The NFL Injury Bug: Winners and Losers

Is it just me, or has the NFL been plagued by massive amounts of injuries this season? I’m not talking about minor bench players either; I’m talking about a seemingly large number of injuries to important players throughout the league. This season, fantasy football conversations have been more focused on who you lost to injury than who you have starting. Of course, there have been varying degrees of success for how squads have handled these injuries. Some teams, like the Rams, are struggling to replace players they lost in the preseason, while others, like the Chargers, seamlessly switch from starter to backup. In this blog, I will look at some of the most significant injuries this season and how it affects/has affected those players’ teams.

In Week 2, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins went down with a dislocated ankle, forcing him out indefinitely. So far, he still has not reappeared on the playing field in full pads and uniform. Remember Griffin’s rookie year, when he set the league on fire with his running and passing abilities? Then, at the end of that season, Griffin tore his ACL and had to have it surgically repaired in the offseason. Last season, he was not the same quarterback from that Rookie of the Year campaign and his college Heisman Trophy-winning performance. This year was supposed to be his year. He was healthy again; he had DeSean Jackson, a brand-new deep-threat receiver. Griffin even had a new coach and offensive coordinator, removed from the debacles of Mike and Kyle Shanahan. Yet, there he is, injured once again. Yes, in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Redskins also drafted Kirk Cousins out of Michigan State, who has proven a relatively capable backup. The issue comes from the fact that, in order to get Griffin, Washington traded away the sixth pick in the draft that year, a second round pick in 2012, and first round picks from both 2013 and 2014 to the St. Louis Rams. They completely mortgaged their future on a player who has spent the better part of his NFL career on the sideline. If Griffin continues to get hurt, or one of these injuries proves career-ending, this team would have taken hundreds of steps back to take a player that never panned out.

Some teams pay for injuries in a more literal sense: the injured players are sometimes the most expensive ones. The St. Louis Rams, who seem to be coming out as winners in the trade of their 2012 first round draft pick, have lost big time on Sam Bradford. Bradford, the Rams would-be starting quarterback, is out for the season with a torn ACL he suffered in the preseason. What’s worse, he tore the exact same ACL that forced him to end last season on IR. Bradford, ever since he was drafted in 2010, has been injured almost every year. As time grows further from the draft in which he was taken, however, his injuries become more and more painful for the Rams. When he was drafted, Bradford signed a 6-year, $78 million contract, the largest rookie contract ever signed. In a year like this, where Bradford will not even take a snap in the regular season, a $17.6 million cap-hit is immense. He is taking up money where the Rams could really use it. I am sure the Rams would love to sign more capable receivers or pick up a good veteran quarterback to replace current rookie starter Austin Davis. However, a lot of the money they could use for these purposes are wrapped up in paying for a man who is never on the field when he is needed.

Likewise, the Miami Dolphins went out of their way to court Knowshon Moreno, one of this off-season’s most coveted free agents. Eventually, they signed him to a one-year, $3 million contract. In the summer, Moreno underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, but he was ready by the start of the season and exploded in Week 1. In Week 2, however, Moreno dislocated his elbow. He did not play again until last Sunday, where he suffered a torn ACL. He is now out for the season. The Dolphins were partially sculpting their offense around their new star halfback. Instead, Miami is left thinking of what could have been, since Moreno was really only healthy for one game this entire 2014 campaign. Though Miami has Lamar Miller, a capable player, as a backup, Moreno’s contract is still a $3 million cap hit for this season. The Dolphins, because of an injury on a relatively large contract, will be hard-pressed to ensure proper depth at the running back position while bolstering other positions on the field.

All three of these teams made huge gambles on particular “franchise players” and got burned when those stars inevitably became injured. In addition, all three teams have struggled immensely without these players, reaching a combined record of 3-12 this season. Compare this to the 5-1 San Diego Chargers, who have experienced complete gutting of their backfield. Starter Ryan Mathews has been out for a significant amount of time with an ACL injury. Second-stringer Danny Woodhead is out for the season with a broken fibula, and third-stringer Donald Brown has missed a few weeks with a concussion. Regardless, the Chargers have still found ways to win behind Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, and the new starting running back, undrafted rookie Branden Oliver, has been fantastic. As the Chargers are showing it takes a combination of great depth and favorable contracts in order to beat the injury bug. Unfortunately for the Redskins, Rams and Dolphins, they did not heed this concept. Gambling on the shoulders of just one player never yields success.

Follow Zak on Twitter @zakberliner1 and listen to him on “The War Room” Fridays from 6-7pm