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BBV Round Table: What should be done about the preseason?

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It’s broken, so our writers discuss ideas for fixing the preseason

Chicago Bears v New York Giants
Jabrill Peppers during Friday’s game vs. the Bears.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

More and more, NFL teams are protecting their front-line players by not subjecting them to many preseason snaps — if they play at all. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that no one wants four preseason games. In our latest round table, we asked Big Blue View contributors how they would fix the preseason.

Question: The NFL preseason is obviously broken? How would you suggest the league fix it?

Chris Pflum

I think before we can fix a problem we need to define the problem, and when it comes to the NFL preseason, there are a number of different problems depending on your perspective.

  • For most fans, the product on the field is boring at best. Teams’ best players are on the field sparingly — if at all — and teams play a watered down brand of football designed to keep their schemes hidden for the regular season.
  • For players, there is a legitimate risk of injury which could cost them their season, or perhaps their career if they aren’t established. but at the same time players on the roster bubble need the game tape to secure a spot on a final roster.
  • For ownership, attendance is always low and preseason games just aren’t very profitable.
  • And for coaches, there is the need to balance getting through the preseason healthy and not giving away too much with getting the team ready to play in September.

Broken down like that, the problem with the preseason is that it can’t be all things to all people. There are necessary evils to getting ready for the NFL’s regular season and the preseason is part of it.

Eventually the preseason will only be two games and the regular season 18 games long. Not only does that fulfill the fans’ desire for meaningful games, but also the owners’ desire for more money. The only questions are when the NFLPA will cave, what they’ll be able to get in return, and how the coaches will cope with half as many games with which to evaluate their rosters.

In the meantime, there might be a few half-steps to help teams get ready for the regular season while walking the tight-rope of providing an entertaining product, getting ready for regular season games, and staying healthy.

The first might be to avoid what has happened with the Giants this year with them playing three regular season opponents in the preseason. We have already seen the Giants be incredibly conservative with their games this year, showing almost no wrinkles and keeping their best players off the field. When preseason schedules are designed, they are generally done so to limit travel as much as possible. Going forward the team could first make sure regular season opponents don’t see each other in preseason games. While every team will still have access to the tape, it might help teams be a little freer with their plans and make for more entertaining (and useful) games.

The next one isn’t my idea, but I can’t recall where I saw it first to give proper credit. Open up the games. Instead of charging regular season prices and trying to get as much as the market will bear for every seat, charge just enough to cover the operating costs for the game. It would encourage fans who might not have the time or financial wherewithal to go to a regular season game to show up to preseason games. Having an energetic atmosphere not only makes the game better for everyone in attendance, it makes the game better on TV as well.

Finally, the NFL could encourage teams to have more joint practices. There is no way for practice to simulate the intensity and chaos of an actual game, but having two rosters practice against each other tends to ramp things up a bit. Hopefully that would translate to that week’s preseason game (in a safe way) and perhaps even help coaches identify under the radar players who could be surprise contributors that they might not have recognized in more controlled circumstances.

There isn’t a one-shot answer to fixing the pre-season and it will never be able to make everyone happy. It’s possible to make it better, but that will also need everyone involved recognizing that they will have to compromise.

Patricia Traina

I think to fix the preseason, the NFL has to go back to the rules it allowed for under the CBA before the current one.

Some of those rules allowed for contact in the off-season program (OTAs).

I also remember teams being allowed to start their off-season programs earlier than they do these days, regardless if they have a new head coach. Let all the teams start on the same day and then finish on the same day.

And if you want to shorten the preseason games due to safety concerns, I think most coaches might be more receptive to that if they can see something that looks like real football instead of guys just running round in shorts and shells all spring.

Joe DeLeone

All issues with the NFL’s preseason stem from it being too long and consisting of too many games. The obvious solution to that is cutting the games down to two instead of four.

College football has operated for a very long time with a training camp spanning around three to four weeks without any exhibition games against other schools. Similar to the NFL, the NCAA has limited the amount of full contact allowed in a full week, which has eliminated two a day practices. As someone who has endured four training camps at the college level, I can confidently say you can properly prepare for a season this way.

Obviously the NFL is a completely different animal, which is why you cannot have the same exact preseason schedule as college. However, extending the amount of training camp practices and retaining two preseason games is more than enough. Teams still have plenty of time for diligent preparation for the first game and evaluation of the roster to make cuts.

From a quality of football perspective, the first two preseason games are laden with fringe roster players and feel like AAF matchups. A lot of players who participate in a majority of the playing time end up being cut or at the bottom of the depth chart. There is a reason why not a lot of fans watch these games.

While I support shortening the preseason, I do not agree with the alteration of the schedule to 18 games. Extending the season would only increase the amount of major injuries, which is ultimately the main goal of changing the preseason.

Ed Valentine

I’m not going to give the “shorten the preseason to two games and expand the regular season to 18 games” answer. We’re probably headed to something like that, anyway, in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Beyond that, there are other changes I would like to see that I believe would help teams prepare better for the regular season.

Like Patricia Traina, I would like to see some rollback of preseason practice rules to allow more contact. Allow some hitting to take place. Perhaps even add a second mandatory mini-camp (even if it replaces some of the OTAs) during which pads can be worn, linemen can hit each other and cornerbacks are able to press wide receivers rather than just allow free releases and shadow them. I think that’s better preparation for everyone.

How about making the season-ticket packages regular-season only? Open up preseason games, at a reduced rate, to single-game buyers. You’re getting a reduced product, anyway. My guess is you would get all sorts of fans to attend who ordinarily could not afford, or get, season tickets. I think that might put more people, and a different energy, in stadiums for these games. You would have people who were excited to be attending an NFL game, even if it was a “pretend” one.

I would love to see an expansion of NFL teams scrimmaging against each other. I also love what the Chicago Bears did last week, holding a controlled, 60-play scrimmage with their starters where they set up the situations they wanted to practice. That’s an awesome way for NFL teams to get work for their front-line guys while using the actual preseason games to give backups and guys fighting for roster spots opportunities.

Why not have at least one full intra-squad scrimmage in your team’s home stadium that fans could attend — for free? Or, if you want to charge, choose a charity that proceeds from ticket sales would go to?

I just think there are better ways to get ready for an NFL season than the way most NFL teams do now. Maybe some need to be legislated. Others, though, just require generally rigid NFL coaches to use their imaginations.