One of the many reasons the NFL preseason is bad is that, seemingly every year, we see big stars or important players go down to severe injuries in a meaningless game. Unfortunately, things have been no different in 2017, and Friday night saw two key players suffer major knee injuries that threaten their season before it even begins.
The New England Patriots were the first team to endure a loss when wide receiver Julian Edelman went down on a non-contact injury. On Saturday afternoon the team’s worst fears were confirmed — it’s a torn ACL.
Later, the Kansas City Chiefs faced their own crisis with starting running back Spencer Ware getting carted off. He was instantly ruled out of the game by the team, with his injury being a potential season-ender, as well. The Chiefs reportedly believe that Ware suffered a PCL injury, and his ACL is fine. He’ll have an MRI on Saturday.
We got a similar scare last week when Odell Beckham Jr. was injured on a dangerously low tackle to the legs. He escaped with a simple ankle sprain, but the takes were hot and flowing after that incident. Now Edelman and Ware are out, forcing two playoff contenders to make do without pivotal offensive contributors.
Edelman’s loss hurts, but New England might be OK
Let’s not downplay the importance of Edelman here — he’s been the Patriots’ best receiver for several years and has an impeccable connection with Tom Brady. The Patriots’ offense suffered when he missed seven games with a broken foot in 2015. Losing him will be a blow.
This injury also opens up some questions about Edelman’s longterm future. He’ll be 32 years old next year, potentially coming off ACL surgery, and none of his 2018 or 2019 salary is guaranteed. Nobody has ever accused Bill Belichick of being sentimental, so it’s fair to wonder just how long Edelman will stick around in New England.
With all that said, New England does have the weapons to withstand his loss. The Patriots traded a first-round draft pick to acquire Brandin Cooks, who has experience in the slot role that Edelman excels at. They also have reliable playmakers in Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Danny Amendola, in addition to a small army of talented pass-catching running backs (James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis).
In short, the Patriots almost have more weapons than they know what to do with, and they still have Brady throwing the ball. Edelman is a big loss, but we shouldn’t doubt Belichick’s ability to cover for big losses. As long as Brady stays upright, the Patriots will be humming along just fine.
Chiefs suddenly need Kareem Hunt sooner rather than later
On the other hand, Ware’s loss creates a lot of uncertainty on the Chiefs’ side. The severity of his knee injury is not yet known, but nothing on the field indicated that Ware will be playing again soon.
A 2013 sixth-round pick, Ware was cut by the Seattle Seahawks after just one year. He landed with Kansas City and won the starting job after Jamaal Charles’ knees started breaking down. Ware enjoyed a breakout year in 2016, rushing for 921 yards and catching 33 passes for 447 yards, scoring five touchdowns in the process.
Ware did enough to make Charles expendable, but the Chiefs gave him some competition in the offseason, drafting Kareem Hunt in the third round. Hunt quickly passed Charcandrick West on the depth chart and started getting first-team reps early in the preseason. If he wasn’t threatening Ware for the starting job, he was certainly making his coaches think about it.
Now the Chiefs don’t really have a choice. If Ware is done for the year, they have to get Hunt ready to be the guy. He definitely has the build to be an NFL running back, standing in at 5’11, 216 pounds and running a 4.62 40 at the Combine. He also has a proven track record at Toledo, making the All-MAC team in his senior year.
Reid has been talking up Hunt all offseason, praising his ability to learn the system quickly. “He’s a smart kid,” said Reid, via the Kansas City Star. “He’s picking it up ... I’ve been around a lot of good backs and smart backs and he’s right in there. He picks it up quick.”
The Chiefs are about to find out just how fast Hunt can learn on the job. He had a tough time getting going on Friday, rushing for just 39 yards on nine carries against the Seattle Seahawks. With the famously risk-averse Alex Smith under center, the Chiefs need a functional running game to move the chains and keep their top-tier defense rested.
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The injuries to Edelman and Ware will greatly affect their teams, for different reasons. New England has the reinforcements to survive without Edelman, but Brady will surely miss his favorite target. Kansas City needs to throw a promising rookie into the fire and ask him to carry a big load on the offense.
To reiterate: the preseason is bad and should probably be reduced, but the injuries can’t be undone, so here we are. The next step will be seeing how these teams adapt and adjust without those players.