Just days before the San Francisco 49ers are set to play on the same MetLife Stadium field that members of the team ripped as unsafe Sunday, a source from the NFL Players Association said the union is standing behind the team’s criticism and endorsing a thorough investigation of whether the surface may have been improperly certified by the league last week.
“We are concerned, it’s absolutely a concern for us,” a union source told Yahoo Sports on Monday. “We are very concerned about it being a serious health and safety issue for players — and turf continuing to be a health and safety issue in general.”
The union source said the NFLPA would seek to address long-standing issues it has had about the reliability of field turf with commissioner Roger Goodell in the coming weeks. The union has continued to compile data on the prevalence of injuries on field turf versus grass, with some of the most recent information collected putting the occurrence of serious knee injuries nearly 15 percent higher on the artificial surfaces.
That’s a serious ongoing concern for NFL players, particularly with an expanded 17-game season expected to start next year and the likelihood of more Sundays similar to last week, when a wide swath of players were lost for the season with torn knee ligaments.
49ers fuming over MetLife field
Two of the players who suffered ACL tears came from the 49ers: star defensive end Nick Bosa and defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, who was the third overall pick in the 2017 draft. The 49ers also saw quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffer a high ankle sprain that could force him to miss this weekend’s game against the New York Giants, and two running backs — Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman — go down with MCL sprains that could knock both out for several weeks.
That’s a significant amount of carnage for last season’s Super Bowl runner-up, likely putting a damper on the next several weeks of the schedule — if not the remainder of the season. That’s something head coach Kyle Shanahan likely had on his mind when he suggested Sunday that the field might have been the issue for the spate of injuries.
“I don’t know exactly why it happened, but as far as the feeling that was on the sidelines — that’s as many knee injuries and ankle stuff and people getting caught on the turf as I’ve ever been a part of,” Shanahan said. “From what I saw, [the New York Jets] did, too. I know our players talked about it the entire game, just how sticky the turf was. I think that was the first time people played on it, I think. But yeah, it was something our guys were concerned about right away. The [injury] results definitely made that a lot stronger. Unfortunately, it’s a place we’ve got to go back to next week.”
Some of Shanahan’s players were sharper in their criticism, including defensive lineman Arik Armstead who said returning to the surface this week will be “anxiety provoking” and tweeted that the field at MetLife was “trash.”
@nfl fix this trash met life turf . 2020 is so wack— Arik Armstead (@arikarmstead) September 20, 2020
Giants, Jets, 49ers, Steelers didn’t voice any concern before
The Sunday game actually wasn’t the first played on the MetLife Stadium surface. The Giants opened the season Monday night there against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Neither team reported issues with tackiness of the turf after that game.
A league source also told Yahoo Sports on Monday that the MetLife surface passed the standard field certification process and that neither team was warned of any potential issues before Sunday’s 49ers-Jets game. The source added that despite the 49ers warming up on the field, the team didn’t express any concerns to stadium operations prior to the start of the game.
Interestingly, one general manager familiar with the MetLife Stadium turf told Yahoo Sports that at least some credence should be given to whether the 49ers had adjusted their cleats to any issues they saw with the surface in pregame warmups.
“When you go out on turf before a game or really any surface, it’s on the team and the equipment people and your players and coaches to identify it if something isn’t feeling right,” the general manager said. “We’ve seen games stopped in the past when teams have recognized that a surface isn’t safe. And if it doesn’t rise to that level but you have issues with how the surface feels, you can make cleat adjustments if you have to. …
“My heart goes out to them because those are some really s- - - - - injuries, and I totally get the frustration that Kyle and [49ers general manager John Lynch] must be feeling right now. I guess if it was definitely something that was totally out of their control and there is something wrong with that surface, we’ll find that out, I hope.”
Following the complaints from Shanahan, a league source said the NFL’s field operations staff will be doing a thorough review of the surface prior to Sunday’s game between the 49ers and Giants. The union is expected to keep an eye on the outcome of that review and would likely back any decision by the 49ers to protest the conditions if problems arise from the inspection.
“Even if the turf passed the minimum safety inspection last week, that doesn’t mean the surface is necessarily a safe one,” the union source said. “So we’ll see what the outcome is when they look at it again more closely this week.”
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