Written by Chris Kubala
The NFL is three months away from its season opening contest between the Houston Texans and the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. With the bulk of offseason activities behind them with free agency, the NFL Draft, the signing of undrafted free agents and the start of OTAs, though those are voluntary and virtual, are in the rear-view mirror. The NFL was fortunate to have the COVID-19 pandemic take place in their offseason as it clearly limited the amount of issues that could have impacted the league. As we’ve seen with NHL and the NBA, it can disrupt seasons in progress, while in the case of MLB, it can prevent things from ever getting started.
One thing that the NFL has implemented for this season is the normalization of report dates for training camp to give all teams an equal amount of time to prepare. Twenty-eight teams will report to training camp on July 28, giving them 47 or 48 days before their season-opening games on September 13 and 14. Since they open the year on September 10, Kansas City and Houston will start training camp on July 25. Dallas and Pittsburgh, who will meet in the Hall of Fame Game to open preseason on August 6, will open up their training camp activities on July 22. In addition, teams may not have a full practice in pads until the seventh day of training camp under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Another major concept that is being kicked around, according to Tom Pelissero, is the potential reduction of the preseason. According to Pelissero, the league is contemplating reducing the preseason from four games to two, which, when you get right down to it, could be extremely beneficial for players and teams in this uncertain time. For starters, it removes a pair of potential preseason games from the ledger and the possible injuries that could evolve from them. In addition, that removes at least one road trip for each team, which cuts down on the travel involved and makes things a little easier to work through.
Perhaps most importantly, the decision, should it be made, to curtail the preseason would be advantageous for the players. After being away from their teammates and limited in their ability to practice in any fashion even relatively close to what they’re used to doing, cutting two preseason games would give them more time to get up to speed. That would allow players an ability to work at a more moderate pace to prepare for the rigors of the regular season as opposed to trying to rush to get back to playing shape. After all, it will have been four-plus months by the time training camps started since the country was shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic. With a lack of use of team facilities, coupled with the inability to get much in the way of workouts, it will take some time for players to get back to normal.
In addition, with the hitting and physicality that comes with the sport and the lack of heavy physical activity for most players, having extra time will be beneficial. With the ability to carry up to 90 players in the preseason and training camp, having bodies that can both do some hitting and also be hit will help the starters and other key personnel get back in the groove of things. Throw in that most fans despise preseason games, having to shell out big money to see little or no action from the guys that they expect to see in the regular season and there won’t be a ton of complaints when it comes in that department either.
Will we see the league trim the preseason or is this just a thought process that will eventually be forgotten? We’ll have to see how things unfold.