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Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
In the NFL, nothing can be said to be certain except for the possibility of injury striking any team at any time. Some require day-to-day treatment. Others require a few days, or possibly, weeks of rest and rehabilitation.
However, some of these injuries can be serious in nature. They often require surgery, and force the injured party to miss several weeks, months, or even up to a year of action. In these cases, the player is designated to area of the roster known as the dreaded “injured reserve.”
What is Injured Reserve?
The injured reserve list (or IR list) is an official designation used by the NFL for players that become injured, and thus temporarily unable to play. Unlike a routine injury, this designation is used because NFL rules allow for only a certain numbers of players on each team’s roster. Quite simply, designating a player to IR frees up a roster spot. In turn, this enables the team to add a new player during the injured player’s rehabilitation time.
If a player is placed on IR, it doesn’t necessarily mean his season is over. He could be activated after eight weeks, if the team decides that he has sufficiently healed by that time. At that point, they may make the player one of two that they can activate off IR. Teams don’t have to make that declaration until they’re ready to bring back a player.
Thus far, in 2017, the injury bug has been particularly cruel to some very high-profile stars. The injuries have changed the both the perception (at best) and the fortunes (at worst) of the team’s for which these superstars play. As we enter Week 7, it’s still a bit too early to determine whether or not these injuries have sealed the days of their respective teams. However, it can be agreed that these teams would certainly rather have the services of the injured player, than not.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Top Ten most impactful injured reserve (IR) designations in the NFL, so far.
10.) Haloti Ngata, Detroit Lions – Elbow
The Detroit Lions have been a pleasant surprise in the NFL in 2017. However, the loss of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to an elbow injury, has certainly hurt the Lions defense, on the field and in the locker room. The 33-year-old was placed on injured reserve, and will miss at least eight weeks, before being eligible to return. However, Ngata’s age and injury history are factors in determining whether he will be back this season. The veteran had a good start to his season pushing the pocket as a pass rusher, before his Week 5 injury. Ngata earned two sacks and seven tackles in five weeks. The elbow issue is just the latest injury Ngata has dealt with since moving to Detroit in 2015. After 12 seasons, it’s fair to wonder if the elbow injury could spell the end of Ngata’s career. He will be a free agent after this season, and has had injury concerns since joining the Lions in 2015. When healthy, Ngata was one of the most dominant two-gap interior defenders in the NFL. His injury leaves a big hole, which the Lions will find difficult to fill as they make a playoff push in the back half of the season.
9.) Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans – Pectoral
In Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Mercilus suffered a torn pectoral and was ruled out for the rest of the 2017 season. On a night in which they would also lose another superstar defender (more in that in a moment), the loss of Mercilus was a heartbreaker. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve on October 11. He finished the season with 10 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Mercilus had put himself on the map in 2016, as one of the league’s top linebackers. In 15 games, he recorded 53 combined tackles, 36 solo tackles, 7.5 sacks, one pass defensed, and one forced fumble. He would record three sacks in the postseason to go along with 11 tackles and one pass defensed. In recognition of these accomplishments, Mercilus was awarded Second Team All Pro 2016. In 2017, the Texans were counting on Mercilus to be a similar, if not more, fearsome force in both the regular season and postseason. His absence leaves a major void in the Houston defense.
8.) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings – Knee
During Week 4 against the Detroit Lions, the Vikings explosive rookie running back left the game with an apparent knee injury. The next day, it was revealed that Cook suffered a torn ACL, and it prematurely ended his debut season. He was officially placed on injured reserve on October 5, and underwent successfully repair of his left ACL on October 9. Noted Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery and noted no further damage of the left knee. He declared that Cook had a “100 percent” chance of full recovery and return for the 2018 season. While that is great news for next year, it does little to help a team that is poised to make a playoff run this year. In four games in his rookie year, Cook finished with 354 rushing yards. In his absence, Vikes back, Jerick McKinnon, has admirably filled the void. In his last two games, McKinnon has scored three touchdowns, rushed for 164 yards (82 per game), and caught 11 passes for 81 yards. That being said, Cook’s dynamic style will be missed in 2017.
7.) David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals – Wrist
On September 10, 2017, in the Cardinals season opener against the Detroit Lions, Johnson injured his left wrist during a play in the third quarter. Johnson left the game, and his status was uncertain. Before the injury, Johnson had recorded 11 rushes for 23 yards and six receptions for 67 yards. The Cardinals lost the game by a score of 35-23. The poor luck continued into the next day, as it was revealed that Johnson’s wrist was dislocated. The injury required surgery, as well as 2-3 months to recover. He was placed on injured reserve on September 12, with a designation to return. Johnson’s return was considered to be a forgone conclusion. However, with their acquisition of running back Adrian Peterson from New Orleans, the Cardinals might be able to take a cautionary approach with Johnson’s return.
6.) Julian Edelman, New England Patriots – Knee
The New England Patriots have long embodied the mantra of ‘next man up.’ Whether it be to trade, release or injury, the Patriots have been able to adequately replace veterans, valuable role players, and even superstars. In 2008, they even managed to do a serviceable job finding a fill-in for the greatest quarterback in the game. However, in losing wide receiver Julian Edelman, the Patriots must face a season without one of Tom Brady’s toughest and most prolific targets. Edelman suffered an ACL injury on August 25 in a preseason contest against the Detroit Lions, ending his season before it even began. While the Pats are fortunate to have a deep arsenal of offensive weapons, Edelman’s absence has been an obvious setback for the defending champions. In addition to his sure hands and toughness finding yards after the catch, Brady misses the security of being able to find Edelman in short yardage when he is under pressure. As a result, Brady has found himself pressured and sacked at a pretty alarming rate. The Patriots offense has struggled and Edelman’s unavailability is a big reason why.
5.) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins – Knee
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill underwent season-ending knee surgery and thus, placed on injured reserve back in August.
Tannehill injured his knee in training camp on Aug. 3, after a non-contact play caused his left knee to buckle. Although it was originally reported that there was no structural damage to the knee, it was later confirmed that Tannehill’s knee was “a ticking time bomb that was going to go off at any time,” per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 29 year-old signal caller had opted not to have it surgically repaired following a partial ACL tear during a Week 14 game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. That injury caused him to miss the final four contests, including the AFC Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Losing Tannehill for the entire season certainly put a dent in the Dolphins hopes to make a second consecutive postseason appearance. Prior his partial ACL tear, he was having a strong 2016 season with a career-high 67.1 completion percentage and 7.7 passing yards per attempt. Once the Dolphins knew Tannehill’s fate, they acted quickly to sign former Broncos and Bears quarterback (and one time pupil of head coach Adam Gase) Jay Cutler. Although Cutler has done an admirable job running the offense, the Dolphins still miss Tannehill. Making matters even more complicated, is the fact that he now has an injury history. Much to their chagrin, the Dolphins will have to be concerned about his durability in 2018 and beyond.
4.) Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs – Achilles
The three-time first-team All-Pro safety for the Kansas City Chiefs ruptured his Achilles tendon in their opening night win over the New England Patriots on September 7. The news was a massive blow to Kansas City, which has, and will continue, to face the balance of its schedule without the heart and soul of the defense on the field. The Chiefs were forced to get creative to fill the Berry’s shoes. Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray have been receiving snaps in his stead. The Chiefs have been very successful thus far, sporting a 5-1 record, tied with Philadelphia for the best in the league. However, Berry is irreplaceable, both in heart and in talent. Unfortunately, he is no stranger to injury and health troubles. The 28-year-old was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, which he overcame to return to Pro Bowl form in 2015. Previously, he had missed 15 games in 2011 after an ACL tear. Despite these difficulties, there is little doubt Berry will return from his latest injury with force in 2018.
3.) Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants, Ankle
After missing the season opener with a left ankle injury (and being used conservatively in Week 2) the man they call OBJ returned to his stellar self in Week 3. He caught two touchdowns and looked as prolific as ever. His swagger also looked to be intact, as he was fined for an ‘edgy’ touchdown celebration. In Week 4, he racked up 90 yards receiving, and seemingly returned to being one of the best receivers in the game. However, in the team’s 27-22 loss in Week 5 to the Chargers, Beckham suffered a season-ending ankle injury late in the fourth quarter, as his leg folded under a Los Angeles defender. Without Beckham as a primary target, the Giants offense (particularly quarterback Eli Manning) have looked lost. Beckham’s speed, reliability and field savvy are sorely missed by the Giants, who have managed only one win on the season, to date.
2.) JJ Watt, Houston Texans – Leg
During Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, Watt left the game after an apparent leg injury. It was later revealed that he suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. The Texans defensive end underwent surgery the next day and was ruled out the remainder of the season. In only 5 games, Watt finished with 11 tackles and 2 passes defended. Without Watt, the Texans championship aspirations have definitely decreased. He is one of the most explosives d fearsome defenders in the NFL. However, Watt brings leadership and dedication to the Texans locker room. He is also one of Houston’s most prominent citizens. defenders. In the aftermath, Watt raised upwards of $37 million for relief and recovery efforts for the Houston area. The entire sum was raised through an online drive after donating $100,000 of his own money as the starting base. Watt commented that this season “was always about more than football.” He is also missed on the field for his football skills, for sure. However, the impact that he has had on the City of Houston and its surrounding areas has made him a legend off the field, as well. Despite a heartbreaking injury, Watt can still look at 2017 as a success. That fact, alone, cements his status as a true legend and one of the game’s great ambassadors.
1.) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers – Collarbone
There is little that can be said to comfort a team that has lost their best player to a significant injury. The only silver lining for the Green Bay Packers, who have lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a significant length of time, is that Rodgers is as tough as they come in the NFL. The Packers announced on Monday that Rodgers would have surgery to repair the broken collarbone he sustained at Minnesota on Sunday. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr hit Rodgers and drove him into the ground on a roll-out pass. Head coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers’ season “could potentially be over.” However, they have yet to make that official distinction. The Packers won’t have a timeline on Rodgers’ recovery until after the surgery (which has yet to be scheduled) is performed. At this point, it’s unclear whether Rodgers will have a plate and screws inserted to stabilize his right clavicle or if he will have a “Mumford” procedure, in which part of the bone is shaved or removed. Until then, Rodgers will remain on the Green Bay roster. Rodgers missed seven games when he broke his left clavicle in 2013. He returned for the regular-season finale, a game the Packers won in Chicago to make the playoffs. Rodgers did not have surgery for that injury and remained on the roster the entire time. In the meantime, the Packers promoted Joe Callahan from the practice squad to serve as new starter Brett Hundley’s backup on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. They also added a quarterback to the practice squad, rookie Jerod Evans from Virginia Tech. The Packers have a talented roster, but absolutely need Rodgers to have any chance at a Super Bowl, especially in a talent-rich NFC. In a season that has undoubtedly seen its share of significant injuries, the loss of Aaron Rodgers to the Packers is surely the most impactful…
(…And don’t call me Shirley.)
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. He is also a National Content Writer and covers the NFL for cover32.com.
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