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David Chao, MD: Cowboys, McCoy Situation Is A Quietly Common Practice

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Gerald McCoy suffered a season-ending quad tendon rupture in the first padded practice with his new team, the Dallas Cowboys, then was released by the team. Not only was he cut on by his surgeon yesterday, the Cowboys — who just signed him to a three-year deal — cut him as well.

What gives? Is this legit? A perceived long-standing business tenet of the NFL is that a team won’t cut an injured player. That’s in the absence of real guaranteed contracts like the ones that exist in the NBA or MLB.

So, did the Cowboys do McCoy dirty? 

No, and they didn’t break any rules. The Dallas medical staff did a good job identifying a pre-existing risk. The team specifically singled out “right knee quad tendinitis,”  which can lead to quad tendon rupture. The waiver in the contract was not general to the lower leg; it was specific to the side and the quad tendon itself. McCoy and his agent agreed to this exclusion. Dallas brass was within their rights. 

As a former NFL head team physician, I can tell you a few things about injury waivers and their impact.

They are not uncommon. I never wrote or read the exclusions in the contracts, but I was aware they were routinely used. 

Whenever pre-existing conditions of concern popped up on entry physical exams, these would be discussed with the head athletic trainer and management. 

Several times a year an injury waiver could and would be added. Of course, a player could refuse, but if the team held firm, that player would not pass his physical and their signing would not become official. A coveted player with options could more easily refuse and seek another team or force the team to relent on the issue. A rookie free agent would typically not have much choice.

Fans focus on the role of a team physician on Sundays but in reality, it is a year-round job. A team physician’s most important tasks may involve clearing players on physicals and the evaluations at pre-draft combines.

In this case, the identification of the pre-existing risk saves the Cowboys $3 million with the injury waiver. Without it, the team would have had to have paid this year’s full salary. McCoy does get to keep his $3 million signing bonus, which probably factored into his agreement to the waiver.

McCoy does not seem upset by the team’s move. He still wants to help the Cowboys’ defensive linemen. While that’s common for a veteran on injured reserve who is rehabbing at the team practice facility, in this case McCoy will have to help from afar. His rehab will take place outside the facility because he is no longer on the team.

McCoy is aware of what he agreed to — otherwise he could file a grievance. The Cowboys did not do the star veteran defensive lineman wrong by cutting him. They were conducting the business of the NFL, by saving money.

Written by Pro Football Doc

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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  1. Hey Doctor Chao,
    Thanks for the explanation and the important point about team physicians having year round responsibilities. We have very little insight about the specifics of injury waivers, except for checking the injury updates during the week. Some injury stories are almost unbelievable (Alex Smith), but I can still remember watching a story years ago about Frank Gore and his many many surgeries, and to see and listen to him talk about it, and his resolve to rehab was really amazing.

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