NFL

The truth behind the NFL's injury reports

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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Talk about your royal pains. The NFL has again come under media fire this offseason for its in-season injury policy. Some ailments — like the frayed biceps tendon that helped doom Brett Favre's 2008 campaign — didn't come to light until after the season had ended. The severity of other injuries was never fully disclosed. This offseason, some players (Antonio Cromartie, Atari Bigby, and others) have even admitted feeling pressured by their own teams not to publicly say how badly they were hurt because of strategic reasons. Critics have pushed for measures to rectify these issues by requesting more disclosure and transparency on injury reports. That's not going to happen any time soon. The biggest change expected in 2009 is minor. The final injury report submission date for Monday night games will likely move from Friday to Saturday to provide a better representation of player availability closer to kickoff.
This won't be nearly enough to appease those who believe teams should be forced to announce detailed recovery timetables and more thorough injury explanations. Such information would be especially helpful when analyzing players' performances and impact on their fantasy-football status, which is a big deal for many fans. For example, how much more public sympathy would Favre have received if fans knew he was still playing last season despite being damaged goods? And how many fantasy participants would have dropped Favre in December had they known the extent of arm problems that never appeared on a New York injury report? The Jets, though, were judged to have done nothing wrong after an NFL review. The injury report's official intent is the "full and complete rendering of player availability." That means listing the odds of whether someone will participate — which Favre did without missing an offensive snap — and not whether the player has an injury that could affect their performance. There is a distinct difference between the two. Despite media reports hinting at the contrary, the New England Patriots also were in NFL compliance with their billing of running back Laurence Maroney's 2008 shoulder injury. Upset about critics questioning his toughness, Maroney recently told the Boston Globe that he suffered a "broken bone" in the second game. He continued to try and play until ultimately landing on injured reserve after getting hurt during a Week 4 win over San Francisco. Maroney was not listed on the injury report prior to that contest. He didn't have to be. Maroney missed a Week 3 game against Miami and then had a bye week to further heal. Maroney sufficiently recovered to participate in practice without restriction and started against the 49ers. He was reinjured in San Francisco and later diagnosed with a torn labrum that was causing shoulder instability. The Patriots have worked hard to change their reputation for alleged injury-report shenanigans. For example, no other team is as forthcoming in revealing which injured players didn't make a road trip on the day before kickoff. Maroney's revelation cast New England in a light it didn't deserve. Now, will Patriots coach Bill Belichick voluntarily start reading a list of wounded warriors at his normally tight-lipped news conferences? No chance. But don't blame him or the teams that handle injuries on a "need-to-know" basis. Blame the system demands and realities of the NFL. Injury information is as valuable a part of game-planning as Xs and Os. The more specifics provided on how badly a player is hurt, the easier for opponents to design an attack based upon that injury (i.e. a cornerback with a gimpy ankle) or who the replacement will be. Understandably, teams will try to keep such data as protected as possible. General managers and coaches need to win games — not fantasy-football titles — to keep their jobs. Such gamesmanship dates back for decades — the injury report was instituted in 1947 — and shows no signs of slowing down. One general manager told me last week that if changes were implemented, teams would simply seek other ways to skirt the new rules. While unwilling to name specific offenders, an NFL spokesman acknowledged at least one franchise was fined last season for an injury-report violation. The league also reviews practice tapes to try and determine whether protocol was being followed whenever something suspicious on game-day occurs. When "probable" players are declared inactive, teams are required to submit a written explanation to NFL headquarters within 48 hours chronicling why such a drastic downgrade occurred. There is a legitimate concern that not having a more detailed injury report would prompt gamblers to seek team leaks for "inside information" and potentially lead to a betting scandal a la Tim Donaghy and the NBA. But reforms to the current system aren't easy to institute. Cataloging of every ailment isn't realistic. Entire rosters could be listed by season's end because of football's violent nature, which would water down the injury reports. And while players should have the freedom to discuss their injuries without fear of repercussion, some don't want their medical status exposed for a variety of reasons. Among them: Being targeted by the opposition during games, a potential trickle-down effect on the team's success or the building of an "injury-prone" reputation that could affect future contracts. The NFL's competition committee hasn't pushed for wholesale reform because statistics show the injury report is accurate most of the time. According to USA Today, players listed as "probable" participated in 89 percent of the games between 2005 and 2007. "Questionable" players appeared at roughly a 52-percent clip. Those billed as "doubtful" only performed in three percent of the games. Speaking with USA Today, Tennessee coach and competition committee co-chairman Jeff Fisher said the injury report "is as healthy as it's ever been, especially with the listing of practice participation. The league monitors it closely and we all have a responsibility to be truthful. But I don't think it's ever going to be an absolute perfect system." No system can be that tries to appease three different sides — teams, players and the media/public. That's why the status quo will remain even if some feelings get hurt in the process.

Cause and effect

Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall skipping the team's three-day minicamp last weekend. The cause: According to the Denver Post, Marshall is upset about his contract and doesn't want the team's medical staff handling his rehabilitation from offseason hip surgery. The effect: The Broncos are having problems with a star player once again this offseason. But unlike with now-traded quarterback Jay Cutler, there's no question who is in the wrong here. Although he was a 100-catch receiver each of the past two seasons, Marshall's off-field behavior nullifies any argument that he deserves a raise from his $2.2 million salary in 2009. Marshall has a history of domestic-abuse incidents and could face another NFL suspension depending on the outcome of an August trial on two misdemeanor battery charges. Why would the Broncos want to reward Marshall when there are no guarantees he can keep himself on the field? The more intriguing question going forward is whether first-year Broncos coach Josh McDaniels would be willing to continue his housecleaning and trade Marshall if an intriguing offer surfaces. Unfortunately for Denver, Marshall's best potential landing spot — Chicago — seems highly unlikely after the Bears already surrendered a king's ransom for Cutler.

The Buzz

I don't know how much improvement St. Louis can make from last year's 2-14 season, but here's an encouraging sign under first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo. Twenty players voluntarily stayed late for on-field work last Tuesday after an OTA session ended. The group included right tackle and 2009 first-round pick Jason Smith, who practiced his punch on a blocking sled. Rams running back Steven Jackson also appears in phenomenal shape after missing eight games the past two seasons with injuries ...

One NFL executive believes Kansas City could take an unusual tack when negotiating a contract with first-round pick Tyson Jackson. Because the Chiefs have so much salary-cap room available (they were $32 million under the $128 million cap as of last month), Kansas City may frontload Jackson's contract to help reach the minimum spending floor of $107.7 million in player salary expenditure for 2009. Green Bay did something similar last year when jacking up the first year of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' contract extension. Jackson is expected to receive roughly $30 million in guaranteed money as the No. 3 overall pick.

Week in Review

Big winners: The Pittsburgh Steelers received massive Super Bowl XLIII rings that included 63 diamonds and 3.61 carats of gold. As my friend and ex-Broncos media relations director Paul Kirk of ProLinkSports astutely wrote on his Twitter account, "I think we're on the precipice of the first combination 'Championship ring/glove' for just the right fit." Big losers: Minnesota Vikings players who now have to deal with this year's Favre circus. It's abundantly clear that Vikings coach Brad Childress doesn't consider Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson as capable as a 39-year-old quarterback coming off biceps surgery. That leaves Rosenfels and Jackson in a tough spot if Favre ultimately declines Minnesota's overtures. A late-arriving Favre also wouldn't endear himself to new teammates who toiled through the team's offseason workout program while he lounged at home in Mississippi. Even now, there are already signs of a locker-room split regarding Favre. Under-the-radar move: Arizona re-signing strong safety Adrian Wilson to a reported five-year, $36.5 million contract that included a guaranteed $15.5 million in the first two seasons. The squeaky wheel doesn't always get the grease. As Cardinals players like Anquan Boldin, Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby chirped about their contract situations, Wilson took the high road. In turn, Arizona's notoriously frugal management took good care of the most respected defensive player in the team's locker room.
Tagged: Bears, Broncos, Packers, Titans, Chiefs, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Cardinals, Steelers, Brett Favre, Adrian Wilson, Sage Rosenfels, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Aaron Rodgers, Tarvaris Jackson, Jay Cutler, Laurence Maroney, Brandon Marshall, Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson

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