NFL training camps are a cold, winner-take-all competition, even for the Los Angeles Rams and Head Coach Sean McVay, with their “WE, NOT ME” mantra. Certainly, many players are locked in to the roster, but according to overthecap.com from 2013 through 2020 only an average of 56% of players return from one year to the next.
The maximum retention rate over that same period was 71.5%.
According to these numbers, the Rams would need to replace from 16 to 23 players from last year’s opening roster. McVay has leaned towards year-to-year continuity since taking over in 2017 and bringing in his preferred type of players.
Only Aaron Donald, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Higbee, and to a lesser extent Troy Hill, remain from the previous regime. So it is safe to say that 10 to 15 new players could make the final 53.
Factors in deciding the final 53
Of course, play on the field should be the final arbitration of roster building, but there is so much more to it. Draft position has been, and will always be, a high priority. Contract status, and more appropriately, how each team deals with the salary cap can play a large role. Injuries, both minor and major, play the biggest role of all.
In 2021, draftees in the first three rounds made up 42% of NFL opening rosters, so high draft picks are getting a long look. Unsurprisingly, almost 25% of rosters were stocked by undrafted free agents. Skyrocketing salaries at the top end of rosters can explain a lot of this, but honestly, the difference between talent and athleticism in the last two rounds and players who go unchosen is nil.
Contracts, except for a few superstars, can be easily gotten out of or traded off with a little negotiation. Keeping a player who doesn’t fit an individual teams program, for whatever reason, can be offset with some transactional sleight-of-hand. Fully guaranteed, long term contracts have been “hands off” with most NFL owners for a number of reasons, some good and some bad. But mostly, because players, except for those said superstars, are so easily replaced.
Talk about burying the lede, this article is about injuries
Finally, injuries. And more to the point, the LA Rams’ preseason injuries. Training camp injuries can not only stifle an individual’s progress, but the avalanche effect of having players missing reps can affect the whole team. After the longest NFL season on record. McVay called off OTAs early, giving the team extra time to heal up and recharge their batteries, One of the main reasons being the injury attrition rate.
It’s not only broken bones, torn cartilages and ligaments, concussions, or other serious ailments. Soft tissue injuries are now the norm in the NFL and the league is looking at these types of injury and how to help prevent them.
Analysis of NFL injury data has shown that lower extremity soft tissue injuries, like hamstring and groin strains, occur soon after the three-day acclimation period at the beginning of training camp. The following days of practice, from the 5th to the 10th days, often result in a spike of injuries across the league. These injuries are the number one time-loss injuries in the NFL, resulting in a median seven days missed from football activities.
Every NFL team battles injuries and by the end of October, very few, if any, players have made it through unscathed. But last season, the Rams were beset by early season injuries and quite honestly, the injury bug kept on biting all through the season. The Rams Super Bowl win is a testament to the actual depth of last seasons roster.
Here’s a quick review of problems that cost LA Rams players valuable time last year.
Running back Cam Akers- Tore his Achilles tendon in a non-contact workout
Tight end/wide receiver Jacob Harris- Surgery on a core injury (sports hernia)
Cornerback Robert Rochell- Wrist surgery
Defensive tackle Bobby Brown- Surgery on thumb UCL
Quarterback Matthew Stafford- Banged thumb on a helmet. Out for a few days.
Running back Darrell Henderson- Jammed fingers and lingering soft tissue tweaks
Wide receiver Bennett Skowronek- Broken arm
Running back Xavier Jones- Broken ankle/tendon tear
Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson- Minor knee surgery/procedure
Running back Raymond Calais- Broken foot
Tight end/wide receiver Jacob Harris- Knee surgery
There is no predicting the near future, but the long view is bleak
Fans can only hope for a quiet front during training camp, the Rams seemingly play it smart with their veterans. I remember reading about them using GPS to monitor how much each player runs, they give the older guys plenty of days off, and if you are in the regular season plans, you are not going to see any action in preseason games.
But, the long-term prognosis is not good, for both players who log a lot of snaps and those who bounce between the active roster and practice squad. All players health future is looks grim.
A Washington Post survey of retired NFL players found that nearly nine in 10 report suffering from aches and pains on a daily basis, and they overwhelmingly - 91 percent - connect nearly all their pains to football.
- Nine in 10 former NFL players reported suffering concussions while playing, and nearly six in 10 reported three or more. Two in three who had concussions said they experience continuing symptoms from them.
- More than nine in 10 players reported suffering at least one major injury while in the NFL. More than half reported three or more; one in five reported five or more.
- Forty-four percent of former players said they have either had a joint replacement or have been advised they’ll need one.
On a final note, the NFL’s first 17-game season is now in the books and how that extra tilt shifts the injury numbers is still to be determined. But the basics will not change, it’s a physically demanding job and playing hurt is one of the demands. The physicality doesn’t care if you make $30 mil or $700,000. These guys earn what they get paid.