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NFL Preseason Is The Mean Season

Unless you are related to the agent of an undrafted free agent whose aspirations likely exceeds his odds, the NFL preseason probably has no particular allure.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have some value. Coaches and general managers need the time to evaluate draft picks and ponder the makeup of special teams, which are comprised mostly of the fringe backups.

But as the years go on, and the injuries pile up, it has become increasing apparent that NFL preseason games are nothing more than land mines team hope to tip-toe around prior to the start of the regular season.

Tim Bradbury / Getty

Just look at what happened when the Eagles and Patriots reprised last year’s Super Bowl this week at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots lost first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn, an offensive tackle expected to replace the departed Nate Solder, for the season with a torn Achilles.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, the MVP of last year’s game, hobbled off the field with a strained shoulder. And even though he isn’t scheduled to the Eagles starter this season – have you forgotten about Carson Wentz? – the symbolism of this was not lost on the Philly fanatics.

Prior to August 1, a number of players had already suffered season-ending ACL injuries, including Packers LB Jake Ryan, Chargers TE Hunter Henry, Eagles LB Paul Worrilow, Panthers RB Fozzy Whitaker, Rams DE Morgan Fox, Bengals G Rod Taylor and Lions FB Nick Bawden.

Then in Week 1 of the preseason, the Washington Redskins lost prized rookie running back Derrius Guice to a torn ACL. Gone for the year.

The NFL preseason has also featured some truly notable injuries, but none greater than in 1999 when St. Louis Rams quarterback Trent Green tore several knee ligaments on a hit from Rodney Harrison – then with the Chargers – and was lost for the season. Who replaced Green? Kurt Warner.

And what does it mean to win a preseason game? Just ask the 2006 Colts. They won only one and then won the Super Bowl. And what of the 2008 Lions, who won every preseason game and then went 0-16?

Essentially, the NFL preseason is a money-maker for the league, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Season-tickets holders across the NFL are required to purchase tickets to two of them in order to get access to the eight regular season games they crave.

And they represent inventory for the NFL’s television partners, giving the networks things to hype and sell prior to the start of the season.

There was a time when NFL teams played a half-dozen preseason games and a shorter regular season (14 games). Teams would make money by staging the games in small towns across the country, like the August night in 1967 when the Patriots and Jets, including Joe Namath, played in a dilapidated high school football facility, Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport, Conn., to benefit a charity. Tickets to the game were $5.

The place was so dingy coaches Mike Holavak and Weeb Ewbank likely could have used a flashlights to see. The Jets won, 55-13. Namath, who had been fined $500 for missing curfew for hitting bars in Manhattan the night before until 4:30 a.m., played only one quarter, after which the Jets were up 28-0. Emerson Boozer scored three touchdowns before a crowd of 16,000.

The good old days.

A few years later, the NFL began using the games to dabble with great experiments, like pitting a team of college all-stars against the defending Super Bowl champions at Soldier Field in Chicago. That last four years ending in 1976.

And in subsequent years, games were used as test drives for new rules and innovations, like a 1968 matchup between the Oilers and Redskins where the two-point conversion was introduced.

In 1977, the NFL agreed to a collective bargaining agreement with its players that set the regular season at 16 games preceded by four exhibitions. Only the Hall of Fame Game, which kicks off the preseason, is played in a neutral site, Canton, Ohio.

This season’s batch of games seem to be of great interest to the NFL’s rules committee, which wants to measure how new initiatives regarding leading with the helmet for contact will be adhered to and called.

Over the last few seasons, there has been increased interest in reducing the preseason to three, perhaps two games. This has also come with a recommendation of increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games.

But as you likely can guess, the idea of adding games to the season is something that must first be negotiated with the players’ association and so far it seems uninterested, unless its financially suitable, of course.

In 2016, a proposal to drop the final preseason game to give teams a bye heading into the first week also gained some steam. But that also has stalled.

As it stands now, NFL players basically play the preseason for free. They are paid only a per diem since their regular salaries don’t kick in until the season kicks off.

So what’s the point?