On any given Sunday, as the expression goes, there are 1,696 active players in the NFL. And if we include practice squads, the list of NFL players grows to 1,952 across all 32 teams.
On any given Sunday, at least this season, nearly 25 percent of them are hurt.
And we're not talking in season wear and tear, either. Through the first seven weeks of the season, there are 200 players—more than ten percent of the entire league—on injured reserve.
Of those 200 players, 20 are on the IR with a designation to return during the season, which leaves 180 players—an average of nearly six players per team—officially out for the year.
But that's not all of the horrible injuries. Oh, no, there are also an additional 23 players currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and 12 players on the non-football injury or illness list, plus another 17 players currently listed on the NFL injury reports as "out indefinitely," with at least two expected to be transferred to season-ending IR.
All told, according the list compiled by Pro-Football-Reference.com, there are 425 players on the Week 8 injury report.
That's enough injured players to fill eight NFL rosters.
Granted, many of those players are expected to play—there are more than 100 players listed as either probable or questionable—but that still leaves roughly 300 NFL players who are out this week, multiple weeks or the rest of the season.
The NFL could field four full teams just with players listed on injured reserve!
That's too many damn injuries, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
Football is an incredibly violent sport. It's unfathomable what these players put themselves through week after week, and while there has been so much talk about player safety this year—mostly with regard to injuries related to the head—sometimes stuff just…happens.
Reggie Wayne tore his ACL and meniscus last weekend because he was contorting to catch a football. Michael Vick missed two weeks of the season, and possibly more, because of a hamstring injury he sustained while running in the open field.
I'm not trying to make this yet another article hand wringing against the beating football players take, or the physical carnage left in the wake of a typical NFL game. The players know the risks—maybe they didn't a generation ago, but they sure as heck do now—and the fans know that at a moment's notice, their favorite player could be knocked out of the game, the season or the sport altogether.
So what, then? What do we do when players are suffering career threatening injures at what feels like record pace?
That's what is so odd about this season. In a year where there has been more attention focused on player safety than ever—in a year in which the NFL settles a multi-million dollar lawsuit with former players whose lives have been permanently impacted by football injuries—there is nothing the fans can do but sit back, watch with concern as hundreds of NFL players get hurt and race to the fantasy waiver wire to make sure the latest malady didn't derail their season.
Wayne is out for the year, and it's a huge loss for a potential Super Bowl contender? Ah, how terrible for them…he says as he feverishly searches for T.Y. Hilton's availability.
Even the players think this way. From ESPN.com's Mike Wells:
Wayne’s season is over with a torn ACL, leaving the Colts trying to find a way to fill the void.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson is likely burning up his cell phone minutes looking for a way to acquire another receiver on the roster.
But for the time being, it truly is "next man up"—the Colts' staple statement when a player goes down.
"We'll see who steps up, and we're more than confident with the guys we have here," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "They've done a heck of a job, and they'll continue to do so."
Luck doesn't actually believe he has anyone to replace Wayne. Just like the 199 other players who are on IR this season, Wayne had a job because he was better than his team's other options. Now injured, Wayne is no longer better, so the next in line has to step up. If that's Hilton, Heyward-Bey or a guy named LaVon Brazill, who I literally just heard of today but will be just as feverishly searching for his availability as soon as this article is finished, then that's who is next…and the machine keeps rolling along.
At some point, a player from the practice squad—or if you believe the rumors coming out of St. Louis with their quarterback situation, a rough touch game being filmed for a dungarees commercial somewhere in Mississippi—will be asked to step up and contribute on the game day roster.
There is a never-ending pipeline of former college players and aging veterans who would jump at the chance to make an NFL roster, even for a week. There is no shortage of warm, muscular bodies to make up an NFL team. It's just that, well, if any of those replacement players were any good, they'd already have a job in the league.
When someone like Wayne, Sam Bradford or Jay Cutler gets hurt at the top of a depth chart and there's a trickle down effect that runs through the two-deep, past the practice squad and right out to the street where, if there's a guy sitting on the curb who can throw, catch or tackle, he's probably in line for a job.
Just look at the numbers again. There are nearly 300 players in the NFL who are dangerously under-qualified but find themselves in uniform—and sometimes lining up in meaningful games—because nobody in the sport has any idea how to keep the good players healthy.
And while we freak out when the best available flex options in our fantasy league are Riley Cooper and Austin Pettis, imagine what NFL GMs are doing right now. Remember, there are actually players in the league who are worse than these guys who will actually be getting time on the field this weekend.
Why? Because someone has to fill out the roster on Sunday when the stars go down. Someone, anyone, has to be the "next man up."
It doesn't matter how many injuries occur this year, next year or any year. It doesn't matter how many careers, and lives, get ruined. On any given Sunday, there will always be a next man up.