I applaud the new rules concerning concussions and head injuries in the NFL. New NFL's safety rules include keeping players off the field until they show no symptoms of the concussion and having an independent neurologist instead of the team doctor clear them to return.
This is a fairly common issue. How many times in the past have we seen a player "get his bell rung" and return to the field later? I know I've seen it a fair amount of times. And how often does it happen where we, as a viewing public, don't even know a player has displayed some of the signs of a mild concussion (some dizziness, slurred speech, double vision) and comes back into the game. Pro football players have been taught at an early age that they need to play through pain, suck it up and don't wimp out. So, how many refuse to even let a coach or trainer know they have some of these symptoms, especially if they still feel like they can function at a decent level?
I am sure that these rules will help some players avoid some of the dementia-related diseases that so many of their predecessors suffered as they aged. In fact, an NFL-sponsored study found that NFL retirees were reporting rates of Alzheimer's and other memory-related diseases at five times or more the national rate. So, I am totally in favor of these new rules.
It does bring up another question, though. Since we know that more players are going to miss portions of games, and perhaps the following week's game or more as they await the OK to return to action by an independent doctor, their teams are going to be down a player, or two or more. How do these teams overcome a lack of depth as their guys sit out for who knows how long. Will they be back next game? Will it be a few weeks? Is this something that will drag on?
The brain is a funny piece of equipment. It's not so easy to diagnose. Doctors are getting better at it all the time, but there's still so much we don't know about how this organ operates. With injuries to feet, ankles, arms, knees, it's a little easier to gauge just how long it will take for something to heal. It's also easier to know what the likely effects on those body parts if they get hit hard again. In those instances, it's easier for teams to say, for example: "It's going to be at least six weeks. We have eight weeks left in the season. It's best to put you on IR and get some other warm body in here."
I can envision a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley to concussions against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 and aren't sure when they're coming back, wondering what they'll do if two more guys go down with dingers to their heads this week. Geez, what if Kolb and Bradley aren't ready for another week, and Michael Vick gets dinged in his headbone and is out for a week or two.
Obviously, if these guys are not healthy enough to play, and you do not want to take chances with the brain, they shouldn't play. I can see teams being a little hamstrung.
So what to do?
The first option many would think of would be to sign some free agents for a week or two or three, whatever is necessary. That's a valid suggestion, and that's what teams must do when other injuries raise their ugly heads (or hands, ACLs and MCLs). You have to deal with the cons of having to pick up guys up off the street, such as haivng to send them into a cave to learn the playbook 24/7 before they can really do much in what has become so much more a thinker's sport that it used to be. Also, if you sign a guy, you have to cut a guy. You can't cut an injured player. So, you'll have to cut a healthy guy to add a healthy guy. Not very practical, especially with several short-term injuries when it comes to the concussed.
I think the NFL may need to expand rosters, both the active roster and the practice squad, to account for these head injuries, and their subsequent delayed returns to action, that have already cropped up. Maybe increasing the active roster from 45 to 47. Then, increase the practice squad from eight to 10 guys.
I don't think the player's union would have an issue with it. The owners might. But hey, they want to increase the regular season to 18 games, and they're going to need more bodies to weather a regular season that long anyway. maybe they can give the players increased rosters as a concession.