At one point today, the NFL's official website had two very interesting story links next to each other. The first: "League will examine playoff-bound teams' use of starters". The second: "Pats' Welker carted off". And that's all you need to know about the lifespan of the proposed changes to the longstanding practice of resting their starters late in the season to prevent serious injury. Wes Welker(notes), the Patriots' leading receiver, was taken from the field after he caught a quick cross, ran upfield, and got a totally legal hand-shot from Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard(notes) (yes, the same guy who put the season-ending hit on Tom Brady(notes) in 2008). Welker went to the ground in agony, was helped off the field, was very emotional on the sideline, and was carted away. It's a knee injury of unknown severity at this point, and we'll keep you posted. Judging from Welker's response and his overall toughness, it doesn't look good.
UPDATE: ESPN.com's Adam Schefter reports that Welker tore his left ACL and MCL, with tests tomorrow to confirm.
What the Welker injury does to the NFL's recent discussions about playoff teams resting their starters is certainly impactful. After all the folderol surrounding the Indianapolis Colts' decision to tank their perfect season by pulling their offensive skill position players early against the New York Jets last Sunday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went into Full Reactive Mode and started talking to people about different ways to incentivize playoff teams for playing their starters and thus making late regular-season games more meaningful (i.e., "profitable").
"We heard the fans loud and clear," Goodell said in a recent statement. "It's something our competition committee has looked at in the past, but we're going to ask our competition committee to look at it again in the future. We want every game to be competitive." The NFL has gone as far as considering giving compensatory draft picks to those teams who keep their stars in the games, though I'm sure it'll be tough to convince Bill Belichick that an extra third-rounder would be worth watching his leading receiver possibly lose the rest of his season. And good luck getting any member of the Competition Committee to change the current rules with the Welker injury fresh in their minds -- in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this injury affects how teams playing later today will use their starters.
Goodell also said that his main concern is that "the integrity of the NFL is first and foremost in everyone's mind and try to find ways to make sure our games are competitive at all points in the season, including the preseason," A humble suggestion, Mr. Commish: Dump the prices of preseason games to something reasonable, quit trying to legislate personnel matters you have no business dealing with, and get back to that CBA thing. Thanks!