HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans will change the playing surface at NRG Stadium to artificial turf for the rest of this season, beginning with their Week 3 game against Tampa Bay.
"I think our players would tell you that they prefer to play on natural grass versus an artificial surface, but it's our responsibility both on the club level and the league level to protect players from unnecessary risk," general manager Rick Smith said. "The decision was made in the interest of that."
The Texans will install AstroTurf for the rest of 2015 but would like to return to natural grass after the season.
During Sunday's season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, seams between the pieces of sod that made up the field were especially visible, prompting concerns about the consistency of the surface. Smith said the Chiefs complained about it. The field is made up of 8-foot-by-8-foot sections of sod brought in on trays for games.
"Our field here at NRG Stadium has tested very well in the past," Smith said. "And we have always been -- there's a misconception that because of the nature of the way that the field is put together on a tray system that when you see a seam, it's unevenness. That just hasn't been the case historically."
In order to switch out surfaces, teams must get permission from the NFL. The Texans sent a letter to the league Thursday announcing their intentions .
The Texans are tenants at NRG Stadium, which is operated by SMG and Harris County, Texas. Those two entities choose the playing surface with input from the team. The Texans have always wanted to play on natural grass but found Sunday's surface unsuitable. The stadium does use artificial turf when it hosts college football games.
The field has been blamed for many injuries over the past several years. In 2014, when Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans tore his right Achilles tendon, his teammates complained about the field. Ryans also tore his Achilles on the same field while he played for the Texans. When Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney tore his right meniscus in the 2014 season opener, safety D.J. Swearinger told NFL Network that Clowney suffered the injury from stepping into a hole on the field.
In 2010 Patriots coach Bill Belichick complained about the quality of the surface after then-Patriots receiver Wes Welker tore his ACL on it. SMG and Harris County are also the subjects of a lawsuit by former Texans punter Brett Hartmann that contends the playing surface caused his torn ACL and shortened his career.
"I'm on the competition committee, and we evaluate every injury over the course of the season," Smith said. "What I will tell you is relative to lower extremity injuries, the injury rate per 100 injuries across the league, when you measure that ... our field relative to other grass fields has tested lower relative to an injury rate standpoint."
In 2012, former Texans punter Brett Hartmann sued the county agency that operates the stadium, blaming "unsafe turf" for a possibly career-ending knee injury.
"I'm pleased to see that the Texans have finally made the switch that we all knew would come and should have been done long ago, and set aside stubbornness and financial considerations to do what is right for the player," said Gene Egdorf, the attorney handling Hartmann's lawsuit against venue-management company SMG and Harris County. "One of Brett's goals in filing the case was to cause change and prevent future injuries, so we are pleased."