Commentary

Pump the brakes on 18-game season

Mailbag: The increase in injuries would make extending the season tough

Originally Published: September 25, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

If there is a new effort by NFL owners to try and convince players to go for an 18-game schedule, it's a silly idea.

All you have to do is peek at the injury lists for evidence that adding two games is misguided under the current work climate. To get a collective bargaining agreement in 2011, players traded percentages of revenue for a softer offseason and an easier training camp.

Three weeks into the season, 213 players are on injured reserve lists (non-football injury, physically unable to perform, IR, waived IR, IR designated to return), tying up $219 million of cap room. Each year, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News charts the toll of injuries during a season. Last year he counted 101 starters who went on the injured reserve list. Overall, 1,466 games were missed by starters.

The season is only three weeks old and there are 39 starters on the injured reserve, physically unable to perform or non-football injury lists, eating up more than 450 games if you project some of the returns of injured players who might be back at some point this season. Already, 122 missed starts are on the books from the week-to-week injury list.

The wear and tear of the season will only keep the numbers growing.

Unless owners and players revisit what it takes to get players ready for the physical toll of a season, adding two games is a bad idea. For starters, depth may not be good enough to accommodate an 18-game schedule and the tight salary cap has taken away a lot of the veteran middle class.

Teams might have one or two good backups at a position, but they aren't stockpiled for an injury hit of more than two at any position. And injuries that normally occur late in the season are already happening in September.

For example, the Carolina Panthers were so thin and banged up at safety, they signed veteran Quintin Mikell a few days before the start of the regular season. He was hurt in the opener and again in Week 2, before sitting out this past week's contest.

Last Thursday, Andy Reid was down two tight ends. He started Sean McGrath, who was claimed on waivers after final cuts, and used Kevin Brock, who was signed a couple of days before the game, as the backup.

In Week 2, the Falcons lost five starters, including three who are out for the season. The Cardinals lost two starting outside linebackers this past Sunday.

If the NFL is serious about adding two games, it needs to create a developmental league to prepare replacements for the long term and give it a few years to develop more players.

What also has to be researched is if players are getting enough hitting and training in the offseason to determine if their bodies are ready for the impact of actual games. As it stands now, the first time a player is asked to tackle is in the first preseason game. If a player needs guidance on training during the offseason before OTAs begin, the team can't help him. He's on his own.

Safety is a big topic in the NFL, but neither side is succeeding if the injury list gets too big.

From the inbox


[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman, Greg Schiano
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesBucs coach Greg Schiano has seen enough of Josh Freeman, benching the fifth-year QB in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.

Q: As a Bucs fan, I first thought it was just the offense [that was a problem], but after watching many games, I have noticed a lot of big plays and just plays in general called back for illegal formation and/or the offensive lineman not all lined up on the line. Is this something they are calling more of, or are more teams trying to bring in college formations that are not legal in the NFL?

Jason in Riverview, Fla.

A: Some of this goes on the quarterback. Some of it is due to the play calling. I'm sure this is one of the reasons Greg Schiano benched Josh Freeman and went with Mike Glennon. Schiano was brought in to add more discipline to the team, and as a whole, this team doesn't have that disciplined look. I thought the Freeman benching would come after the fourth week, but Schiano is looking for a spark now. That spark could turn into a bad fire if Glennon makes a bunch of rookie mistakes.

Q: I am sure you will get a lot of questions about the Trent Richardson trade to the Colts, as we are already being flooded with the reasoning from both sides. The Colts gave up little for filling a huge need with a young physical back, but no one wants to address the elephant named "tank season" standing next to the Browns. Nothing I have read so far seems logical from a Browns point of view except them trying to tank the season. The following has been reported so far: 1) Browns say they had an opportunity to make the team better... By trading your best player for a future 1st round pick, that does not make the team better now or in the short term future and they are helping to lower the position of that pick as Richardson should help the Colts win more games this year. 2) Richardson does not fit the running style the coaching staff wants.... this smells fishy, too. Best Player does not fit, after all training camp and preseason?

Jacob in Cuiaba, Brazil


A: The point that is most valid is that Trent Richardson does fit Norv Turner's system. He's a talented, downhill runner. If you go back in Norv's history, runners as talented as Richardson always get 300 carries as long as they stay healthy. I know they won the Minnesota game, but the tough part for Browns fans is the uncertainty. Brandon Weeden isn't bad, and Richardson is going to be good. Once again, Browns fans have to look into the future to see if the team can come up with a quarterback and a running back better than what they are replacing. It looks like another year and another season is wasted. If the Browns come up with the right quarterback in the draft, great. But what if they don't? Remember, Jacksonville and Oakland will likely be drafting ahead of them and both will be looking for a quarterback, too.

Q: I was under the impression during the 2002 realignment that one of the selling points was that all 32 teams would play in every stadium within an eight-year span. It seems this is untrue. An example would be Seattle playing the AFC South. They play Jacksonville and Tennessee at home and Houston and Indy on the road. Four years ago it was the same. Why is the NFL not changing it up every four years so that teams play in each stadium?

Dustin in California

A: Good question. I don't know if the rotation got out of whack around the time of the lockout in 2011, but the league needs to look into that. And while they're at it, the league should look at how the rotation goes that causes two division teams to have tougher road schedules while the other two get to host their tougher opponents. The NFL has software programs to investigate and come up with options. It's time to bring up both topics and see if there are some better solutions.

Q: I just read the ESPN article on the pass-heavy start to the season. What I've seen over the first couple of weeks is that teams are really struggling to run block effectively and as a result they're having to shift toward a run-pass balance that probably isn't ideal or what they drew up. I've been wondering if the reduction in padded practices is making it harder for offensive lines to get into a good run-blocking groove and if that's the real cause of the run-pass imbalance, rather than a shift in schemes. I think teams may run more down the stretch as their blocking improves.

Mark in Oakland

A: That is pretty much the case every year, but I think it's been more pronounced over the past two seasons. In three of the past five years, teams averaged fewer than 100 yards a game rushing in Week 1. By the time the season was over, 20 or more yards would be added. It takes about three or four weeks for an offensive line to coordinate its blocking. The lack of padded practices is an issue. Plus, there are usually more serious injuries to starting offensive linemen during camps and the start of the season than other positions, so it takes a little time to break in a replacement. One of the problems that will pop up this year is lack of depth along the offensive lines. The Cleveland Browns were down two guards because of injuries and they had a major hole in their line because of it.

Q: I am beginning to think the most significant element of the new CBA was the rookie wage scale. Some of the changes we may trace back to it are the astronomical wage disparity between the elite/top 15 quarterbacks and the rest of their teams, a higher propensity and willingness to acquire the top five picks in the draft, regardless of how many picks they cost, and a youth movement that has seen players in their prime take one-year deals as last resorts to attempt free agency again in 12 months. Is the trade of Trent Richardson another harbinger of the new NFL that runs by the dictates of the CBA-borne rookie wage scale? Are we going to see less patience with top picks since they no longer cost astronomically more than later round picks and undrafted free agents?

C.C. in Baltimore

A: There will probably be more patience with draft choices because they are cheaper labor. Teams that wash out draft choices too fast end up having cap trouble or roster problems. Teams figure they'll need to replace three to five starters a year. If you can't do that with the draft, then you have to gamble for short-term fixes in free agency. The Richardson trade was all about the Browns trying to get a quarterback next year. They wanted trade assets to be in the position to get the best signal-caller available in the draft.

Q: Why not just cancel the kickoffs? It seems like a waste of time from one offensive play to the next offensive play. I mean the series ends up with a touchdown or field goal. Then commercials. Then the kickoff into the end zone with no return and more commercials! Before it was fun seeing kicks being returned. But now why can't they just have the offense start at the 20 most of the time?

Xavier in Guayaquil, Ecuador

A: For safety issues, I don't think the league office would mind losing the kickoffs, but fans would be missing a potentially exciting play. You can see the league moving toward eliminating the kickoff and letting offenses start at the 25-yard line. I'd hate it, but that could be the future.


John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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