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Does the NFL Preseason Matter?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of the NFL have made an offer to the NFL Players Association to scratch the preseason entirely from this upcoming year. While the players have yet to respond, there is speculation that the odds of them agreeing are favorable.

I personally side with the players here, as by cancelling the 2020/21 preseason, there would be less ability to either strip down the regular season and/or cutting player salary by a set percentage to compensate for revenue loss.  

The topic of eliminating the preseason is nothing new among the NFL community. Many both in and out of the league have argued that the preseason serves as a greater risk than benefit for the players involved. Among these risks include the potential for injuries, which creates the domino effect of forcing a financial burden for players that are on short term contracts.

The nature of football shows that all players, aside from a star quarterback, are expendable, hence injuries playing a greater determinant on a player’s long-term career compared to most other professional sports. In addition, those against having preseason games have pointed to college football’s format of having no preseason whatsoever, as a sign that these scrimmage games are truly unnecessary in getting athletes back into “game shape.”  

Analysis: What does Doug Baldwin's future hold and what will it ...
Seattle Times

With the bad comes the good though. The preseason can be argued as a “talent show” for newcomers and journeyman in the league. As coaches for all 32 teams are fully aware that these games really mean nothing in the grand scheme of the year, they are more than willing to put out players that are fighting for a roster spot to see how they perform in a game setting.

This allows for undrafted rookies, consistent role players, and those typically in the back of the depth chart to get a chance to play and ensure their place on the team. An example of a star player that has benefited from the game time received during the preseason includes former Pro Bowl WR Doug Baldwin.

He was an undrafted free agent out of Stanford University, but showcased his star potential for a Seattle Seahawks team that had many question marks on the receiving end. This allowed him to solidify his roster spot, which then spawned his great career. 

Ryan Fitzpatrick outplays Josh Rosen at Miami Dolphins minicamp ...
Miami Dolphins

In addition to players like a Doug Baldwin that have been given their time to shine on the field, the NFL preseason also allows for teams to experiment with their quarterback room. For teams that do not have a definitive franchise QB or want to begin plugging a rookie QB into their system with game time experience, this is the way to achieve those.

A very recent example is that of the Miami Dolphins of last season, where there was much debate whether veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick or newcomer QB Josh Rosen would start week 1. Thanks to the preseason games, both quarterbacks had a healthy sample size of game time, and the team was able to definitively choose who the starter would be. 

So does the NFL Preseason matter?

I personally think the new NFL CBA that was agreed upon earlier this year has the best answer. The NFL and NFLPA decided to reduce the preseason by one game as soon as the season gets expanded to 17 regular season games in 2021. In the long term, they will re-evaluate to decide if the reduction will stay the same or become greater.

I believe that while the NFL preseason does pose critical risks on the players on the field, the benefits should also be noted. With that in mind, I argue that the necessity of even a shortened preseason is certainly there, as it provides the athletes a platform to showcase their talents that would normally not be there during the regular season and beyond.

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