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The Big Hurt: Jets' roster, salary cap crushed by injuries

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Berry more pro Darnold than not for Week 14 (1:25)

Despite Sam Darnold's tough game vs. the Bengals, Matthew Berry and Field Yates still have the Jets QB as roughly a top 14-15 play in Week 14. (1:25)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets safety Jamal Adams stood in front of his locker at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, fighting back tears. They welled in his eyes as he tried to sort out his feelings after another crushing defeat, quite possibly the worst of his career.

This was the snapshot of the season, the Jets' best player reduced to emotional slush. What completed the picture was the walking boot on his left foot. Naturally, there had to be an injury involved, because there's always an injury with the 2019 Jets.

To borrow a line from The Police, the Jets are the kings of pain. The plague started in the preseason with linebacker Avery Williamson's season-ending knee injury and, after working its way through the roster, it finally caught up to Adams, previously indestructible. With a sprained ankle, the Pro Bowl safety likely will miss a game for the first time in his career.

"This injury is eating me alive," Adams tweeted Tuesday, vowing to make every effort to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Now he's part of an ever-growing club.

The numbers are staggering. The Jets have 15 players on injured reserve, most in the league ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, according to overthecap.com. On Tuesday, linebacker C.J. Mosley became No. 15. It gets so crowded in the trainer's room -- 25 to 30 Jets on a given day -- that players on IR are given specific rehab times to relieve the congestion.

When it comes to the caliber of players on IR -- i.e. $$$$ -- the Jets are in a league of their own. The combined salaries on their IR list are eating up a league-high $61.5 million in salary-cap space, per OTC -- roughly one-third of the NFL's $188 million base cap. If the Jets had not released guard Kelechi Osemele earlier in the season because of an injury dispute, the number would be more than $70 million.

"It's like playing the game with one arm tied behind your back," said ESPN front-office insider Mike Tannenbaum, a former top executive with the Dolphins and Jets. "You have very limited resources to improve your team. When you have so much spent on players who can't help you win, it's frustrating. The reality is, you have less resources to win than your competitors do."

Since Week 1, the Jets have listed 54 players on their weekly injury report. The leaders are Mosley (11 weeks), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (11) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (10), who is "kind of banged up all over the place," according to coach Adam Gase. To their credit, Thomas and McLendon -- two of the oldest players on the roster -- have missed only one and zero games, respectively.

The healthiest players? Of the 53 players on the Jets' Week 1 roster, only three haven't appeared on an injury report -- running back Bilal Powell, center Jonotthan Harrison and defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd, who deserves an asterisk because his season was interrupted by a six-game league suspension.

(Let's pause here to allow these players to knock on wood.)

Powell, who underwent career-threatening neck surgery last year, might have been the biggest health risk at the start of training camp and now he's the poster boy for durability. Go figure.

Because of the injuries, the coaching staff and personnel department have performed enough juggling for a circus act. The Jets have used 68 players, tied for the second most in the league and tied for a franchise high, according to NFL stats (dating to 1993). All they have to do is elevate one player from the practice squad or sign one free agent and it will be a new Jets record. With four games to play, it's the lock of the century. In case you're wondering, the league record is 78 players (Houston Texans, 2017).

The Jets have tweaked the traditional "Next Man Up" philosophy. For them, it's "Next Men Up." They have started three quarterbacks, nine offensive linemen, eight linebackers and six cornerbacks.

You knew it was going to be a wild season when it was announced in Week 2 that quarterback Sam Darnold had been diagnosed with mononucleosis, the first known case for an NFL quarterback since Chris Chandler in 1995. It sidelined Darnold for three games -- all losses.

"The sickness at the beginning of the year, that just sucked," Darnold said Monday. "I really couldn't do anything about that."

Since then, Darnold has battled toe, thumb, knee and rib injuries, none of which have kept him out of the lineup. He's one of 12 players (projected starters from the preseason) who has missed at least three games.

Only seven of the original starters have played every game. The most noteworthy in that group is safety Marcus Maye, who missed the preseason because of a surgically repaired shoulder. There was concern within the organization about whether his shoulder would hold up, but he has appeared on the injury report only once -- a minor calf injury that never caused him to miss practice.

Again, go figure.

The Jets will study the injury problem after the season, but Gase's early sense is that bad luck has been the biggest reason, not a flaw in the conditioning program. He cited the unusually high number of knee, neck and shoulder injuries, which are harder to prevent than soft-tissue injuries.

Clearly, the Jets (4-8), on the verge of missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season, haven't coped well on the field. Their roster, thin at the outset in some positions, has been ravaged, resulting in remarkably inconsistent performances. They went from averaging 34 points per game in a three-game winning streak to only six points in an embarrassing loss to the previously winless Cincinnati Bengals.

But the good teams figure out a way. Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5), down to their third quarterback and still in the playoff hunt. The Jets couldn't function with their third quarterback, Luke Falk, who was released when Darnold got healthy.

The Jets keep an injury tally in their weekly news release (77 games missed by starters), an approach that not every team embraces. The New England Patriots, for instance, don't include injury stats. One of the reasons coach Bill Belichick refuses to discuss injuries (aside from gamesmanship) is because he doesn't want them to become part of the narrative surrounding his team. If that happens, it can infiltrate his locker room, creating an easy, built-in crutch.

Gase is more transparent than most coaches with injuries, but evidently doesn't believe it's a hindrance. Taking the half-full approach, he said the injuries have allowed young players to gain experience.

"Any time that competition is created, that's a positive thing," he said. "Really, it's frustrating sometimes to kind of go through when guys start going down ... but it also is a great way to find out when guys can do it and it's not too big for them. They get thrown in there and you really don't have a choice because everybody is going down and guys that you're practicing with, they know what you're doing."

Every cloud has a silver lining, right?

In the meantime, the Jets will continue to carry an umbrella.