Only one week into the 2013 NFL preseason, the bodies have been piling up for some time. Several teams have already sustained multiple injuries to key players on the roster, including some of the league's elite taking the biggest hits of all. With so many ACL tears, Achilles mentions and players out for the season, blame is passed around like a viral video. But is this fair?
Plato once described man as "a being in search of meaning", and any quick conversation with football fans will reveal the truth of that statement. There's always a reason why a player went down. There's always a person to blame for dashed expectations. Nevermind that the NFL is, by definition of competition, a league of winners and losers. Someone must take the fall, whether or not such blame is reasonable.
It's easy to understand the frustration when you hear a key player is out on your favorite team. Consider some of the most troubling situations (of many) due to injury:
- The Green Bay Packers must figure out how to keep Aaron Rodgers upright after an already thin offensive line lost Bryan Bulaga for the season.
- The Denver Broncos feel a similar pain trying to protect Peyton Manning after losing not only starting center J.D. Walton but also his replacement Dan Koppen for the season.
- The Philadelphia Eagles lost WRs Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn for the season as they try to adjust to a new offense under Chip Kelly.
- The Falcons' situation at right tackle was already mediocre at best, but that's before Mike Johnson went down for the year.
- The defending champs must not only move on from the loss of numerous key figures to free agency, including Anquan Boldin, but now the Ravens have to adjust to the absence of Dennis Pitta after the tight end went down with a hip dislocation.
- The Saints lost a key player on both sides of the ball on the same day recently when wideout Josh Morgan and defensive end Kenyon Coleman were both pronounced gone for the 2013 season.
Several other teams face similar scenarios as the number of injured also include: Danario Alexander (San Diego), Aaron Berry (N.Y. Jets), Plaxico Burress (Pittsburgh), Michael Crabtree (San Francisco), Tyrone Crawford (Dallas), Chris Culliver (SF), Darius Fleming (SF), Kelvin Hayden (Chicago) and Jonas Mouton (SD), among others.
Why does it seem like there are such a high amount of injuries? Who, in other words, is to blame? Listen closely and you'll hear that the players aren't the only ones taking a fall.
Perhaps it's the head coach who goes too easy on his players and doesn't create a tough enough environment. ESPN's John Clayton recently blamed the NFL's collective bargaining agreement for the players' conditioning coming into training camp:
The new collective bargaining agreement creates too much time for the players to rest their bodies. As one front office exec told me, long rest helps joints, but long rest isn't great for tendons. The new work rules give players 14 weeks off from the end of the season, seven weeks to train with their teammates and then six to eight weeks off before training camp. If the players aren't doing enough running or training to keep the tendons constantly working, they are vulnerable to the ACL tears, Achilles pulls and other injuries that have hit teams.
While this might be true, it's also important to remember that many of these injuries were happening before the new collective bargaining agreement existed. The frequency is slightly higher in the years since the CBA was established, but teams are reporting injuries more and more as the NFL cracks down on player safety and faces more scrutiny than ever before.
Coaches have also taken their share of the blame for key injuries in recent years. Andy Reid took his licks for the way he handled Michael Vick. Some believe Mike Shanahan was to blame for Robert Griffin III's season-ending injury last year. This typically happens when a major player, especially the quarterback, goes down for a team. In the preseason, it's easy to hear the coaches were taking a risk by playing too much in pads. Or maybe a coach didn't have his players ready enough. Take your pick.
Whether it's the CBA, the coaches or even a player for taking it too easy (or too hard) in the offseason, it's natural to feel the need to point to something or someone to blame. We are, after all, in search of meaning. It's what we do. But what if there's no one to blame? What if the likeliest explanation is simply that these things just happen?
The reality is that football is a violent sport that makes money. Lots of it. As a $10 billion per year industry, many people -- including players -- are getting rich in the NFL. There's a reason that players run faster and hit harder than they ever have. There's a reason why players don't want to report some injuries and return sooner than they should from others. It's all a part of the modern NFL.
When it comes down to it, our quest for meaning should end, in most cases, without pointing at anything. Football is what it is, and injuries are a natural consequence of America's most popular sport. Unfortunately, columns will be written, blame will be cast and heads will still roll. After all, that's a part of today's NFL, too.