Dump injured reserve
By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2
At the halfway mark, injuries are clobbering NFL teams as usual. Mike Brown of Chicago, Dan Morgan of Carolina, Mike Peterson of Jax, Chris Simms of Tampa and other important players already have sustained injuries that sent them to injured reserve. Daunte Culpepper and other big name players also soon might go on the IR list. The annoying thing is that even if the wounds to any players on injured reserve heal Simms might recover in as little as a few weeks they can't return, because being placed on injured reserve means you're done for the season. Those on injured reserve receive full pay for the season, but are forbidden to dress again that season regardless of whether they recover. Which raises the musical question: Why does injured reserve exist at all?
Injured reserve seems to have two functions: to force owners to pay players to do nothing, and to prevent fans from seeing players who sustained injuries, then recovered. Gentlemen on injured reserve still count against the salary cap, so teams get no financial benefit from moving them to the IR list. From the team's perspective, players are placed on injured reserve solely in order to open a roster spot for a healthy player. But why should there be any limit on roster spots? The salary cap governs how much NFL teams spend on players, and is imperative to keep high revenue teams on a roughly even footing with low revenue franchises. But limiting roster spots is unnecessary to ensure competitiveness. Right now the NFL roster limit is 53, and players with injuries get shunted to injured reserve so their precious spots can be assigned to someone else. But if a team wants to have 55 or 58 or 62 or 371 players on its roster, what difference does it make so long as the team observes the salary cap? (Note: 371 is how many players you could have, under the 2006 cap, if all were rookie free agents earning the league minimum salary.) The injured reserve system means that every season by Thanksgiving there are healthy NFL players who are paid in full but not allowed to play. It is hard to see how this benefits anyone: player, club or spectators.
AP Photo/Laura Rauch
We're going to have to put you on injured reserve. Even if you're fine in a few weeks, you can't come out of your house until next year.
Doing away with the roster limit but still enforcing the salary cap would permit the abolition of injured reserve. Hurt players would remain on the roster. If they recovered they would tape their ankles again, and if they did not they would keep sitting. Houston put running back Domanick Davis on IR just before the season started, unsure if he could play this season and feeling his roster spot was needed for someone else; Davis' health has improved, but he's forbidden to come back. When Indianapolis defensive tackle Monte Reagor got into an auto crash in mid October, the Colts faced the dilemma of whether to place him on injured reserve, freeing a roster spot for someone else, or to keep him on the roster for a month or so while he recovers. The Colts chose to keep the hospitalized Reagor on the roster, meaning the team's defense has been shorthanded in practice since then. What possible good is accomplished by the existence of an injured reserve in such situations? So long as the Colts or Texans have salary cap space, why couldn't they keep Reagor or Davis on the roster while also signing extra free agents at their positions, to let the new guys practice and see if any of them have what it takes?
To understand why injured reserve exists, it is important to understand that the roster limit itself is a presalary cap concept that has outlived its usefulness. Before the cap, which began in 1993, roster limits were essential otherwise the New York teams, Dallas, Washington and other rich franchises would have stockpiled huge rosters while Green Bay and Indianapolis had trouble fielding a team at all. As recently as 1992, the league front office held an investigation of whether high revenue teams essentially were redshirting young players by claiming they were injured when they weren't, then placing them on IR, circumventing the roster limit. The fear that rich teams were using injured reserve to beat the roster limit was one of the reasons the salary cap came into effect.
But now that the salary cap is here and working well, leveling the field regarding player spending, roster limits no longer are needed. There's no reason the Jets can't have 60 on the roster while the Packers have 56 and the Chargers have 63 and the Eagles have 54 and so on. Eliminating the roster limit would not result in big disparities, such as the Giants with 100 players and the Bills with 30, which might have happened if there were no roster limit and no salary cap. The salary cap prevents high revenue teams from parking players on a bloated roster at the expense of low revenue teams; this mechanism being in place, the roster limit has become a fossil.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot
Late Ordovician fossilized roster limit. Today's fossilized roster limit is 53.
College football has no roster limit, and the sun continues to rise while the Earth continues in its proper orbit. Because colleges don't pay players, in effect they have what TMQ advocates for the NFL no roster limit but equalized spending on players' salaries. (Equalized at zero in this case, but you get the idea.) The lack of a roster limit in college does not appear to have any impact on the competitive equation, but does insure that a player who is injured and then recovers can return. Brian Brohm is back for Louisville, for example, and college football fans are glad. If college had a roster limit, Brohm would have gone on injured reserve and would now be compelled to sit even though he's recovered.
That the rules force players on injured reserve to be paid for doing nothing is the larger version of the Free the Inactive Eight! problem TMQ writes about annually. Though 53 players are on the roster, before each NFL game seven or eight, depending on whether the team has a third quarterback, must be declared inactive. The inactives get full pay but watch from the sidelines. What does this accomplish other than forcing owners to pay players to twiddle their thumbs? The Inactive Eight actually make NFL play slightly lower in quality, by keeping off the field eight gentlemen who might contribute on special teams, and exiling to the bench the third quarterback, who might otherwise come in for trick plays. NFL coaches generally feel they can't risk the backup quarterback's health on trick plays, but the third quarterback would be another matter if he was allowed to come in.
Rosters limits and the inactive list are vestiges of the 1950s, when pro football was barely scraping by financially, many owners were tightwads and player relations were viewed in terms of old fashioned labor management confrontation. In the old system, some owners wanted to shaft players out of every last farthing, and fought for low roster limits in order to reduce salary outlays. An 11 man roster with everyone playing hurt both ways would have been the dream of some 1950s owners. Until 1973, the roster limit was 40, and antediluvian owners pressured to keep the limit low to hold down player costs. As the league became affluent and the limit gradually rose to 53, the antediluvian owner faction seemed to insist on injured reserve, the inactive list and the old "moves" system allowing a limited number of annual exchanges between the active roster and a temporary injury list as a way of preventing those uppity players from gaining increased employment.
Today the NFL is rolling in money, labor relations are constructive and all but two or three owners are happy to pay pretty much any amount to win a game. Still the inactive list and injured reserve, artifacts of a bygone era of money scarcity in pro sports, remain. Free the Inactive Eight! Abolish injured reserve! As of Friday there were 153 gentlemen on injured reserve across the league, an average of five players per club. Some of these men will be healthy again before the season ends, yet none will be allowed to don pads again until next season. Free the Injured Reserves! Let NFL teams have as many people on the roster as they please, so long as the salary cap is not violated.
In other football news, trailing 17 10, with 4:47 remaining, the Packers reached first and goal at the Bills' 1. Green Bay had rushed for an average of 4.9 yards per carry, against one of the league's weakest rush defenses. Thus if the Packers simply slammed the ball forward once or twice, the tying touchdown was nearly certain. Instead pass, interception run 76 yards the other way and the Bills scored the game icing touchdown a few snaps later. What was going on? Brett Favre at that point needed 14 touchdown passes to take the NFL career record away from Dan Marino. Rather than make the high percentage call to tie the game, the Packers' coaches seemingly made a call calculated to help Favre get the record.
In still more football news, everyone's asking whether Ben Roethlisberger bears all the blame for the defending champion Steelers' 2 6 start. For the second straight week, Roethlisberger launched a crazy interception in the red zone, heave hoeing toward Champ Bailey when it was only Denver 14, Pittsburgh 7 with the ball on the Broncos' 14. Simply throwing the ball away would likely have led to a Steelers field goal. But perhaps the video game company , not Roethlisberger, deserves the blame! Last August, I received this e mail from reader Joe Bittner of San Jose, Calif.: "Just picked up the EA Sports game 'Coach.' On the cover is Bill Cowher. In recent history there has been a curse on the cover boy players for the EA product, 'Madden NFL Football.' I am wondering if this curse will also be passed on to the game 'Coach' and if Cowher should be worried about having a terrible season."
In more football news, the guy who keeps making the spectacular plays for New Orleans, rookie receiver Marques Colston, was the 252nd pick in the draft, barely avoiding being Mr. Irrelevant. Reggie Bush was the second pick in the draft. To this point, Colston is hands down New Orleans' Rookie of the Year.
In national news, it's Election Day. Stop reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback now, get out and vote, and finish reading later.
Stat of the Week No. 1: Since winning four consecutive postseason road games to clinch the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh has lost four consecutive road games.
Stat of the Week No. 2: Jacksonville has won three of its past four games, by a combined score of 91 13. In the other game, Jacksonville lost to Houston.
Stat of the Week No. 3: After going 0 7 against New England, Peyton Manning is now on a 2 0 run.
Stat of the Week No. 4: Chicago and Denver gave up a combined 42 points in their first seven home games and a combined 62 points in their next two.
Stat of the Week No. 5: There were three field goal attempts to win two by Washington, one by Dallas in the final 35 seconds of the Cowboys Redskins game.
Stat of the Week No. 7: http://www.ramsauthenticofficial.com/Tre_Mason_Jersey_Rams Buffalo and San Francisco combined for 317 offensive yards, and both won.
Stat of the Week No. 8: Jon Kitna had a better passer rating this week than Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and Tom Brady.