Everyone despises the NFL preseason. Coaches hate it for fear of losing stars to injury. Veteran players regard it as a waste of time. The media belittles it as a farce. Even diehard fans are snoozing by the third quarter.
Yep, everyone loathes the preseason – including the oddsmakers, who have no informed way of setting a line. And yet it returns every summer, like horseflies to the Jersey Shore.
We all know why. The NFL preseason exists because it makes money for owners. The league sells these sham contests to the TV networks, and also forces fans to buy in as part of their season-ticket package.
Meanwhile, players don’t get paid more than a pittance for the practice games.
Until recent years, the preseason was semi-tolerable. Regulars played a quarter or two before hitting the cold tub.
But now virtually every team limits playing time to backups, practice squad hopefuls and future Phys Ed instructors. Fans have a better chance of seeing Gritty take a snap for the Philadelphia Eagles this week than seeing Carson Wentz.
Even Commissioner Roger Goodell concedes it’s an inferior product. He would like to see the preseason shortened to two games per team, and the regular season expanded to 18 games. That will be a hot issue in the next CBA talks between owners and players.
Meanwhile, here we are, spending August trying to memorize the name of a guy who will likely never throw a meaningful pass for the Birds (see: Thorson, Clayton).
What can be done? Curtailing it to two games reduces only half the misery. So here are two suggestions to make the preseason better for fans and less wasteful for franchises:
– Bring out the red jersey for quarterbacks. This was my pal Ray Didinger’s idea. You know how the signal-caller wears the scarlet shirt in practice so that everyone knows not to smash the most valuable asset? How about we extend that into the preseason games?
The upside here is that QBs could get some playing time, while coaches wouldn’t fear losing their meal ticket before the real season even starts.
Of course, this doesn’t address the other 21 starters. Doug Pederson plans to sit Jason Peters, Malcolm Jenkins, Alshon Jeffery and everyone else topping the depth chart this month. Trotting Wentz onto the field with a bunch of guys name Halapoulivaati won’t fix the overall problem.
– Broadcast the scrimmages. The Eagles and Ravens will spend several days this week hitting each other in full pads. It’s actually the best action before the opener — with real play calling, recognizable players and more than a few fistfights.
How about instead of televising the Thursday night practice games, the league turns these joint scrimmages (every team holds them) into a series of Hard Knocks-type dramatic shows, geared to each local market?
Mic up the players. Promote a few interesting backstories. Use all the resources and brilliance of NFL Films to create compelling programming, and sell it to TV.
I heard NFL lifer Mike Lombardi float something along these lines on Angelo Cataldi’s WIP Morning Show. While Eagles fans resent Lombardi for his bad takes on Doug Pederson, he could be onto something here.
Look, selling any new idea will be difficult because — remember — the owners make money on these games. But when the focus this Thursday isn’t much grander than whether Johnathan Cyprien or Tre Sullivan sticks as the final Eagles safety, well, any change would be welcome by the fans.