Contractual Injury Clauses Impacting the NFL this Season and Beyond
The Indianapolis Colts had a 3-3-1 record (three wins, three losses, and one tie) when the team made the odd announcement that quarterback Sam Ehlinger would start in place of Matt Ryan for the rest of the year. Matt Ryan is a former National Football League (NFL) MVP in his first season with the Colts, on the back end of a large contract he signed when he was still the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. While Matt Ryan is no longer the MVP-caliber player he once was, being benched for the remainder of the season so early on is unprecedented. However, when looking at Ryan’s contract, it was clear that the benching had more to do with saving money than the veteran quarterback’s on-field production.
In the case of Ryan, it has become clear that he most likely will not be on the Colts roster next season. If the Colts cut Matt Ryan after this year, he will still be owed his 2023 base salary of $12 million. However, Ryan’s contract also has an injury clause that would require the Colts to owe him an additional $17.205 million ($10 million 2023 roster bonus + an additional $7.205 million 2023 salary that becomes fully guaranteed if an injury prevents him from passing a physical). Matt Ryan was dealing with a grade two shoulder sprain at the time of his benching. Although it was not considered to be very serious, the injury could have scared the Colts into benching Ryan for good in the hopes of preventing further injuries that might trigger his massive injury clause.
Much like Matt Ryan, Las Vegas Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr also has an injury clause which will cost his team a ton of money if he cannot pass a physical.Carr agreed to a three-year, $121.5 million extension with the Raiders before the 2022 season.However, none of Carr’s salary beyond this year is guaranteed.So, Carr will be owed no additional money if the Raiders cut him after this season … unless he is injured. If Derek Carr were to get hurt and could not pass a physical, the Raiders will owe him an additional $40.4 million ($32.9 million 2023 base salary + $7.5 million from his 2024 base salary).
Other high-profile quarterbacks with expensive, long-term contracts have injury clauses similar to Matt Ryan and Derek Carr. Arizona Cardinals young phenom, Kyler Murray, recently signed a five-year $230 million dollar contract with $103.3 million guaranteed and multiple injury clauses. If Murray cannot pass a physical by the 5th day of the 2024 season, his 2025 season base salary and roster bonus (equaling $29.9 million) become fully guaranteed.Similarly, if Murray cannot pass a physical by the 5th day of the 2025 season, his 2026 season base salary and roster bonus (equaling $39.835 million) become fully guaranteed. In Week 14, Kyler Murray suffered a torn ACL in a loss to the New England Patriots.Because of this injury, he will most likely miss a significant portion of the 2023 season as well.
The Green Bay Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has a $47 million injury clause that becomes fully guaranteed if he cannot pass a physical after the end of the 2023 season.If this injury clause was for this year instead, Aaron Rodgers might have joined Derek Carr and Matt Ryan on the bench. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers struggled to start this season and entered Week 13 with a 4-8 record and a 1% chance of making the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers is 39 years old with a former first-round draft pick, Jordan Love, as his backup on the team. Furthermore, he has been dealing with an avulsion fracture in his right thumb all year.With the playoffs almost certainly out of reach, it would have made sense for the Packers to bench Rodgers after Week 12 and give Jordan Love a shot to prove himself the rest of the way. But with no financial worry of an injury forcing the Packers to pay a hurt Aaron Rodgers $47 million, the team won four of their last five games, missing the playoffs by one game.
It is understandable why quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and others would want injury clauses. The NFL is one of the few sports in which contracts are not fully guaranteed. If Derek Carr was in the MLB and he had the same contract (three-year, $121.5 million), he would receive all $121.5 million whether he was cut or not. But in the NFL, a player is not guaranteed to receive all the money on his contract in most cases. Therefore, injury clauses can give players insurance if they are cut by their teams and then cannot join another team due to injury. The clauses ensure that a player will not be cut and lose out on potentially millions of dollars solely because they were hurt on the job.
Rarely does a player’s contract structure play a role in their playing time in the NFL, but as demonstrated by Derek Carr and Matt Ryan’s situations, it can and does happen. It will be interesting to see if these injury clauses continue to be present in long-term quarterback deals negotiated in the future.
 Wikimedia.org https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Derek_Carr_WFT_at_Raiders_-_51735347857_%28cropped%29.jpg  Mike Florio, Matt Ryan’s contract is the main reason he won’t play for the colts again this year, profootballtalk.nbcsports.com (25 October 2022) https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2022/10/25/matt-ryans-contract-is-the-main-reason-he-wont-play-for-the-colts-again-this-year/  Id.  Spotrac.com https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/indianapolis-colts/matt-ryan-3983/  Florio, supra  Paul Kasabian, Raiders Rumors: Derek Carr Benched ‘in Part’ to Avoid Injury For Potential Trade, bleacherreport.com (28 December 2022) https://bleacherreport.com/articles/10059998-raiders-rumors-derek-carr-benched-in-part-to-avoid-injury-for-potential-trade  Id.  Spotrac.com https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/las-vegas-raiders/derek-carr-14445/  Id.  Spotrac.com https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/arizona-cardinals/kyler-murray-29036/  Id.  Id.  Myles Simmons, Kyler Murray: ACL surgery was successful, profootballtalk.nbcsports.com (4 January 2023) https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2023/01/04/kyler-murray-acl-surgery-was-successful/  Id.  Spotrac.com https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/green-bay-packers/aaron-rodgers-3745/  Douglas Clawson, Seven stunning facts on Packers’ improbable playoff push as Aaron Rodgers and Co. try to overcome 4-8 start, cbssports.com (29 December 2022)  Ian Rapoport, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers dealing with avulsion fracture in right thumb, NFL.com (27 November 2022) https://www.nfl.com/news/packers-qb-aaron-rodgers-dealing-with-avulsion-fracture-in-right-thumb