It is that time of year, once again, where we all step back and ponder whether or not preseason NFL football is worth a damn.
For me, the NFL preseason has become a time of dread. Instead of becoming giddy in anticipation of the upcoming football season, I’ve become apprehensive and not at all excited about the four pointless weeks of scrimmage football that lead us to Week 1.
We all know NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s owners want people to be excited about preseason football, but really, why should we be?
Preseason football has always sucked. This is nothing new. From a fan’s point of view, the games are pointless. On a television set, preseason games are, to use a term coined by fat Rex Ryan, nothing more than a glorified pillow fight. If you are lucky enough to get tickets to attend a preseason game, consider it a gigantic overpriced outdoor picnic with complete with $10 beers, $8 hot dogs and lots of cranky children who may or may not be lucky enough to catch the wave – if there are enough fans in attendance.
For the fan, NFL preseason football is a rip-off in the highest degree imaginable. To have to live through four weeks of these things is a tough pill to swallow every year.
I do understand that from a coach’s and player’s point of view, the preseason is an important part of shaping a team. Coaches need to whittle their roster down to the league’s set limit, and they need to see some of the younger players in head-to-head action. A player looking to make a roster needs all the preseason time he can get to prove to a team he’s worth keeping. This is and always has been the main argument for keeping preseason NFL football intact. Coaches need it; prospective players need it even more.
The need for preseason football is not a new debate by no means but as each year goes by, the debate seems to go deeper and deeper. This year, former Broncos head coach and current Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is leading moving the debate with his decision to keep his star quarterback, Robert Griffin III, on the bench throughout the entire preseason. There’s “no possibility” you’ll see RG3 behind center before the season opens up, Shanahan said earlier this week.
“Our plan is to play him Week 1,” Shanahan told NFL.com. “I want to play him Week 1. I think we have a good game plan.”
First and foremost, Shanahan is making a smart decision here. RG3 may not like it, but it's the best move Shanahan can do right now. RG3 is coming off knee surgery, from the end of last season, and his doctor – famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews – is advising that he not play until the start of the regular season. Of course if Andrews says he shouldn’t play, RG3 probably shouldn’t play. What I like about this is that Shanahan isn’t even hinting that RG3 will play even one or two series in the preseason. Most coaches allow that much, but for RG3, it’s just not going to happen.
I know the decision for RG3 to sit the entire preseason is based on his injury/recovery, but I do think Shanahan will be setting a new trend, and that more coaches – with or without hobbled star players – will follow suit. If I were Broncos head coach John Fox, I’d sit Peyton Manning right now, until Week 1. Preseason football is so full of trash play, there’s no way I’d like to see Manning in the starting lineup on any of those games. You know Peyton would throw a fit, but so what? He knows his time’s limited in the NFL, so just tell him you’re saving him for the playoffs by sitting him in the preseason. Preseason football isn’t worth the loss of a regular-season star.
So let’s say other teams do follow Shanahan in sitting their starting quarterback (and other star players) throughout the preseason. The NFL will have a big problem on their hands (if they don’t already). Nobody, absolutely nobody will want to pay for a $100 ticket to go see some third-string hack fumble a snap. The preseason in the NFL will quickly be over if no starters ever play. And with the money these teams are paying their quarterbacks these days, they are going to be sitting during the preseason more and more. Preseason football already sucks, but it’s going to get even worse in the future.
My proposal would be to cut the NFL preseason down to two weeks. Teams could hold informal, free-to-attend scrimmages the two weeks before those two preseason games. You could call this a kind of preseason tier system. Two weeks of scrimmages, free for all who can attend. Maybe it could be held at a local high school or college campus, and there would be two preseason games, as they are scheduled now. I know teams still run the risk of injuries, but at least fans won’t be getting ripped off four weeks straight to just watch second- and third-string players.
If the NFL still needs money, which I know it doesn’t, then I am all for adding two more games to the regular season. If we are going to have to pay to watch football, let’s at least watch football that means something. Won’t two more regular season games work against player safety? Probably so. But I’m not making $23 million over the next five years, so my perspective may be a bit different than those making pro salaries. I say since they get paid outrageous salaries, they can give fans more football – not more football in preseason games.
Mark my words, NFL preseason football is on its way out. Whether or not it’s replaced with more regular season games remains to be seen. But either way, soon won’t be as dreadful as it is now.