The NFL Players Association’s new executive director has called for the league to change all of its field surfaces to natural grass in the wake of Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury.
Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles tendon on the fourth play of the Jets’ season Monday night, spoiling the superstar quarterback’s New York debut and reigniting the leaguewide debate over playing surfaces at NFL stadiums.
MetLife Stadium, the home of the Jets and Giants, installed a new surface this year called FieldTurf, which is softer and has a more forgiving feel than the stadium’s previous synthetic turf.
But Rodgers’ injury sparked a widespread outcry for grass surfaces, and NFLPA executive director Lloyd Howell echoed those sentiments in a statement released Wednesday morning.
“Moving all stadium fields to high quality natural grass surfaces is the easiest decision the NFL can make,” Howell said. “The players overwhelmingly prefer it and the data is clear that grass is simply safer than artificial turf. It is an issue that has been near the top of the players’ list during my team visits and one I have raised with the NFL.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said later Wednesday during an interview with ESPN that player safety remains a focus for the league and noted that the turf-grass debate remains a “complex issue” that the NFL will continue to address with the union.
Goodell acknowledged that the league is aware of numerous players’ calls for grass fields but also said there are “other players who like playing on a turf field because it’s faster, so you’ve got mixed opinions.”
“What we want to go is on science,” Goodell said during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take.” “We want to go on what’s the best from an injury standpoint to prevent the injuries, to give our players the best possible surface to play on.
“That can’t be done by my feeling of looking at a particular injury. It’s got to be done with a real process — to look at it with medical experts, look at it with engineers, look at it with people on the cleats, look at it on every aspect of what could go into that injury.”
Rodgers suffered the injury while trying to spin away from Bills defensive end Leonard Floyd. The four-time league MVP’s left leg was planted in the turf, and his Achilles ruptured. A slow-motion replay showed his left calf — the same calf he strained in organized team activities — reverberating as he went down for the sack.
Jets coach Robert Saleh told reporters he does not think the playing surface caused Rodgers’ injury, saying, “If it was a noncontact injury, I think that’d be something to discuss, obviously.”
“That was kind of a forcible [injury],” Saleh said Tuesday. “I think that was trauma-induced. I do know the players prefer grass, and there’s a lot invested in those young men.”
Goodell said Wednesday that the NFL will look into “the mechanism” of Rodgers’ injury and investigate what caused the Achilles tear.
The NFLPA released data this year that concluded noncontact injuries occurred at a higher rate on artificial turf compared with grass during the 2022 regular season. But internal league data reviewed by ESPN in November showed that the NFL’s recent rate of noncontact injuries to the knee, ankle and foot was roughly the same on natural and artificial playing surfaces. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at the time that the NFL has no plans to convert all playing surfaces to grass, saying the “league stats don’t see issues with the type surface that we have as opposed to natural grass.”
Howell said in his statement Wednesday that the union acknowledges the “investment” required to convert all stadiums to grass but also questioned why NFL team owners are planning to make those changes for the 2026 World Cup but not for their own players.
While we know there is an investment to making this change, there is a bigger cost to everyone in our business if we keep losing our best players to unnecessary injuries,” Howell said. “It makes no sense that stadiums can flip over to superior grass surfaces when the World Cup comes, or soccer clubs come to visit for exhibition games in the summer, but inferior artificial surfaces are acceptable for our own players. This is worth the investment and it simply needs to change now.”
Goodell emphasized the NFL and the NFLPA will lean on science and data before making any leaguewide decisions on the issue.
“That’s why we’ve engaged with this process and actually accelerated the process with the NFLPA to be able to get that kind of data, so we can make those kind of decisions,” Goodell said. “And it’s not my data, it’s not our data — it’s collectively the NFL and NFLPA. We’re all doing the same work.”
Howell took over for DeMaurice Smith in June, when the union’s board of player representatives elected him as the fourth executive director in NFLPA history.
When questioned about the new MetLife surface in August, Rodgers said he preferred grass but also emphasized that he liked the FieldTurf, calling it “one of the best surfaces I’ve seen that’s artificial.”
Multiple players harshly criticized the artificial surface after Rodgers’ injury, however, including his former Packers teammate and close friend David Bakhtiari.
“Congrats @nfl,” Bakhtiari wrote Monday on social media. “How many more players have to get hurt on ARTIFICIAL TURF??! You care more about soccer players than us. You plan to remove all artificial turf for the World Cup coming up. So clearly it’s feasible. I’m sick of this..Do better!”
Bakhtiari elaborated on the situation Wednesday, suggesting there’s something that could result in actual changes to playing surfaces in NFL stadiums.
“I think the fans can play a huge part,” said Bakhtiari, who has long been outspoken against playing on artificial turf. “You love this game, you appreciate this game, you guys have an outcry, I guarantee you the owners will do what’s right for the game and, correspondingly, for us players.
“I think that’s huge. I know for all of us players, we love our fans, we appreciate you guys, and I think that would be a great way for the players and the fans to come together to do something better for everyone involved. I really think at the end of the day it’s a bottom-dollar thing.”
Eagles cornerback Darius Slay also weighed in Tuesday, ripping the quality of the MetLife Stadium surface.
“MetLife, everybody knows about that goddamn stadium,” Slay said. “They need to get real grass. That’s trash. That’s sad for anybody to go down because we play this dangerous game, man. Everybody thinks we’re superheroes, but we’re really not.”
ESPN’s Rich Cimini and Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.