I saw this idea floated in a Peter King column (originating in an e-mail from a fan).
What if the NFL imposed a 300 pound weight limit?
In the NFL, you have lineman sometimes weighing, I think, 350+ pounds slamming into each other dozens of times per game, and slamming into lighter skill players fairly frequently too.
There are weight limits for each class in boxing, except maybe the top class (is there a weight ceiling), and wrestling is another sport with weight limits.
A ceiling of 300, or even 280 or so, should be hittable by just about every current NFL player. They’d need to slim down, and some might struggle and fail to do so. But wouldn’t it be healthier, long term, for both the big players themselves and those they collide with? As it now stands, the physique of NFL linemen has been slowly drifting in the direction of Sumo wrestlers for years…
I’d have to think there’s some raw physics involved. 350 pounds of mass smacking into you repeatedly is gonna do more damage than 280 pounds. And I doubt bone structure scales up linearly with weight. A 6’5" guy at 280 probably has about the same bone strength as a 6’5" guy at 350.
The heaviest athletes are more than twice as likely to die before their 50th birthday than their teammates, according to a Scripps Howard News Service study of 3,850 professional-football players who have died in the last century.
Guys who get fat to play football are, I would guess, likely to remain fat after their careers are done. And the quote above is only about death below age 50 - I would guess that serious injuries and disabilities are also far more prevalent among guys who spent 5 years in the league at 320 and now, at age 45 or 50, are carrying around 360 or so…
I’ve had this thought myself, but I think individual player weight limits could be considered discriminatory. I would prefer something like team weight limits. You can have a 350lb lineman, but you’re going to have to get “underweight” players at other positions to compensate.
I don’t think it’s necessarily hits from linemen weighing 300+ that are doing the majority of the damage to players’ bodies in the NFL… I think it’s the open field tackles and blindside “crackback” blocks from linebackers, safeties, and receivers with a more efficient power/weight ratio. Those hits are the ones highlight reals are made of, and they might as well outlaw touchdowns before they outlaw big hits as far as the entertainment value of the game goes… although in recent years they’ve certainly tried to neuter the sport, what with the horsecollar tackle rules, the “unprotected receiver” and “roughing the quarterback/kicker” rules.
Ryan A - of course it’s the hits that do most of the damage. But the damage of the hits is, in turn, roughly determined by the force involved - mass times velocity. Super heavy players may lose a touch on velocity, but I’d still rather be hit by a 240 guy than a 340 guy, even if the 340 pounder is moving a bit slower.
The most damage an lineman does is when their bulk crushes someone beneath them, be it a quarterback’s chest or ankle or something. Concussions and the like are caused by the lighter and faster safeties and linebackers crashing into people at top speed.
High impact injuries occur the way Kid describes, and they look more dramatic and traumatic. Linemen suffer blows to the head on almost every play, so they are more like boxers in that they tend to have repetitive syndrome problems later in life.
Weight has zip to do with that, if they weighed 280 they would still be crashing into each other at the snap.
Yeah, good point, I didn’t think about the damage done along the offensive line. Most linemen (I think) get injured at a limb, someone rolling up on an ankle or getting an arm or something trapped against the ground. You’ll see shoulders getting torn or other things along those lines.
As far as size goes, though, I don’t think NFL players are booming. Speed is becoming more and more important – compare the linebacker of the 1980’s to the linebacker of today. Linebackers have to cover sideline to sideline, and run with tight ends, halfbacks, and slot receivers. The largest linebacker on the Steelers weighs 265. The Redskins, 260. Ray Lewis, one of the harder hitters out there, weighs 250.
I would rather get hit by a DE than a LB, if they’re going full speed. And I’d like to get hit by any of them more than I’d like to get hit by SS Troy Polamalu.
I don’t think a 300 lb weight limit solves the problem.
QB concussions are the result of a QB getting blindsided. Concussions happen all the time in high school where the average player weight is nowhere 300 lbs. Concussions are sometimes the result of intentional helmet-to-helmet hits, like a running back lowering his head as he heads into a tackle, but an awful lot of concussions are a result of an unprotected player being aggressively hit by a very fast moving and unblocked defensive player.
And really, that’s where a lot of the non-brain injuries stem from as well. Offensive players, particularly QBs and receivers are at certain times almost completely unprotected and yet completey fair game in a way that isn’t allowed in boxing, for example.
There are some defensive players, in my opinion, that are savage animals and totally unload on an unprotected player. They do it, because the rules permit it. You can make a great tackle without trying to destroy a person.
It’s a judgment call, but particularly for a receiver that is running a route over the middle, or the blindside of a QB, it seems to me that a slightly dialed down tackle would have netted the same result for the defense without injuring a player.
I’m certainly not arguing that a 300 pound weight limit would eliminate injuries (injuries noticed immediately and long-term damage type injuries). But I do think it would reduce them somewhat. Football is an inherently violent game, of course, but you still take steps to mitigate the damage. Helmets don’t eliminate head injuries, but if I’m gonna play football, I’d far rather play with a helmet than without.
Another move that I don’t like from an injury standpoint or even particularly from a general standpoint is the move to play more games. Again, I think I saw this in King’s column - the NFL is moving towards a 17 or 18 game schedule. I would assume they would shave off pre-season games, but that doesn’t really save much wear and tear on the bodies of the regulars, as those guys don’t play much in the preseason anyways - they’d still do their light tuneups, over maybe 2-3 games vs. 4 now. But they’d then face a 17-18 game regular schedule, plus playoffs. FWIW, I’d be fine with football schedules shrinking back to 14 games, but I’m not holding my breath for that.
I hope that some of the data and discussion about long term health issues for ex-NFL players that’s coming out now will help bring about changes to the game to make it meaningfully safer for the players.
LBs at 250 now? Jack Lambert was 220 most of his career. Mike Singletary was 230. NFL players are bigger now, and faster. They have to be hitting with more force.
It wasn’t all that long ago that 300 pound lineman were rare. Now they are the norm on the offensive line and at DT. The human race hasn’t evolved in the last thirty years, so players getting heavier are due to something else.
I’ll grant you the latter may be true, although it’s probably the joints that wear out from all that weight more than the bones. However, you’re completely backwards about the physics of collisions. Energy equals mass times velocity squared. A smaller guy going faster delivers more of a blow than a big guy going slow. It’s not the big guys who have the big collisions, it’s the DBs and LBs hitting RBs and WRs. The linemen for the most part just push each other.