We haven't even hit the beginning of mandatory workouts in the National Football League this offseason, and already players are dropping like flies, as no fewer than three defensive starters have suffered potentially season-ending injuries in the past week alone.
Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker and defending NFL defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs recently had surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon suffered while working out in Arizona. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers will go under the knife Friday to repair a similar injury suffered during workouts with the team in Florida.
Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor awaits results of an MRI on a pectoral injury suffered while participating in offseason conditioning in Ohio, and if the muscle is torn his 2012 season is almost certainly over before it begins.
This rash of injuries begs a question. Are the offseason workouts that players participate in to get in shape for the training camp where they are supposed to get in shape for the season actually causing more harm than good?
I don't necessarily believe that it's the workouts themselves that are causing additional injuries. In fact, what makes this rash of injuries all the more ironic is that one of the "victories" that the players won in last year's CBA negotiations was a reduction in so called "voluntary" workouts.
These workouts were about as "voluntary" as filing your income tax return, and as FOX Sports Alex Marvez pointed out at the time the belief was that reducing the number of these workouts would potentially cut down on injuries.
The NFL Players Association successfully pushed for rules that would prohibit some of the heavy demands — spoken or inferred — being placed upon its members during “voluntary” workouts. The charge was led by legitimate concerns that the offseason was becoming anything but off. Coaches annually pushed players in classrooms, conditioning and on-field sessions for nearly four months before training camps opened in late July.
NFL Players Association executive George Atallah explained the impetus behind the offseason overhaul last week at the union’s annual meeting in Marco Island, Fla.
“You want to extend that player’s career so he has greater earning potential,” Atallah said. “The offseason, at the very minimum, would give your body a chance to rest. At a maximum, it would either give a player the chance to go back to school and get a college degree, do internships and those sorts of things.”
Well, so much for that idea.
Make no mistake, many NFL players never stop working out. Players in the league are stronger and faster than ever before and competition for roster spots is fierce. So, many pros, especially reserves and special teams types, can't afford to slack off for a second lest their livelihood be threatened.
I'm no doctor (although I do watch a lot of "House"), but I think a big part of the problem may lie in just how big and how fast NFL players have become. Today's professional football player puts an enormous amount of stress on muscles and tendons with their remarkable displays of speed and agility. Think of them like a fine sports car: incredibly fast, incredibly agile, and prone to having parts fail if only due to the tremendous stresses placed on the engine.
I don't know that there's an easy fix to this problem either. Work the players too hard, wind the strings on the guitar too tight, and "snap!" There goes a tendon.
Take it too easy on the players and many will show up to training camp in less than ideal condition physically, which not only increases the likelihood that they could lose their job but also increases the likelihood of other sorts of injuries such as hamstring pulls.
It's always a bummer for fans when one of the team's stars goes down in camp, ruining the promise of an upcoming season before it even gets underway. However, I don't know that there's an easy solution to that problem, and it may just be one of the many prices that players pay for participating in the most physically demanding sport there is.