Cutting Injured Players: Loyalty vs. Money

Harry How

The lines blur dramatically when money and careers are on the line.

Severe injuries crippling a person's playing time with a team can be a touchy subject.

What do you do with a player who just can't seem to get over the hump?

This is a decision that most teams have to deal with at one point or another, and the answer isn't half as easy as it seems. The biggest issue is that in most instances you can't just cut a player outright. Sure, a team can release a player from his contractual obligations, but that player will not release the team from theirs. It would be stupid. Who throws away money? There isn't a single, solitary reason a man should be stupid enough to dump money down a chute.

That issue is excarbated with athletes, who make the overwhelming majority of their income during the small window of time when they're active. In the NFL or NBA it might be hard to feel too bad for them, since even the league minimum is the cost of an DP contract. But in MLS? A player in MLS could lose their career in the blink of an eye, and have nothing to show for it at the end of the day. The average MLS player doesn't usually make more than $110k a year.

That may sound like a lot, that is until you realize that a permanent injury destroys their income potential from their primary job forever. 110k a year is not a lot of money for an athlete. When the bulk of their income is earned in 10 years, and you combine that with the rarity of their skill set, it just isn't a great deal.

So what do you do when an injured player can't seem to recover? FC Dallas is no stranger to those issues. In the past few years, FCD has dealt with two major injury issues, both surrounding very important players. This discussion will take place in a fantasy world where a team can cut a player on the spot, without financial consequences.

David's Re-injury

David Ferreira got his ankle destroyed when Jonathan Leathers decided that winning a ball was more important than the safety of his opponent. It took him an eternity to recover, in no small part because MLS aspirants Orlando City tried to prove their mettle in a meaningless preseason tournament by repeatedly hacking at his ankle.

Do you cut David Ferreira then? With the magic of hindsight, you can make the case. But back then?

That's very shady, bordering on unethical. Here is a player that was looking every bit as dangerous as the MVP winning monster from just a few months ago, laid on stretcher and heading to the surgeon. Do you just throw your newly minted investment away? If Orlando hadn't hacked him down in the 2012 preseason, would this even be a point of discussion?

Ugo Ihemelu is an even sadder case.

Ugo's Concussion

He had one bad concussion sustained against the Philadelphia Union back in 2010. He was out for a couple of months and then he comes back, and helps lead FCD to the MLS Cup. Ugo paired with George John made the top 3 CB pairing in the leauge. There were times where they could have claimed to be the best.

When Ugo gets his second concussion, do you cut him? It seems that he might never play again professionally, so eventually moving into a coaching or front office role makes sense. But would you have cut him early last season as opposed to now?

If Dallas goes cutting players every time they get a bad injury, what kind of message does that send to other players in the league? If all things remain constant, will a player pick a team with a reputation for cutting people with severe injuries?

What Do You Value More?

There will come a point where a player needs to be cut, of that there's no doubt. Eric Hassli really makes a strong case for this, as he has yet to make any kind of impact to justify his salary and has done little to nothing for the team. But what about players who have been with the team for a while? Do the Ugos and Davids of the world get more time?

We desperately want loyalty from our players when salary and contract time come up. Shouldn't they expect a little loyalty in return? The Hunts as an ownership group, and especially in FCD, have placed a great importance on loyalty, family values and consistency. Winning might be more important than loyalty to some, but I find it a hard thing to stomach. It's really, really hard for me to be okay with cutting a player because they're injured.

I'm okay with it if we're eating salary because of an unfortunate injury. I'd rather my team stick by their guys than dump them when it's convenient. That's just my personal opinion though. Your mileage may vary.

This is a murky, grey area in which the answers are not cut and dry. A player needs to play to earn his contract, but having him lose his only means of making a living (many do not recover their salary level after being cut due to injury) due to an injury that is not their fault seems cruel. Again, these aren't NFL studs we're talking about. This is a league where the salaries aren't much above middle management levels for the average player.

The big difference is that middle management employees don't stop working when they're 35.

I leave you with a great example.

The Texas Rangers have a mega badass pitcher named Colby Lewis (you may have heard of him, 2010 WS WP and all). His contract was up and he was due for a MAJOR payday from some team. Finally, after years of so-so salaries from the minor leagues and a team in Japan, he would finally get enough money to set up his family for good. His kids' college could be taken care of. His relatives could ask him for help. His hard work was going to pay off.

Then he got injured early in the 2012 season and needed season ending surgery. What did Jon Daniels and the Texas ownership do? They signed him to a one year deal for a very generous sum of money for an injured player.

They rewarded Colby for his years of faithful service. They didn't pay him a fortune, but they did right by a guy who had given his team everything.

I want FC Dallas to be like that.

So I ask you:

What do you do with severely injured players?

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