Severe ripple effects of the ever-increasing IR list

I went over the NFL's injured reserve list today and even though it's still early in the season, there are already 155 players on it.

Without breaking down every contract, you can look at it this way: The list includes top-end players, such as Orlando Pace, who have salaries upwards of $4 million with a $7 million cap charge; and low-end players, namely rookies, who could have a $285,000 salary.

All in all, it's safe to say the 155 players on IR are eating up more than $75 million -- and probably more like $125 million.

The Houston Texans already have 12 players on injured reserve, followed by the Giants and Bucs with nine each. Close behind them are the Falcons, Bills, Bengals and Packers, with eight apiece.

At this rate, there will be upwards of 300 players on injured reserve by the end of the season. Keep in mind there are 53 players per team and there are 32 teams, which means there are 1,696 active players. Right now about 9 percent of the players are on injured reserve and being paid. By season's end it could be closer to 18 percent of the league - and closer to $200 million in salaries. Remember every time a player goes on the IR, another player is hired.

Jake Delhomme and Matt Leinart get put on the shelf and Vinny Testaverde and Tim Rattay get work. Delhomme and Leinart had a combined cap charge of $13 million. Testaverde and Rattay are going to hit the books for at least another $1 million. Can you see why the NFL can't go to guaranteed contracts like other sports?

When there are critical injuries leading to a player being placed on IR, safety becomes an issue for those still out on the field. Of the 155 players on IR who are unable to return to the field until 2008, 27 are offensive linemen. When starting tackles such as Atlanta's Wayne Gandy, Tampa Bay's Luke Petitgout, Washington's Jon Jansen and Orlando Pace of the Rams are on the shelf, two things come to mind: a) the quarterback's safety is at stake; and b) where do you find an available starting tackle?

Football is a sport based on collisions and physical contact. Keeping a quarterbacks upright is a major problem. The solution starts with having enough offensive linemen to protect the QBs.

A team loses a wide receiver or a running back and it might have a promising young player on the practice squad. Lose a quarterback, and you can find an old veteran who probably can't win a game for you but can at least take a snap and execute an offense.

But there's no place to turn to find a left tackle -- or a solid right tackle, for that matter -- and that could end up sending more quarterbacks to the IR.

St. Louis already has three starting offensive linemen -- Pace, Mark Setterstrom and Adam Goldberg -- on IR. Marc Bulger is recovering from broken ribs and it's a miracle Gus Frerotte was only sacked twice last week against the Cardinals. Now the Rams travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens.

Winning from here on out has as much to do with medical fortunes as it does with great game plans and terrific players. Dallas has one player on IR, the Patriots have four and the Colts have five.

Oh, by the way ... the Steelers have zero!

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