In what is proving to be a busy week for the Panthers, the team made a number of roster changes in preparation for training camp. Among them, the most notable and surprising move of the week was the trade that sent Offensive Tackle Jeff Otah to the New York Jets for an undisclosed conditional pick. However, after failing his physical and being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, Otah might be back with the team that just gave him up for almost nothing with only one year remaining on a rookie contract. Sadly, the Jeff Otah story is all too familiar in today’s NFL.
Coming out of college, Otah was one of the top lineman prospects in his class, only held back by a knee injury that was widely considered to be minor. In fact, the Panthers were so unconcerned about his shaky knees that they traded up to select Otah with the 19th overall pick. The team saw a top level talent who filled a pressing need and decided to gamble on health. The gamble did not pay off.
After starting 12 games in his rookie season, the rest of Otah’s career can be defined by two letters: IR. Otah was placed on injured reserve in both 2010 and 2011, playing a total of only 4 games in those seasons. Combine the past two seasons with his most recent physical, and you’ve got a career that is likely over well before it should be due to injury. In other words, you’ve got a typical NFL career.
The sad reality of the NFL is that it is one of the most dangerous sports the world has ever seen. It is certainly the most dangerous out of the four major US sports. While it’s true that boxing, MMA, and other direct combat sports have their fair share of major injuries, the NFL stands alone when you consider the volume of injuries, both major and minor. Rarely will a game go by where at least one player doesn’t leave the game due to injury. Every Sunday one fantasy team in your league will be crushed by a torn ACL. It’s just the nature of the game.
Ironically, it’s this violence brings us back Sunday after Sunday. We are devastated when our team suffers a catastrophic injury, but boy, do we love when our guy delivers that vicious blow. In an era where form tackling is considered boring, players will do anything they can to initiate a big collision. It’s no wonder the average lifespan for an NFL running back is about 4 years. The hits are simply too vicious week after week for a player’s body not to give out within a few short years. The players know there are certain risks involved with playing football, but fans always seem to be surprised when their favorite player is lost for the season.
Which brings us back to Otah. Panthers fans have been disappointed year after year when the inevitable news broke that Otah will be spending the rest of the season on a training table. We ask ourselves questions like, What is wrong with this guy? and Can his knees really be that weak? What we forget is that we have asked this question over and over in the past, with only the names changing. Dan Morgan. DeShaun Foster. Thomas Davis. And now, Otah. In a few years it will be someone different.
What we have to remember, as fans, if that those big hits do not come without a major price. As long as safeties are using their bodies as missiles, careers will be short and injury lists will be long. We have to change our perception and realize that football is not like the other sports where players can consistently be effective after their 30th birthdays. It’s the price everyone pays to be part of such a great game. If we fail to realize that the Jeff Otah story has become the norm, then our hearts, just like their bones, will continue to be broken.
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