With week 1 of the NFL season officially in the books, many football analysts start turning their attention towards surprise teams, surprise players and early season trends. While Calvin Johnson’s controversial TD call, the Jets inability to gain positive yardage and the stunner in Kansas City all made headlines in week 1, the injuries were what stood out most in my mind. Major playmakers such as Bob Sanders (torn bicep tendon), Ryan Grant (ankle breaks) and Kris Jenkins (torn left ACL), all suffered what could be season ending injuries, while Kevin Boss, Kevin Kolb, Matthew Stafford, Stewart Bradley, and Matt Moore suffered concussions or other serious injuries. For all we know, these injuries (especially concussions) could now alter the duration of that player’s career.
Football is a contact sport where injuries are naturally a part of the game, but the biggest reason why this is relevant is because of the financial consequences the injured athlete could face. This offseason we saw some holdouts and extended contract negotiations from Vincent Jackson, Nick Mangold, and Sam Bradford, as well as the well chronicled Darrelle Revis episode. One of the major aspects of the negotiations that halted continued progress was the amount of guaranteed money in the contract. Guaranteed money in contracts is usually the most disagreed upon aspect of the contract, and is what often stretches out negotiations. In the NFL, everyone is always one major hit away from their career being over and their bank accounts being emptied.
Each of the past few years, we have seen record breaking contracts in the amount of money guaranteed for top draft picks. In 2009, Lions #1 pick Matthew Stafford signed a 6 yr $72 million deal ($41.7 guaranteed), and this past season Rams #1 pick Sam Bradford signed a 6 yr $78 million deal ($50 guaranteed). While it surely is a big risk on the owners’ part, it is an investment they hope will satisfy the needs of their franchise player.
As spectators and fans of the NFL, we are often so quick to judge players for holding out and demanding more money. What we fail to realize is that unlike the jobs most of us have, the job that these athletes take part in is so physically demanding that it could put their lives in jeopardy. While I am not advocating that agents try to milk every last dollar out of team owners, because quite often greed and selfishness do factor into these negotiations, we have to be more understanding of just how fragile an NFL player’s career is. When a player suffers a severe injury, it affects the entire dynamic of the player’s life (wellbeing, income, career, family).
As more and more season or career ending injuries take place this year, it will be interesting to see how this affects the new collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Owners want money back from the players, and the players want to be financially secured. Aside from the guaranteed money/injuries issue, the proposed 18 game schedule will only strengthen the NFLPA’s stance that the amount of money being dished out on salaries is not too high.
A builder has a hammer, a tailor has a sewing machine and a writer has a pen and paper. For football players, their tool is their body, and they need to do everything they can do protect it.
Enjoy week 2 and the rest of the NFL season…. While we still have it.