL Season
But the NFL players say, "Not so fast." Because while they like playing football, it's a great deal harder for them to do it than it is for you or I or the league's sponsors to watch it. Before the idea of the expanded season (the NFL calls it the "enhanced season," but we try not to deal in euphemism here) gets too far down the road, the league's players would like everybody to consider the fact that they are not merely characters in a weekly TV show but actual human beings whose bodies suffer for our entertainment. Adding two regular-season games at the end of an already grueling season will increase the risk and rate of injury in a sport where a startling average of 423 players have been placed on injured reserve in each of the past three seasons.
That's an average of 13.2 players per team per year on injured reserve. That doesn't count injuries that only last a week or a month. And it certainly doesn't take into account the number of players who play hurt, especially late in the year with playoff spots on the line. It's just top-line IR data that tells only part of the picture, but there is much more data to come.
The NFL Players Association has commissioned a study on injury rates so that it can present the league with hard numbers to back up its concerns as the idea of an expanded season is discussed in the current collective bargaining negotiations. It's early in the study, which is why all they have so far is the IR data. But that data can be read in a way that backs up the idea that adding games might increase late-season injuries exponentially.
In 2007, a total of 429 NFL players were placed on IR. Of those, Of those, 198 went on the list prior to the start of the regular season (when most IR designations are made for roster-trimming reasons). Another 58 went on IR in Weeks one-through-five, 43 more in Weeks six-through-nine, 58 more in Weeks 10-through-13 and 72 in the final four weeks and the postseason.
In 2008, the total number of players placed on IR was 431. Of those, 197 went on before the start of the regular season, 36 more in Weeks one-through-five, 61 in the next four weeks, 72 in the next four weeks and 65 in the final four weeks and postseason.
Last year, 408 players went on IR, including 168 in the preseason, 29 in Weeks one-through-five, 50 in Weeks six-through-nine, 65 in weeks 10-through-13 and 96 in the final four weeks and the postseason.
One of NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith's most effective stump-speech lines is that the NFL injury rate is 100 percent. (He borrows this, truth be told, from something former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.) Every player who plays the game is going to get hurt, it's just a matter of how seriously. The idea that more than 13 players per team per year get placed on injured reserve is startling enough to help the union make its case that the league shouldn't add more games without taking into account the impact such a move would have on the players and their bodies.
To the NFL's credit, it seems to have decided not to railroad this idea through. Instead of approving the 18-game regular season at last month's owner's meetings, officials tabled the idea until they had time to discuss it at greater length with the union. This could be because they're aware of and concerned about the same issues that trouble the union. It could also be because they view the 18-game regular season as a valuable chip in the CBA negotiations.
See, the union is opposed to the idea at this point, but it's willing to listen if the league wants to talk about giving tit something in return. The players will want more money, obviously, if they're being asked to take on an increased workload. They'll probably want the structure of contracts to change to guarantee more money against injury. And the players definitely want to discuss the idea of reducing the number of spring minicamp and OTA practices. Any or all of those things could possibly be negotiated if the NFL is willing to compensate players for taking on the idea of two more games.
But before those talks happen, the players and their union want to arm themselves with numbers and statistics that show just how serious is the additional responsibility the league and the commissioner are asking them to assume. And along the way, they don't mind if the numbers shock the general public into realizing just how tough this game is that they play for a living.