The Miami Dolphins have lost defensive end William Hayes for the season with an ACL injury, according to head coach Adam Gase. Hayes was injured during the team’s 28-20 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. He sacked quarterback Derek Carr early in the second quarter, with his knee appearing to buckle slightly just as the two players were heading to the ground and the defensive lineman tried to adjust himself to avoid landing with his full body weight on the quarterback. Hayes immediately reached toward his leg, then crawled in pain through the endzone before trainers came out to get him.
He was able to walk off the field and into the locker room.
Hayes has been working both as a run-stuffing defensive end and an inside pass-rush defensive tackle this year. He was a key piece in Miami’s ability to rotate linemen consistently, keeping players fresh throughout the game and giving the team versatility in their pass rush.
According to NFL Rule 12, Section 2, subparagraph b (emphasis added):
A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as “stuffing” a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball, even if the rusher makes his initial contact with the passer within the one-step limitation provided for in (a) above. When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight.
The league has made this rule a point of emphasis this year, with high visibility moments of it being called, especially against the Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews, occurring every week. Hayes wrapped up Carr on the sack, then tried to avoid landing on Carr with “all or most” of his weight. Instead of making what would simply be a tackle if it were to occur to anyone else on the field, the league requires a pass rusher to contort himself into an unnatural position to try to avoid his weight landing on top of a player he is trying to wrestle to the ground. In this case, it cost Hayes his season.
With Hayes out, the Dolphins likely will look to free agency to fill his role on the defensive line. Former Dolphins third-round pick Kendall Langford returned to Miami this summer during the preseason after spending time with the St. Louis Rams, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, and Houston Texans over the past six season, and could be a target to find Hayes’ replacement.