A healthy scratch refers to a player that is not active in the game despite being physically healthy.
In football this is a term that is used to designate players on the 53 man roster that will not play in the game for reasons aside from injury.
Each NFL team has a roster size of 53 players. On game day only 46 players are going to be active in the game. This means there are going to be upwards of seven players that will earn the healthy scratch designation on any given game.
What do healthy scratched players do?
When a player learns they are a healthy scratch this does not mean they will not be attending the game. In most cases, the healthy scratched player is going to be on the sidelines.
At the end of the day, these players are still a part of the team. Even if they are not going to play in the game these players are still going to be dressed in plain clothes supporting their teammates.
This way the players are able to still be involved with their team despite not getting on the field. You may also notice scratched players helping teammates via advice and coaching.
And on some occasions, if a player is scratched for disciplinary reasons you may find the player will not spend the game watching with the team.
Are Players Paid When Scratched?
Yes, when a player is healthy scratched for a game he will still receive full pay as if he played in that game. This means that all players on the 53 man roster get their game checks.
That being said this doesn’t mean healthy scratches can’t affect a player’s pay. The biggest way in which a scratched player may lose money is via performance bonuses.
Performance bonuses are monetary payouts worked into a player’s contract which reward them for achieving certain goals. Examples of a performance bonus would be playing 50% of snaps or reaching 1,000 receiving yards.
By being scratched players will be less likely to reach these milestones. This is just one reason why a player would be upset about getting scratched in the NFL.
Main Reasons Players Are Scratched
Now that you know what a healthy scratch is in the NFL it’s time you find out why players earn this designation.
Depth At The Position
One of the main reasons why players may be healthy scratched is due to the depth at their specific position. This essentially means there are too many players in front of the healthy scratched player on the depth chart.
Even if you are on the 53 man roster your team will not need to bring third stringers at every position. This often leads players like quarterbacks to be healthy scratched if they are third on the depth chart.
The reason these players aren’t playing is that the odds they will see game action are quite unlikely. Therefore they do not need to be in the lineup for that game.
Instead, this roster spot will be given to a player that is likely going to get on the field such as a rotational defensive lineman.
Another common reason players are not dressed on game day is due to disciplinary action. Sometimes when a player is not acting in a way that the coaching staff wants healthy scratches can be used as a disciplinary technique.
This action sends a message to the player and also causes them to miss a game in the process. Most football players are extremely competitive which makes missing a game quite the punishment.
Using a healthy scratch as a disciplinary action usually only occurs in extreme situations.
The final reason why a player may be healthy scratched is due to matchup specifics. If you are a depth player at your position you may find that the matchup will have you out of the game.
Say a team often passes the ball in four-receiver sets. This may be countered by running a nickel defense and using more defensive backs. This may mean that the team will bring an extra cornerback into the starting lineup.
This added player will mean someone has to get subtracted. This would likely come at the linebacker or defensive tackle position as these players are less involved in pass defense.
These fluctuations in positional usage can often cause fringe players to be scratched for a game in which their position may not be utilized.
Issues with healthy scratching players
Though making a player a healthy scratch can be a necessary move for football coaches this method can also backfire.
Below we will break down some of the issues with assigning an athlete to be a healthy scratch.
Breaking trust with the player
At the professional level, the relationship between coaches and players can be very important. Buying into the culture and process of the team is often required in order to achieve success.
For some players getting scratched by that same coaching staff, they believe in can be a tough pill to swallow.
Once given the healthy scratch designation some players may not find themselves as committed to the team.
These sorts of issues with the coach to player relationships can greatly affect a player’s performance. If they have a falling out with the coach it is likely their playing time on the team will be reduced.
Many professional athletes understand the business and will accept a healthy scratch. But every once and a while a player will take these decisions poorly leading to issues in the locker room.
Affects their ability to get paid
Additionally designating a player as a healthy scratch is going to affect their ability to produce on the field.
We covered earlier in the article that these players are still going to get paid for the games in which they are scratched. But what about their upcoming contracts.
In professional sports, athletes will only sign a few contracts throughout their careers. In order to get good pay on these contracts, these players must produce on the field.
When being healthy scratched these athletes are not going to be able to get on the stat sheet.
When contract negotiations roll around it is their statistics that are going to determine their wages.
If a player is getting healthy scratched in a contract year that means they are going to be frustrated with the coaching staff.
Most players know their time in the league is limited so getting on the field and getting a big contract is incredibly important to them.
For this reason, players that are healthy scratched may cause an uproar or even request a trade if they believe they are not getting enough playing time.