NFL Preseason Is an Unnecessary, Outdated Risk for Players

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 17, 2015

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A preseason opener. Washington and Cleveland. Tight end Niles Paul was blocking when, as happens on many plays, his legs got tangled in traffic. What happened next was gruesome. The result: a dislocated ankle.

That was Thursday. That same night, two Chargers players suffered fractured bones. One was guard Johnnie Troutman, who broke his arm. The other was linebacker Tourek Williams, who broke his foot.   

So...on one night, in two useless games, a good tight end shredded his ankle, a solid lineman broke his arm and a talented pass-rusher broke his foot. This carnage was atypical for a regular-season game, let alone a preseason one.

There were more injuries. NFL.com devoted an entire roundup to them Friday. The Jaguars' key free agent signing, tight end Julius Thomas, fractured his hand in the team's preseason game against Pittsburgh. Both of the Giants' safeties got hurt. If they lose another defensive back, they'll have to bring Deion out of retirement.

This is the part where people like me say preseason games are a massive waste, a utilization of blood and resources that no longer makes sense. Where we say preseason games are antiquated, a relic of the past. It's an annual ritual.

And this is also the part where pro-preseason peeps say that I'm wrong, that preseason contests are needed to toughen players up or give guys on the edges of rosters a chance to shine. Where people point out that players get hurt in practice. And in scrimmages. And getting pizza.

This is true, but it's also not the point. Preseason football has nothing to do with any of those things. Players have to practice. They have to scrimmage. They have to get pizza. They don't have to play in preseason games.

What does Chargers guard Johnnie Troutman have to show for Thursday's preseason game? A broken arm.
What does Chargers guard Johnnie Troutman have to show for Thursday's preseason game? A broken arm.Denis Poroy/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Preseason games have nothing to do with football. They're moneymakers for the owners. That's their purpose.    

The preseason used to have validity. Players didn't really train much in the offseason. Some actually worked offseason jobs because the money wasn't great.

Now, players have OTAs, mini-camps, more OTAs, more mini-camps. They train hard, year-round. Most players I know take about six weeks off from training out of a year. That's it.

Let me quickly eviscerate two myths about the preseason. First, you need the preseason so that guys on the roster, looking for a shot, get their chance. The problem is, teams know who these players are. All teams know. They have tape on them. Scouting reports. If he's a rookie, they have college tape. This isn't 1940. There are things called computers and DVRs.

By the time preseason games roll around, coaches know what 90 to 95 percent of the roster is going to look like. There is very little the games themselves do to determine roster outcomes. Oh, sure, coaches will publicly dispute this, but privately, many do not.

Before covering the league as a whole, I covered the Giants and Patriots. On those beats, by the beginning of camp, I could predict the final roster with pretty good accuracy. It was easy. The games meant (and mean) little. Routinely, I'd see (and see now) fifth- and sixth-round picks outperform first- and second-rounders in the preseason. The low-round picks got cut.

The second myth is that players need the preseason to get used to the violence. Again, false. Players scrimmage, and those scrimmages get violent as hell. Players get plenty of hitting.

Here is the biggest problem with the preseason now, and it can be summed up in three letters: CTE.

What there needs to be in the NFL is less hitting, not more. The idea of dudes banging their heads in games that mean nothing, outside of ownership earning extra cash from beer and merchandise sales, is almost criminal.

The science continues to show CTE isn't just caused by huge, concussive hits. It can be caused by small, repetitive hits that accumulate and gum up the brain's mechanics over a period of years.

We've all been brainwashed by coaches and the league into thinking the preseason is needed. Totally, completely brainwashed. Of course coaches want preseason games. They're control freaks. They would have 10 preseason games if they could. They would have full practice in pads three times a day. This is what coaches do.

Players have also been suckered. Most players today started football in a pre-CTE awareness universe. The idea of their brains sloshing around in their skulls still hasn't quite been totally digested. So they buy into this narrative as well.

I especially love the ridiculous idea that only preseason games can toughen players' bodies. Ever watch a joint practice? They are far nastier than preseason games. Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby, speaking about joint practices with the Bills this week, said this to the Plain Dealer's Tom Reed:

We're on a mission. We've got a vision, but if that line gets crossed, then we're going to cross it. Sometimes it's unnecessary, and sometimes you have to take it to that next level. If that line gets crossed, like I say, then it is what it is.

Does that sound soft to you?

How about what Dansby's teammate Joe Thomas told Reed?

I'd be shocked if there weren't more than a few fights. Guys in training camps fight their own teammates. It's really competitive and tempers get roaring. The temperature is hot and your job is on the line. People are always pushing that line in practice. When it's another team, it's another level."

Does that sound soft to you?

At Patriots camp, there was a pretty intense brawl during what was a pretty intense practice.

The idea that only preseason games can simulate real intensity is a fallacy.

Adrian Peterson posed for pictures during the Vikings' preseason game against the Steelers. Taking handoffs? Not so much.
Adrian Peterson posed for pictures during the Vikings' preseason game against the Steelers. Taking handoffs? Not so much.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson, the best runner in the sport, probably won't play a single down this preseason. If the preseason is so important, why is that? And if the preseason is so necessary, how can college football manage without it?

Again, because of brain trauma, what's needed is less unnecessary violence. And preseason games are completely unnecessary.

I know fans like them because they are the first thing they've seen in months that resembles real football (emphasis on resembles). But fans, like coaches, are selfish.

Let's go back to following the money. There is a long history of preseason games as moneymakers. Andrew Lawrence of MMQB did a spectacular job in 2013 of laying out the way owners have used preseason games to fatten wallets, not to get players ready. This paragraph was particularly instructive:

By 1971, business was booming. The realization hit Pat Toomay, a second-year defensive end, midway through the third quarter of an exhibition game against the upstart Saints at Tulane Stadium. Suddenly overwhelmed by a crowd that numbered 81,000—a record for an exhibition game—he asked someone how much revenue the game had generated; $600,000 was the guestimate. His share, as outlined by the established preseason pay schedule, was $175. Each team's expenses, he figured, amounted to $20,000. "That's when I thought, Oh, we're a touring spectacle. This is about money."

Not much has changed since 1971. The Patriots dispatched a press release Monday touting the ratings of their first preseason game. It was the highest-rated televison program in the Boston market since the Academy Awards aired on ABC on Feb. 22. More people in the Boston area watched the game than they did the Republican primary debates, the Stanley Cup or the NBA Finals.

Straight cash, homey.

A preseason game. Vikings and Buccaneers. Vikings offensive lineman Phil Loadholt limped off the field, and then he was carted off. He had suffered a torn Achilles. Out for the year. This followed an ACL injury to Bills defensive end Jarius Wynn, who played only 20 snaps in a preseason game.

Just another day in preseason-game paradise.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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