The NFL has a number of reserve lists for players who miss time, the most prominent of which is injured reserve. So often every year we hear about how injured teams were and how they have so many players on IR, but sometimes that doesn’t always tell the full story. Sometimes a team has a large number of players on IR but they may not be expensive players and thus the loss not that big. Other times the player doesn’t land on IR until late in the season and his injury may have minimal impact on the season. So what I wanted to do was to create a salary adjusted IR list that would better put into perspective the actual magnitude of the impact of injury on a team’s roster.
To create the adjusted injury salary I first looked at every player who was on IR, PUP, and NFI and is still in the NFL as of week 16. I then turned to our friends at Rostermon.com to get a listing of every player who was designated for return from IR or activated from PUP or NFI during the year.
For the next step I was originally going to assign games missed on reserve but then I realized just how often teams carry players in the slim hope they will get better only to put them on IR at a later date (see CJ Mosely of the Jets as a perfect example of carrying a hurt guy on the active roster for no real reason). So instead of games missed to IR, PUP, or NFI the list was based on snaps played. If a player who eventually landed on a reserve list did not play a snap in a given week I considered that a game lost due to injury. This isn’t perfect either as it overstates the value lost to injury for players who were benched for not being good and then got hurt later on, but I think it does a better job of capturing real weeks missed versus official weeks on reserve.
The player’s game total was then used to adjust the players annual salary to put into perspective the amount lost to injury. So for example a player with a $16 million a year salary that missed 8 games would have $8 million lost to IR. If that same player only missed the last three games of the year we would consider this $3 million lost to IR.
So who lost the most to injury through last week? The Redskins with a staggering $67.3M in lost salary to players on reserve. The big impacts here were Alex Smith who spent the year on PUP and Trent Williams who sat out before being placed on NFI as soon as he reported. Jordan Reed was also a major loss.
The Jets came in at number 2 with $59.1 million lost to injury. Unlike the Redskins, who had time to plan for the Smith injury, the Jets did not have that luxury. They lost big money players in Mosley, Quincy Enunwa, Trumaine Johnson, and Avery Williamson while also losing a pretty sizeable number for Ryan Kalil and Brian Winters.
Number 3 is the Jaguars at $47 million though that number is a little inflated with Nick Foles missing some games due to being terrible. Rounding out the top 5 were the Steelers and Panthers who both lost their QBs early.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the super healthy teams. The Vikings have only lost an adjusted $2.1 million to injury this year. Now they did lose Adam Thielen for a few games and he never went on IR but this is a crazy total. Basically it’s a perfect storm for a good season.
The Rams were the major disappointment of the injury free teams. They are eliminated from the playoffs and only lost $4 million this season. So they were healthy and just didn’t perform up to expectations. The Bills on the other hand lost just $5 million and made the most of it with a playoff run. My guess is when the season is over the Bills are going to be considered to have checked a lot of the boxes for a “one season wonder” and this would certainly be one of those boxes. The Saints are the only other team under $10 million though they also lost Brees for a few weeks to a non-IR injury.
Here is a table with the totals and below that is a graph plotting adjusted salary lost to IR vs a team’s record. Not surprisingly the teams that are the healthiest are generally in the playoff hunt (teams in the top left quadrant). Those who are riddled with injury are mainly out of it (bottom right quadrant) showing how difficult it is to overcome injury.
The one team that looks real strange in the graph is the Bengals and in part that is because they kept their $15 million receive on the active roster all season even though he was never going to play. Why? Who knows but they really should be around $35M to $40M. That’s not an excuse for being so bad but they should be on the other side.
The teams like the Giants, Cowboys, and Browns were all pretty healthy this year so you would attribute their horrible showings to coaching, poor roster construction, or a combination of both. All three will likely be looking for a new head coach. On the other hand the 49ers should be given a medal for navigating more than average injuries and having one of the best records in the NFL.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.