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Do hurt NFL players get paid?

The National Football League (NFL) is the premier professional American football league in the United States. With 32 teams across the country, the NFL brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year. However, playing professional football comes with inherent risks and injuries are common. This leads to an important question – do NFL players still get paid even if they get hurt and can’t play?

The short answer is yes, injured NFL players do still get paid, but the details are more complicated than that. There are a few key factors that determine how much and for how long an injured NFL player gets compensated.

NFL Contracts

First, we have to look at the structure of NFL player contracts. When a player signs with a team, they agree to a contract that specifies their compensation. An NFL contract has both guaranteed and non-guaranteed money. Guaranteed money is what a player receives regardless of whether they play or not. This includes any signing bonus that is paid upfront when the contract is signed. Non-guaranteed money, such as base salaries, roster bonuses, and performance incentives, must be “earned” by being on the active roster.

So if a player gets injured, they will continue receiving any guaranteed money owed to them per their contract. But they can lose out on non-guaranteed money if they land on the inactive roster due to injury. Teams are not obligated to pay base salaries and bonuses to players who aren’t able to play. The amount of guaranteed vs. non-guaranteed compensation varies widely between NFL contracts. Younger players and less established players often have fewer guarantees.

Injury Guarantees

Some NFL contracts include additional guarantees that kick in the event of an injury. These “injury guarantees” provide a player with a level of financial protection if their injury prevents them from playing. For example, a contract could state that if a player’s injury keeps him from passing a physical by a certain date, his base salary for the following season becomes fully guaranteed.

Injury guarantees are usually only given out in significant contracts for star players. The amount of injury guarantee can be for the full base salary or a portion of it. But even injury guarantees have limits, and they won’t compensate a player indefinitely. They may cover only the first year following the injury. Once the injury guarantee expires, the team can cut the injured player without any remaining financial obligation.

Workers’ Compensation

NFL players also have access to workers’ compensation benefits for football-related injuries. Workers’ comp programs exist in every NFL state, and they provide payments to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses. Players can file workers’ comp claims for medical expenses, lost wages, and disability benefits.

The workers’ comp system is complex and payout amounts are based on many factors, including the state programs and the severity of a player’s injury. Benefits are relatively small compared to NFL salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly workers’ comp benefit was $969 in 2020. For an NFL player making millions per year, this provides only a supplemental income stream during injury recovery.

NFL Injury Benefits

The NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) contains an injury benefit system that compensates players who are hurt outside of NFL games. This includes injuries during practices, workouts, and team-related activities. The injury benefit amount equals the player’s weekly salary for the season they are hurt.

For example, a player with a $2 million base salary who suffers a season-ending neck injury during practice would get their $2 million salary paid out over the season on a weekly basis. This provides some income stability for players with fluke non-game injuries.

Injured Reserve

Players who are seriously hurt can be placed on injured reserve lists. There are now two IR designations:

– Short-term IR – Means missing at least 4 games. Players still get paid their usual weekly salary.

– Season-ending IR – Out for the rest of the year. Salary depends on guarantees and injury provisions in contract.

Being on IR guarantees maintained salary in the short term. But it can lead to getting cut later on if injuries linger.

Non-Football Injury List

If a player suffers an injury away from team activities, they can be placed on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list. This includes injuries from personal activities, preexisting conditions, or other non-team causes. Being on NFI means:

– No access to team facilities and medical staff.

– No salary until activated from NFI.

– Team has option to cut player without pay while on NFI.

So NFI designation puts players in a tough spot financially. There are some exceptions where teams voluntarily pay players on NFI. But usually an NFI player only gets paid after they recover and are activated.

Career-Ending Injuries

For career-ending injuries, NFL disability plan benefits become an important source of income. The disability plans provide financial compensation and medical care to former players with football-related disabilities that prevent them from holding a job.

There are two disability plan models outlined in the CBA, with different qualifications, benefits, and durations:

Inactive A Total and Permanent (T&P) Disability

– Qualify if unable to work in any occupation due to NFL injury.
– Monthly benefit $9,000 if less than 5 credited seasons, or $22,000 for 5+ credited seasons.
– Benefits continue for life or until no longer disabled.

Football Degenerative Total and Permanent (T&P) Disability

– Qualify if unable to work in any occupation due to NFL injury that causes deterioration or arthritis.
– Monthly benefit $9,000 if less than 5 credited seasons, or $22,000 for 5+ credited seasons.
– Benefits continue for 15 years only.

While not a complete replacement for NFL salaries, the disability plans do provide income and health care that former players absolutely need if their career ends due to a devastating injury.

Option to Negotiate Injury Settlement

For lingering or long-term injuries, NFL teams and players will sometimes negotiate an injury settlement and contract release rather than staying together indefinitely. These settlements provide a player with a lump-sum payment to settle their contract and free the team from future salary obligations.

Settlements make it mutually beneficial for both sides to move on when a bad injury makes continuing the player-team relationship unrealistic. The settlement amount depends on the individual scenario and is determined through private negotiation.

How Common Are NFL Injuries?

With the physical demands of professional football, injuries are an unavoidable part of the game. Here are some key stats on how frequently NFL players get hurt:

– On average, NFL teams lose $50 million per year to player injuries, according to athletic training company Sparta Science.

– An NFL injury study found that 23.1% of all reported injuries during 2015-2020 resulted in missed time.

– The average NFL player misses between 3-4 games per season due to injury, according to research by FantasyData.

– Knee and ankle ligament injuries are among the most common in the NFL, per the Journal of Athletic Training.

– Concussions are also worryingly frequent, with an average of 160 diagnosed each NFL regular season from 2015-2021, says Concussion Legacy Foundation.

So while financial resources exist for injured players, the sheer volume of NFL injuries means teams are constantly dealing with rehabbing players and managing salary cap impacts.

Prominent Examples of Injured NFL Players

Here are a few high-profile cases that illustrate how NFL teams have handled seriously injured stars:

Alex Smith

In 2018, veteran QB Alex Smith suffered a gruesome broken leg with complications that nearly cost him his leg. Smith had significant guarantees in his contract and earned his full $15 million base salary while rehabbing in 2019. He eventually returned as a backup in 2020.

Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater was a rising quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings before a dislocated knee essentially cost him two seasons. The Vikings paid Bridgewater’s full salary while he was on the Physically Unable to Perform list rehabbing his injury through 2017.

J.J. Watt

Texans’ star defender J.J. Watt essentially had half of his 5-year, $100 million contract guaranteed against injury. When Watt suffered season-ending torn pecs in 2019 and again in 2020, he collected his $15+ million salary each year even while sidelined.

Andrew Luck

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunningly retired in 2019 due to accumulated lower leg injuries. Luck left $60+ million in remaining base salary on the table. But he did reportedly negotiate an injury settlement of around $24 million rather than repay a portion of his signing bonus.

Do NFL Teams Have Insurance for Contracts?

NFL teams do purchase insurance policies to mitigate potential salary cap losses from injured star players. Contract insurance won’t cover an entire multi-million dollar salary. But it provides partial reimbursement, typically up to 50% of a lost salary.

Teams pay annual premiums to maintain insurance policies on key players. Policies only pay out if a player’s injury causes them to miss a certain number of games, usually 5 or more. Insurance coverage helps NFL teams buffer the costs of a catastrophic injury.

Some other key points on NFL teams insuring contracts:

– Only high-value players are insured – rookie deals and minimum contracts aren’t covered.

– Insurance premiums cost upwards of $400,000 per player insured.

– There are 10 carriers that provide NFL contract insurance.

– Policies exclude “pre-existing” conditions from coverage.

– Payouts are capped (typically around $7.5 million).

So while contract insurance defrays some monetary impact and salary cap pains, it is not an unlimited backstop for teams. At the end of the day, teams carry the main financial burden of paying injured players.

How Can Injured Players Get Cut?

Even after suffering a major injury, NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed. Teams can still legally cut injured players under certain conditions, removing any remaining income guarantees.

Players who pass their team physical and are adjudged to be recovered from injury can be cut at any time, just like a healthy player. Veterans with non-guaranteed salaries are always at some risk of being released.

For players still rehabbing, they are protected while injured under their contract terms or on injury lists. But once their guaranteed money expires, teams can cut injured players without owing additional pay.

Injury settlements also allow teams to negotiate a player’s release due to injury. And in some cases, teams will cut a player first and then dispute ongoing injury claim obligations.

Overall, the CBA makes it difficult, but not impossible, for teams to cut injured stars. The advantage ultimately goes to the team over the player.

What Happens to Guaranteed Money?

Guaranteed money in NFL deals isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. Signing bonuses are fully guaranteed upon signing. But oftentimes the “guarantee” for base salaries only means that money is protected against skill—not injury.

If a player lands on injured reserve, gets cut after passing a physical, or has guarantee protections expire, then guaranteed base salaries can void. Teams do not have to pay out guaranteed money after the player is released, regardless of injury status.

Portions of guaranteed money can also be “offset” by a player’s salary from joining a new team. NFL teams fight to recoup guaranteed money wherever possible when injured players don’t finish out contracts.

Can Players Sue Teams for Injuries?

With rare exceptions, NFL players cannot sue teams over injury liabilities due to the collective bargaining agreement and waiver policies. However, players do have a few other legal options:

– File workers’ comp claims – This is the standard avenue for injury compensation from playing NFL football.

– Claim teams withheld medical information – Players could sue only if teams concealed known medical risks during signings.

– Sue the NFL for benefits – Seeking disability plan payouts or benefits not properly paid.

– Sue helmet manufacturers – Some players have claimed defective helmets contributed to concussions.

Overall, teams are well insulated from injury-related lawsuits due to the NFL CBA structure. The liability for football injuries falls heavily upon the players themselves.

How Do Injuries Affect the Salary Cap?

In addition to direct player salary and insurance costs, injuries also hit NFL teams’ salary caps. Each team has a yearly salary cap based on league revenue. Cap space shrinks when injured players:

– Take up cap room without playing – Their full salary still applies to the cap.

– Require signing expensive injury replacements – Added costs hit the cap.

– Get cut and create “dead cap” – Unamortized signing bonuses accelerate onto the current cap year.

– Have contract guarantees that vest – Guaranteed money immediately impacts the cap.

– Go on IR and need replacements – IR players’ salaries remain, replacements also cost cap room.

Although insurance can help, cap hits from injuries are unavoidable. Front offices continuously juggle cap space based on injured players. It prevents spending elsewhere.

How Can Teams Plan for Injury Impacts?

NFL teams have gotten more strategic in how they structure contracts and build rosters to plan for inevitable injuries:

– Only extend proven veterans – Avoid fully guaranteeing contracts for unestablished players.

– Insist on injury waivers – Require prospects to sign waivers accepting liability for any preexisting conditions.

– Write incentive-laden deals – Base pay triggers on being active for games played and milestones achieved.

– Include roster bonuses – Compensation dependent on remaining on the active roster each week.

– Add “ream-friendly” options – Options to cut players without guaranteed salary lingering on books.

– Insure high-dollar deals – Gain partial cap relief via insurance policies on key contracts.

– Stock backup/replacement talent – Prepare to plug holes and maintain depth despite injuries.

– Maintain rollover cap room – Keep space by not overspending, helps absorb surprise injury costs.

Takeaways on Injured NFL Players

While NFL player contracts contain various injury protections, teams ultimately hold financial leverage when players get hurt:

– Compensation is limited for non-stars – Low-end players lack guarantees and leverage.

– Partial salaries continue, but not full value – Injuries greatly reduce a player’s typical compensation.

– Guarantees often only prevent skill cuts, not injury cuts – Fully guaranteed NBA or MLB deals are rare in NFL.

– Teams control activation from injury lists – Players can’t return at will if teams prefer they didn’t.

– Contract insurance limits total liability – Premiums and deductibles apply.

– Salary cap hits remain, affecting roster freedom – Dead cap money lingers after cuts.

– Short careers make players disposable – Churning roster spots is an accepted part of the NFL.

While fair provisions for NFL health care do exist, teams operate with business interests first when managing injured players on both ethical and financial grounds. It’s a delicate balancing act for the league.


In the end, injured NFL players continue earning some portion of their contracted salaries based on a variety of factors such as guarantees, bonuses, exclusions, settlement options, and disability benefits. Teams do carry financial obligations for players hurt in games and practices.

However, the compensation for an injured player is rarely the full amount they would earn while active. Complex rules exist that allow teams to minimize costs related to injured superstars. NFL teams have tools to avoid serving as an unlimited insurance backstop on player health.

The bottom line is that injuries take a financial toll on both the teams and players involved. While financial assistance is available through the CBA, navigating NFL contracts and injuries continues to be a challenge on all sides. The system falls well short of fully “making whole” injured athletes in all cases. Progress still needs to be made to better protect player interests. But improvements to collectively-bargained NFL policies also impact what teams are competitively and financially able to provide. It remains an ongoing dilemma for the league and players union.