Are the Packers Finally Strategizing to Reduce Player Injuries?
At his press conference on March 14, Brian Gutekunst was asked if health history was taken into account regarding the free agent signings. He merely responded that it’s “another piece of the puzzle.” I hope he was intentionally trying to downplay some new tactics that the team’s new leaders plan to implement. Injuries are predictable, and can be prevented, to enough of an extent – even if only 10% or so – that such strategies should be pursued.
I used to be a safety manager at a wooden door and window company that employed 1,900 people. I also held the same job at a school bus contracting company that owned over 1,000 buses. Aided by seminars, home education courses, and job experience, I became utterly convinced that if you have an unsafe situation, sooner or later an injury will likely result. Workplace safety is all a matter of statistics and probabilities. So is minimizing football injuries.
In the football context, one of the best predictors (there might be even better ones, as I will discuss in a follow-up) of a future injury is a player’s past injury history. The four new Green Bay players suggest to me that Gutekunst is actually trying to do something concrete to reduce the team’s injury incidences.
Za’Darius Smith missed one game in 2017 with a shoulder strain and another with a knee sprain – both were minor. His college days at Kentucky appear to have been injury-free.
Preston Smith has appeared in all of his 64 games as a pro. I’m also unable to find any injuries at all during his four years at Mississippi State.
Adrian Amos missed three games in 2017 with a hamstring strain. He also missed one game in 2016 with a foot strain, and had a concussion but missed no games, in 2016. In his four years at Penn State, he never missed a game.
According to playerprofiler.com, Billy Turner has no injury history in the NFL. He also appears to have not missed any games at North Dakota State in his four years there.
Four players, 17 years in the NFL and 16 more at the college level: the only injury of any seriousness is a hamstring strain that caused Amos to miss three games. This is a remarkable record!
Mere coincidence that the team’s new leaders zeroed in on four guys last week who have outstanding health histories? I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong, most football injuries can’t be predicted and probably can’t be prevented. But by applying the laws of probabilities, a few injury-prone players might be passed over, and enough potential injuries avoided, to make a real difference in the team’s wins-loss columns.
Some Packers’ Red Flags
Here are just three thumbnail sketches, among the many I could have chosen.
As a college freshman at Wisconsin in 2012, Linebacker Vince Biegel injured his foot and received a medical redshirt. Then as a senior in 2016, he suffered a broken foot in September, which required almost-immediate surgery. UW Coach Paul Chryst announced: “What you appreciate is that you know he will do everything in his power to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
As predicted, he came back rapidly, but when drafted by Green Bay, he missed the very first team practice, and on May 15 suffered a fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his foot. (Query: did the Packers’ team doctor examine Biegel prior to the draft?) He didn’t get off the Physically Unable to Perform list until November 17.
The Packers waived him just before the start of the 2018 season. He hasn’t gotten on the field enough as a New Orleans Saint to know whether more missed games are likely.
Kevin King, playing in his first season for Washington in 2013, missed several games, including the post-season bowl game, due to a shoulder labrum tear. In 2015, he missed one mid-season game due to injury, then returned, but again missed the post-season bowl game due to another injury. King was healthy 2016 – the only season he missed no games due to injury.
In his first season with the Packers, he was inactive in Week 6 (concussion); he was sidelined in Week 11 with a shoulder injury. He then aggravated the injury in Week 13. He was placed on IR, and underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. On the season he played in nine games, and started in five of them.
He was named a starting cornerback to start the 2018 season. He missed games in Weeks 3 and 4, however, due to a groin injury. Then in Week 9, he injured his hamstring, and missed the next four games. He was then placed back on IR in December, ending his second season after having appeared in only six games.
Nick Perry stayed quite healthy during his college years at USC – though he was a backup player for much of his time there.
In his first year with the Packers, Perry missed games with a knee injury in Weeks 7-9, then underwent surgery for a wrist injury in early November and was put on IR for the rest of the season.
In his next season, 2013, he again missed Weeks 7-9, due to fracturing his foot in Week 6. He returned in Week 10, but then missed the next two games after aggravating his foot injury.
In 2014, he was inactive Week 12 due to a shoulder injury. In 2015, he was inactive in Week 6, and he was sidelined in Week 14 after aggravating his shoulder injury.
The Packers signed Perry to a 1-year deal in 2016, and he won the starting job. Perry was inactive, however, in Weeks 14-15 due to a hand injury. When he returned he was consigned to a backup role for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
Despite the above injury history, and despite only starting five games over the previous two years, the Packers signed Perry to a massive $60 million contract – and it covered the next FIVE years! The windfall deal was the result of him recording 11 sacks in 2016.
In 2017, he missed Week 3 with a hand injury that called for immediate surgery. He returned in November, only to be sidelined in Week 14 (foot) and again in Week 16 (shoulder). On December 30, he went on IR due to ankle and shoulder injuries.
In 2018, the second year of his windfall contract, he lasted all the up through the ninth game, then went on IR for the rest of the year due to a knee injury. The Packers released Perry on March 12.
Based solely on his collegiate injury history, Vince Biegel should have not been drafted by the Packers. He was never projected to be a star, and when taken in the fourth round there were plenty of linebackers and edge rushers of similar ability and potential that had lesser probabilities of missing many games in the NFL.
Kevin King was chosen by the Packers with the first pick of Round 2 (3rd overall) in 2017. He had a considerable injury probability as a pro, based on his collegiate history. The higher up a player is drafted, the more of an investment a team is making, and the more incumbent it becomes to take injury concerns into account.
The Packers ignored the injury risk factor in selecting King, and it has not paid off to date. Presumably there were other less-risky options if the Pack was dead-set on a cornerback – 12 other CBs were drafted behind King in Rounds 2 and 3 alone.
As for Nick Perry, he presented no red flags when he was drafted in Round 1 in 2012. But it sure as hell became obvious to the most casual observer over Perry’s first four years in the NFL that he was injury prone. Never mind that his performance didn’t begin to justify the massive deal he got prior to the 2016 season. Just on the basis of his multiple injuries as a pro, it was irresponsible to give him a new contract in 2016. To sign such a guy for another FIVE years was lunacy.
As I teased, paying attention to a player’s prior injury record is but one way to attack the Packers’ problem of losing so many players to injury, year after year. There are many others, as I will list in a follow-up report (I’m up to five strategies so far). Readers probably can guess a number of them – and maybe you’ll come up with some I haven’t thought of.