Every year, coaches get to training camp eager to test battle plans and devise ways to plug old parts into new ones. Every year, some of the parts get broken early. Out go the master plans and in come the ones that read “in the event of … .”
In the NFL, injuries are as regular as the weather. Like the weather, nobody can do anything about them.
This year’s examples:
On the first day of training camp, the Dolphins lost Yatil Green, their No. 1 draft choice, who was supposed to give Dan Marino a deep threat. He’s gone for the season with a knee injury.
In its first exhibition game, Green Bay lost its most versatile and valuable running back, Edgar Bennett, who tore an Achilles’ tendon.
The Dolphins also are without their best all-around receiver, Fred Barnett, and tight end Troy Drayton, and have lost special teams stars Kirby Dar and Larry Izzo for the season.
The Giants are without center Brian Williams, the most consistent and valuable player on an otherwise shaky offensive line. He was poked in the eye early in camp and may have to undergo surgery.
“We’ve had players injured before but not three players to this extent this early in camp,” Miami coach Jimmy Johnson says.
No contingency plan can avoid problems if a team is ravaged at a particular position - Green, Dar, Barnett and Scott Miller, another injured Dolphin, are all wide receivers.
Two of Green Bay’s three losses last season came when the Packers were without three top receivers - wideouts Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman and tight end Mark Chmura.
But teams, especially contenders, make contingency plans.
When the Packers picked up Aaron Hayden on waivers from San Diego before the season, eyebrows were raised. Wasn’t Green Bay well stocked at running back with Bennett and Dorsey Levens, who emerged as a star in the playoffs?
Suddenly, Hayden is a good guy to have around.
Levens has never played full time, Travis Jervey is prone to injuries and fumbles, and second-year man Chris Darkins spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
Injuries are also why general managers, particularly on legitimate contenders, like to save salary cap room. Cap room allowed the Packers to fill that void at wide receiver with Andre Rison last year, although there wasn’t enough money left to re-sign Rison, who has moved on to Kansas City.
Money, money, money
When Troy Aikman was told about Brett Favre’s new contract, his reaction was, “How much?”
When he was told that it was somewhere around $45 million for six years and that the Packers were claiming it was the highest in the league, Aikman said: “That’s probably true.”
Aikman should know. At the time, he was the closest.
But both Favre and Aikman also know NFL economics, particularly when it comes to franchise quarterbacks.
Favre, for example, had been adamant in saying he wanted his two consecutive MVP awards to translate into a contract that makes him the NFL’s best-paid player. But he’s also aware of reality.
“If the highest-paid player in the league was getting $50,000, I’d want 51. But I know it’s going to change down the road,” Favre said the day he signed his contract.
“I’m sure Leigh will be calling Jerry to talk about my deal,” Aikman said of his agent, Leigh Steinberg, never one to allow his quarterbacks to be at the back end of the pay scale. “Then he’ll call the 49ers about Steve.”
As it turned out, Steinberg called the 49ers first - Steve being Steve Young. On Wednesday, Young signed a new deal for $45 million over six years that Steinberg and others claimed made him the highest-paid player. It also cleared extra salary cap room to sign first-round draft pick Jim Druckenmiller.
Young may be the highest-paid NFL player on the basis of yearly average but he acknowledged he’ll probably renegotiate again next year, and the way things are going, he’ll probably be getting paid by the 49ers somewhere around 2010.
As it turns out, Favre is probably underpaid.
Two days after he signed his deal, averaging (depending on whom you talk to) around $6.5 million a year, Mark Brunell of Jacksonville agreed to a five-year contract for $31.5 million, or a $6.3 million average. Brunell, who used to be Favre’s backup in Green Bay, looks like an upcoming star, but he’s been productive for little more than half a season, or four and a half fewer than Favre.
Asked at his signing ceremony how long he expected his six-year deal to stay in effect, he replied:
“Oh, two years at most.”
The Nebraska Three - Lawrence Phillips, Christian Peter and Tyrone Williams - are behaving themselves and enjoying trouble-free camps with the Rams, Giants and Packers.
And there’s not a whimper of trouble in Dallas, where Michael Irvin is even talking to the media, whom he says are responsible for all his problems.
But elsewhere, things aren’t quiet as rosy.
While Phillips is behaving under the eye of Wilbert Montgomery, the old Eagles’ running back, there are additional problems. Defensive end James Harris will be in court Aug. 8 on charges that he was the “money man” in a scheme to buy cocaine.
Coach Dick Vermeil, who seems to have Phillips in hand, is willing to give the justice system a chance.
Farther east, there is Mike Mamula, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive end, who has been accused by a female bouncer at a bar of exposing himself. The issue now seems to be an apology - Mamula has offered to apologize to the woman in private; she says she’d like it in public.
Then there’s Bruce Smith, last year’s defensive player of the year, who was arrested for driving under the influence after he was found asleep in his car with the motor running in Virginia Beach, Va.
Normally at this time of the year Smith is in Fredonia, N.Y., in training camp with the Bills. But he was holding out after turning down a one-year $6 million deal. He has since agreed to return to camp under his current contract.