NFL teams paid more than a half-billion dollars to Week 1 starters who missed games because of injuries this season and players who ended the year on injured reserve, according to an Associated Press study.
And the players sidelined the most in a league devoted more and more to speed: the fastest guys on the field, wide receivers.
While much of the recent focus has been on protecting high-priced quarterbacks and limiting head injuries — concussions were up slightly over last year — keeping wideouts and the defenders who try to stop them healthy has occupied most of the NFL's medical personnel. Cornerbacks and safeties were second and third on the list.
Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill missed four of the 567 games that 74 receivers were sidelined for in 2019, costing teams a position-high $72 million, according to the AP's analysis of players on injured reserve at the end of the NFL's regular season along with time missed by opening-game starters. The estimated $521 million spent on players checked by the AP doesn't include players who became starters after Week 1 and later missed games with injuries.
Patrick Mahomes' top target, Hill hurt his collarbone in the season opener, just days after signing a three-year, $54 million contract extension. Fortunately for the Chiefs, he returned to form and helped lead them to the Super Bowl against San Francisco on Sunday. Asked about injuries for receivers, Hill said he's been hurt but never hit that hard by a defender.
“That’s why you don’t get tackled,” the player nicknamed “Cheetah” and self-proclaimed fastest man in the NFL said Monday night. “You just got to learn how to juke better, baby, you know? That’s why we put those offseason moments in, you know?”
The NFL keeps tweaking rules and tracking data from players in trying to keep them healthier. But concussions rose to 145 this year, 10 more than in 2018. The AP's analysis found concussions cost more in terms of salary and salary-cap hits on average, ahead of knee, neck and ankle injuries.
More than 60% of injuries this season came in the lower extremities, with knees No. 1, according to the injury information released by the NFL last Thursday. The league has a task force studying those injuries to better prevent them.
“This is a big deal this is not only from a player availability standpoint from a club perspective but from a player perspective,” said Leigh Weiss, a physical therapist and the New York Giants' director of rehabilitation. "It’s their ability to make a team, it’s their ability to perform at the highest level, it’s their ability to stay healthy, and that to us is paramount.”
Some other findings from the study:
— Players making under $1 million per year are more likely to land on injured reserve than those who make more. Of the 248 players in the AP database making $1 million or less against the salary cap, 195 were put on IR (78.6%). For players making more than $1 million, 137 of 325 were put on IR (42.2%).
— The San Francisco 49ers (15-3) are preparing for the Super Bowl despite leading the league in games missed due to injuries as counted by AP. The 49ers finished with 16 players on injured reserve, a group that includes running back Jerick McKinnon, who missed the entire season trying to recover from the torn right ACL that wiped out his 2018 season.
The NFC champs also were without injured receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd all year. San Francisco lost left tackle Joe Staley to a broken leg in Week 2 followed by right tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk with knee injuries in early October.
"This whole season, ups and downs, we had injuries left and right," 49ers tight end George Kittle said. “We had guys step up when they needed to from (Justin) Skule to (Daniel) Brunskill — to our defense, (safety) Marcell (Harris), (linebacker Dre) Greenlaw. We had guys everywhere stepping up the entire season.”
As for the Chiefs, their opponent on Sunday? Only five teams lost fewer games to injuries counted by the AP.
— The New York Jets finished the season with a league-high 21 players on injured reserve and had so many other injuries the organization is studying every step of the treatment and recovery process. Jets general manager Joe Douglas hopes 2019 was a “bit of anomaly.”
“We are in the midst of that research,” Douglas said. "We are doing a deep dive as far as what we can do to prevent this from happening again and what we need to implement to make sure that this amount of injuries doesn’t happen.”
— When it comes to salaries, the Philadelphia Eagles lost the most with millions unavailable due to games missed — even as they scrambled to a 9-7 finish and the NFC East title. They placed 11 players on injured reserve with the receiving group taking a big hit: DeSean Jackson missed 13 games with an abdomen injury, Alshon Jeffery missed seven with different foot injuries and Nelson Agholor sat out six with a hurt knee.
— Knees were the most costly injuries. Miami had offensive tackle Julien Davenport miss eight games with an injured knee that put him on injured reserve, though he returned. A knee injury cost cornerback Xavien Howard 11 games. The Dolphins didn't lose nearly as much in salary when undrafted rookie receiver Preston Williams hurt a knee in their first win of the season and missed the final eight games.
“You never want to see a guy go down and get injured like that, but he’s such a talented player,” Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said of Williams. “He’s got such a bright future.”
— Quarterback and offensive tackle, usually two of the highest-paid positions on any team, have a higher average cost per position ahead of wide receiver from missing games. QB average cost from injuries: $1,640,000; offensive tackle, $1,230,000; wide receiver, $883,000.
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