Football is a dangerous sport. This is not news.
But it certainly seems like the 2017 NFL season has had an unusually large number of serious injuries to high-profile players. Indeed, if you took the pool of players currently out of action, waived a magic wand that made them instantly healthy and placed them on the same team, you would have a pretty good-looking All-Pro squad on your hands.
While each team has been touched by the injury bug, some of them won’t make a huge difference in a team’s fortunes one way or another. The Indianapolis Colts, for instance, were probably going to struggle whether Andrew Luck took the field or not. And the New England Patriots were going to be a title contender with or without Julian Edelman. That’s just how it goes.
Some players’ injuries, though, will have far-reaching impacts on their franchises this season and potentially beyond. Here are five injuries that have changed the landscape of the NFL this season:
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
As the NFL’s oldest team with an average age of 27.47, the Cardinals were rapidly coming to a crossroads even before David Johnson broke his wrist in the season-opener against Detroit. The star running back’s injury simply pushed up the timeline.
The Cardinals were 13-3 two seasons ago but the contending window is closed for this group. Now it might be time to go into full rebuild mode, starting with finding a replacement for Carson Palmer, who would account for more than 14 percent of the team’s estimated salary cap space in 2018. If they can do that and get Johnson back healthy and dominant like he was in 2016, perhaps the turnover won’t be quite so painful for this franchise.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr.’s fractured ankle is hardly the source of all of the Giants’ woes. Indeed, they were 0-4 when he did play this season. But the loss of their mercurial star receiver could have a huge impact on the franchise that reaches beyond 2017.
Beckham has made no secret that he is seeking a huge payday and the Giants appeared willing to give it to him. But the injury might push the franchise into wait-and-see mode. Their receiver is under contract through the 2018 season. Does he come back strong? Does he show unhappiness if the team waffles on a new deal? And does any of this spill over and affect not only the performance of an aging Eli Manning, but also the job security of coach Ben McAdoo? It has the making of a long, unpleasant soap opera.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
The Texans took a devastating blow when they lost both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus just five weeks into the season. Yet even with those players out, the Texans were looking like a solid team with an outside shot at the playoffs. Now, with their exciting rookie quarterback also done for the season, the Texans can see their playoff hopes sliding away.
It’s pretty clear that Tom Savage is not the answer, especially after a dreadful performance (19-for-44, 219 yards, 66.4 passer rating) in Sunday’s loss to the Colts. And as much as I think Colin Kaepernick deserves a job somewhere in the NFL, I can’t imagine him pushing Houston into the playoffs after such a long layoff – even if owner Bob McNair could be convinced (no chance) to follow that path.
The good news for Houston sports fans: We’re only a little more than three months away from the start of Spring Training.
Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
The loss of Eric Berry to a ruptured Achilles tendon might not seem so devastating on the surface. After all, the Chiefs sit atop the AFC West at 6-3. But over the long haul, the absence of their star safety will surely be felt. There have already been signs of troubles as the Chiefs have lost three of their last four games after bolting to a 5-0 start. Berry’s replacement Daniel Sorensen has not been good, drawing just a 36.8 rating from Pro Football Focus.
The Chiefs have been outgained in each of their last five games, including surrendering 505 yards to the Oakland Raiders in Week 7. The rest of Kansas City’s schedule is not exactly frightening, but this team is built to challenge for a Super Bowl and that goal will be much tougher without Berry anchoring the defense.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
When Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken right collarbone in Week 6 against Minnesota, it was a devastating blow to the Packers and a punch to the stomach of the NFL. No matter what team you root for, this one hurt, as few players are as enjoyable to watch work their magic on the field.
The Packers lost that game to the Vikings, then lost to New Orleans in Week 7. Rodgers’ replacement Brett Hundley wasn’t exactly terrible in that game, but he was hardly good. The number that really stood out: 87 yards passing on 25 attempts. That’s 3.48 yards per pass. Rodgers’ career yards/attempt is 7.88.
Hundley will improve – he was a little better in Monday night’s loss to Detroit and even put together a pair of garbage time touchdown drives — and the Packers should win their share of games the rest of the way. But any hope of a championship seems a pipe dream now, even if Rodgers does return with his surgically repaired collarbone late in the season.
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