When the NFL and the NFLPA signed off on a new collective bargaining agreement in July 2011, one of the new provisos was that teams would have fewer organized offseason workouts. Players now have 14 weeks between seasons to rest, fewer OTAs, fewer practices with full contact and longer breaks between those OTAs and training camps. The idea was to reduce the number of overall injuries, but some in the league are not on board with that notion.
In a conference call with Buffalo media leading up to his team's regular-season finale against the Bills, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick blamed the increasing number of injuries in the 2013 season directly on the lack of offseason training and preparation over the last few years.
"I'm in favor of total preparation for the players for the season," Belichick said, via the Associated Press. "And I think that's been changed significantly and, I would say, not necessarily for the better, when you look at the injury numbers."
Injuries are up fairly significantly this year -- especially lower-body injuries, as defensive players lower their targets to try to avoid the league's new focus on helmet-to-helmet hits. According to ESPN's John Clayton, NFL teams lost 1,276 player games to injury or suspension in 2012. After the CBA, that total went up to 1,403 in 2011 and 1,414 in 2012, and in 2013, it's already at 1,514.
Belichick, whose team has actually lost fewer player games in the last two seasons (from 72 in 2011 to 35 in 2012 to 62 this year) has little doubt what the issue is.
"You have a gap between preparation and competition level," the coach concluded. "And I think that's where you see a lot of injuries occurring. We get a lot of breakdowns. We get a lot of situations that players just aren't as prepared as they were in previous years, in my experience anyway."
Belichick's 'experience' is that he's trying to get back to the Super Bowl with 10 players on injured reserve, with several impact contributors -- tight end Rob Gronkowski, safety Adrian Wilson, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer -- among them.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora denied any correlation.
"We carefully monitor player injuries," Signora told the AP. "There is no evidence that the new work rules have had an adverse effect on the injury rate or that injuries have in fact increased."
In fact, injuries have increased, they've done so rather significantly, and they've done so since the signing of the new CBA. Per STATS, Inc., an average of 239 players finished the season on injured reserve from 2000 through 2006, and that average has increased to over 300 since. "When you see the number as high as they are, then I don't think that's a randomness that's been two years in a row," Belichick said. "I've got to think there's some correlation there."