Carl Nicks noted a couple of days ago that his toe injury isn't going to go away. Even though he's rehabilitating from the injury and ramping up his practice involvement, he will feel pain throughout his life. That was generally shrugged off without too much comment, but Ross Tucker of the Sporting News thinks it's a little more significant.
Two important things to note are that turf toe injuries can he debilitating, and once a player starts talking about an injury that will affect him the rest of his life, there is a strong tendency for that player to not play for very long after that. I can sympathize with Nicks on both accounts.
Turf toe ended the careers of Hall of Famers like Jack Lambert and Deion Sanders, so it's nothing to snicker at. For some reason, they are also extremely persistent injuries that never seem to go away. I had a minor case in 2004, and the Buffalo Bills trainers put a steel insole in my shoe and taped my toe up every practice. I never missed a snap, yet it still bothers me and I get sharp pains in my toe from time to time.
That doesn't sound too encouraging, but it's important to remember that not every player and injury is the same. Eli Manning, for instance, had a similar but not identical plantar fasciitis injury in 2009 -- and he played his best football in the past three years despite that. But a toe injury is nothing to scoff at -- those little digits are crucial for any football player, and any guard has to be able to push off his toes. If Nicks can't do that as well as he used to, we may see a quick dropoff in his play.
This is one reason why big free agency investments can be problematic. Injuries happen, and Nicks' cap hits from 2014 onward exceed $9 million in every year. He's hard to cut ties with before 2015, and he has little reason to accept pay cuts if his play declines due to the injury. Through no fault of their own or the players, the Bucs could be taking a bath on signing Nicks over, say, a good cornerback last year.
And that's what happens when you take big risks on the free agency market. The Bucs struck gold with Vincent Jackson, it seems, but Carl Nicks has played only a few games in his career and the less said about Eric Wright the better. This season, the Bucs signed Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis. One a good player who has received some criticism, and the other the best cornerback of his generation coming off a knee injury.
There are no risk-free moves in the NFL, of course. But you can limit risk by limiting the exposure to catastrophes. When you pay players top of the market salaries, one injury exposes you to large amounts of risk. The Bucs manage that through contract structure, but ultimately salary cap space spent on one player is space you can't spend on another player. Like, say, Michael Bennett, who would've been useful in pushing Da'Quan Bowers (or taking over for him) this offseason.