Why the NFL-Union Field Condition Pact is Significant

0:53 | The MMQB
Clay Matthews on how this year will be different for Packers
Wednesday July 27th, 2016

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — In the small print of the league’s unexpectedly harmonious announcement Monday about the partnership between the union and the NFL to strengthen the safeguards against concussed players staying in games was something the players association feels could be just as significant.

Quietly, the league and the NFL Players Association, in a sign of further teamwork on player safety between the two sides, have agreed to establish a joint committee—two representatives from the union, two from the league—to meet at least twice a year to monitor field conditions. In addition, the NFLPA’s designated field consultant “will be granted equal access to all NFL playing fields and field test results,” according to the agreement, which was signed last week. “For the avoidance of doubt, this access includes non-traditional venues (e.g., London, Mexico City, Hall of Fame Game).”

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That last point is significant, because the union has feared that venues hosting only one or two games a year are sometimes of lesser overall quality. Last season, Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham suffered what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury on the field at the Hall of Fame Game in Canton while making a tackle. There is not necessarily a correlation between the injury and field conditions, but the union simply wanted to have the right to inspect every field surface that any of its members play on—and rightfully so.  

Thanks to recent agreement with the league, the players union will now have a say in field conditions at stadiums hosting NFL games.
Scott Boehm/AP

This is a big deal for the players. For a long time, the union has felt not enough attention has been paid to the quality of field conditions. Included in this agreement, sources said, was the stipulation that by the eighth game of the 2016 season—“or earlier if possible,” the agreement notes—every stadium that hosts an NFL game has to be played in a venue with standard safety wall padding and a surface surrounding the field that is safe for players. The union was angry—again, rightfully so—when Reggie Bush, then of the 49ers, slipped on a concrete area near the sidelines in St. Louis, and was lost for the second half of the season last year with a knee injury. The implementation of this Non-Slip Surfaces Policy was important for the union, and the league readily agreed, a source said.

It’s smart that the NFL and the union have agreed to make it tougher for woozy players to ever stay in or re-enter a football game. That was the crux of Monday’s announcement—the league and the NFLPA will jointly monitor the application of the concussion protocol and investigate potential violations; teams that violate the protocol could be fined or even lose draft picks—and given the recent discord between labor and players, it’s a good sign of a thaw. This second bit of news is further proof that, in player safety, the two sides are working more closely for the good of the players.

• TONY DUNGY REMEMBERS DENNIS GREEN: The 2016 Hall of Fame inductee on his friend and mentor, a coach who saw it as his duty to make everyone around him better

* * *

A few thoughts on the J.J. Watt injury

The ominous thing you’d think about the disc surgery that could put the best defensive player in football out at the start of the season is that J.J. Watt plays with such torque, such violence, such power, that back surgery could indicate the degenerative nature of the way he plays football and its effect on how long he’ll be able to play football. Watt is 27. He has been eligible for 80 regular-season games in his five years and played them all. He has a mind-boggling 74.5 sacks, playing all over the line for Houston in that time.

Watt, who has never missed a start in five seasons, might not be ready for Week 1.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Any fan of the sport, regardless of your feelings about Watt or the Texans, should be sad to see the news of his surgery a week ago to repair a herniated disc. It puts his availability for the Texans’ opening day, Sept. 11, in doubt. Todd Albert, a spine surgeon and surgeon-in-chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, has done scores of disc surgeries in his career. “Hundreds if not over a thousand,” Albert said. I asked him his gut feeling about the chances of Watt to be ready to play football seven weeks from now, and just short of eight weeks from the surgery date.

“To play at his high level,” said Albert, who has not examined Watt or consulted in his care, “the shortest recovery time would be six to eight weeks. But normally it’s more likely 12 weeks. The thing you worry about is the re-herniation. But the most critical thing for recovery with a player like him is core strength. If his core strength isn’t good, that would affect his recovery time.”

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Watt’s core strength is superb. He says, for what it’s worth, that he’ll be ready to play in the opener against Chicago. We’ll see. Knowing coach Bill O’Brien of the Texans, there’s no way he’d allow Watt to play until he was cleared absolutely for the physical rigors of a game. This is not the kind of thing Watt will be able to talk his way into, unless his doctors are sure he’s ready.

* * *

Now for your email, starting with a question about why we killed the comments section at the end of stories at The MMQB:

THE END OF COMMENTING

Happy you’ve ditched the comments, and I hope they don’t come back. Too many of the usual suspects and trolls were proliferating and getting smart—truly a terrible trend. We all know to “never read the comments,” but sometimes your momentum carries you right into the ditch. There’s improvement to report on this reader’s end, too. I’ve become much better at sensing the approach of The Adieu Haiku, deploying the parachute brakes, and lifting my eyes.

—Duke

Lots of queries recently about the death of the comment section. I miss it, and I don’t miss it. The comment section was hijacked by a few people (four, six, eight, I don’t know) who carried on a conversation about topics most often having nothing to do with the story that had been written above. Hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand comments from a community having a good time among themselves. There were no rules about what you could comment about, but it just became a private party, and that’s not what the comments section should be. Unfortunate, because some people had smart, worthwhile things to say about stories. Now you can still do that (via email at talkback@themmqb.com or on our Facebook page). I did get a few Tweets about killing the comments section so we wouldn’t run so many anti-Roger Goodell comments. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Suuuuure.

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LAST CHANCE IN SAN DIEGO

You guys really ought to do a Tweet-up in San Diego. This might be your last opportunity.

—Peter F., San Diego

Excellent point. I will think about doing that—maybe a couple of hours before the Week 2 preseason game we cover against Arizona on that Friday night. Think we could find a good spot in the parking lot at Qualcomm?

20TH ANNIVERSARY COLUMN IDEAS

First of all, thank you for the site. I was too small to play football and told that I wasn’t man enough to enjoy the game. Now, as a 40-year-old, I enjoy the hell out of it, and that’s in large part due to what I learn by reading your site. It’s a great pleasure now to sit with some of the men who told me I couldn’t hang with them and share the knowledge I accumulated by doing what I always did best—reading and researching. Thank you. As for column additions for Peter:

• Dr. Z’s Lineman of the Week: Taking note of a rookie or vet on either side of the line would be a great way to celebrate Dr. Z and his unsung heroes. I know in Atlanta we’d love to know more about how Alex Mack is keeping Matt Ryan away from near death.

• Game Recap Twitter Challenge: Two lucky fans (one AFC, one NFC) get their Twitter recap for their team’s game published in the column. The challenge will be to summarize the game in 140 characters (or actually 130 characters — I propose #MMQBRecap for curation). I write for a living, and a lot of my friends are writers as well, so I know there are at least a few fans out there who would love the challenge.

• Player Notes: I know players have a severe time crunch during the season, but some of the best pieces on the site are the ones written by current or former players. If you can give at least a couple of graphs each week to a player and allow them to write about something from their experience, I think it would be an interesting way to go behind the scenes over a season. (And it would knock off a couple hundred words from Peter’s count—what writer doesn’t love that?)

• Coach Speak: Some of the current NFL coaches have boring quotes down to a science, so it’d be kind of fun to have Peter “read between the lines” and break down one quote each week so we can know what the coach was saying without saying it. It could also be fun to revisit classic clichés and explain their etymology to the casual fan.

—Jason B., Atlanta

Geez. Can you come write for us? I love your ideas. The player notes might really be fun. Maybe we get a player from the Thursday night game to do something for us on Friday or Saturday. But I’m impressed with the thought you put into all of those. Not to be a cornball, but people like you, Jason, motivate me so much to get up in the morning and think of new things to challenge you and make you enjoy the game more. So thank you so much for contributing your ideas.

REPENTANT RAY RICE

Great point about Ray Rice. There are some things I just do not get. And one of them is that NO team will take a chance on the guy. There has to be something else going on here, because he was much more repentant than Adrian Peterson. And while his last season wasn’t all that great, I think Rice in a complementary role (think how Philly has used Sproles the last few years) could provide a much-needed spark. Tell me there are 32 better backup running backs in the league right now. I don’t believe it.

—David

Nor do I, David.

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ANOTHER FUN TILLMAN FACT

You talked about impact plays Charles Tillman had, but this wasn't mentioned: Did you know that Tillman is the only player in NFL history with more than 35 interceptions and more than 40 forced fumbles?  He had 38 and 44 respectively. Definitely better than Charles Woodson. Based on all of his other accomplishments, I'd say Tillman's a definite shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. At least he should be. What do you think now?

— Kevin B., Chicago

He’s not better than Charles Woodson, who was Lott-like in his versatility (one of the best corners when he played there, and one of the best safeties later in his career) and played better longer. But Tillman is one of the best players of this era, no question.

THIRSTY FOR THE MMQB

Going to miss you guys at Thirsty’s for post-Bills camp pints this year.

—Jonathan G.

I love Pittsford. It’s one of my top spots, by far. I tried to wedge it in this year, but it just didn’t work.

KEEPING SCORE

Couldn’t agree more about keeping score the old fashioned way with a pen/pencil, no better way to enjoy a baseball game. I taught my son to keep score when he was 7 at Fenway. Missed most of the game explaining to him what to do, but was my one of my favorite games and days at the ballpark. It’s something every dad should take time to do.

—Don D., Mansfield

Amen.

GAROPPOLO'S SHOT

Regarding “Ridiculous Tweets That Are Insults To Humankind,” remind us again how Tom Brady won the starting job in 2001?

—Greg, Calgary

You aren’t seriously comparing Drew Bledsoe and what he’d accomplished by 2001 to what Tom Brady has accomplished by 2016, are you?

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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