Though nothing that he did intentionally caused the injury that ended the season of Baltimore Ravens lineman Ronnie Stanley, Pittsburgh Steelers defender T.J. Watt understandably regrets what happened. NFL players know injuries are an occupational hazard and accept the risk. But that doesn’t make seeing a peer go down any easier.
It’s been a season of injuries for the NFL in 2020
The combination of some players opting out of the 2020 NFL season because of the COVID-19 virus and others being injured has decimated NFL rosters. Baltimore Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley joined the list of casualties when T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers rolled up on his ankle.
The list of players hit with long-term or season-ending injuries is lengthy and includes many of the league’s best-known names:
- Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.
- Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
- Cleveland Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, offensive tackle Tyron Smith.
- Denver Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton, linebacker Von Miller.
- Los Angeles Chargers center Mike Pouncey.
- Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
- New England Patriots defensive end Michael Bennett.
- New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
- Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, guard Brandon Brooks.
- San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, tight end George Kittle, defensive back Richard Sherman.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard.
- Washington Football Team safety Landon Collins.
A general manager would be on his way to the Super Bowl with a roster starting with a list like that.
The NFL undoubtedly will look at the complete list of injuries after the season amid questions about whether the shutdown of training facilities during the spring and summer affected conditioning. There will also be questions about whether the cancellation of preseason games could be a contributing factor.
Ronnie Stanley’s injury had to hit close to home for T.J. Watt
The Baltimore Ravens lost more than just a football game on Nov. 1. Aside from the 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens lost left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the remainder of the season. Baltimore made Stanley the No. 6 overall pick out of Notre Dame in 2016, and he earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2019.
Stanley was injured near midfield late in the first quarter and had to be carted off the field. The injury happened when linebacker T.J. Watt charged around the edge in pursuit of quarterback Lamar Jackson and rolled up on the back of Stanley’s legs.
The resulting broken ankle ended Stanley’s season. He took to Twitter after the game as numerous players from around the league messaged their support.
“So many emotions running through my head,” he wrote. “I’m thankful for all the love and support. I hate feeling like I let my brothers down. … Just another challenge to overcome.”
Not surprisingly, Watt was quick to respond to Stanley’s tweet:
“I feel for you! Get well soon!”
Stanley’s injury may have hit Watt harder than most for reasons beyond the fact that he was directly involved in the play.
Did T.J. Watt’s own future flash before his eyes?
It’s doubtful it would have occurred to them in the immediate aftermath of the injury to Ronnie Stanley, but it’s possible T.J. Watt and fellow NFL players might be saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Look at the list of injured standouts above. Many of the players there are already on their second contract, which means a significant boost in signing bonuses and salaries. Two of the notable exceptions are third-year running back Saquon Barkley, still on his rookie deal, and fifth-year quarterback Dak Prescott, playing under the lucrative but short-term franchise tag.
The future of both has been the subject of conjecture. The Giants will have to decide on Barkley’s fifth-year option. The Cowboys face a wider range of possibilities on Prescott: another franchise tag, a long-term deal or even the remote possibility of letting him go in the face of salary-cap issues.
Watt will play the 2021 season on a fifth-year option worth a little more than $10 million, which is more than he has made in his first four seasons combined. His 2020 salary is $1,727532, according to Spotrac.com. Stanley had just signed a $98.75 million extension two days before his season-ending injury. He’ll get $70 million guaranteed over five seasons.
Coming off his first selection as a first-team All-Pro, Watt is one of the next players in line for big money this offseason or next. A serious injury between now and then could literally cost him tens of millions of dollars.
Imagine, then, if the roles were reversed and it was Stanley who fell on top of Watt’s legs.