“You don’t really notice it until someone makes fun of you.”
That was New York Giants linebacker Blake Martinez referring to the NFL’s new “Guardian Caps”, a padded shell affixed to the outside of their helmets. In all 2022 preseason practices up until the second preseason game, all offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers are required to wear the Guardian Cap.
The caps provide extra impact protection during the period when the league sees the greatest concentration of helmet impacts. When worn, so says the NFL, the Guardian Cap results in “at least a 10 percent reduction in severity of impact if one player is wearing it, and at least a 20 percent reduction in impact if two players are wearing them.”
“Everyone wants to be swagged out nowadays, and when you have this big airbag on top of your helmet, you’re a little noticeable,” added Martinez.
But if it means a little more protection, he’ll take it.
“Anything that can protect your brain, especially for me, I want to prolong this thing as long as possible, so I’m down,” he said.
Giants head coach Brian Daboll supports the new caps as well.
“Health and safety for the players is our first priority as an organization – making sure these guys are as healthy as they can be and as safe as they can be,” Daboll said. “Whatever the doctors and the trainers and the statistics say, if it’s going to help the players, I’m all for it.”
The idea for the caps relates to the cumulative effects of hits over an entire season. In layman’s terms, it means that getting hit on the head multiple times every week for 17 weeks can lead to longer-term head injuries for players. The league says that the caps have been made possible “because of the vast amount of data collected and analyzed from the NFL playing field that helps the league to understand the biomechanics of head injury and simulate that in a laboratory environment.”
In March 2022, NFL clubs voted on and passed a resolution on this requirement. That vote followed consideration and recommendations by the Competition Committee and the Owners’ Health and Safety Advisory Committee, as well as consultation with head coaches around the League.
Jets coach Robert Saleh and Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt have voiced criticism regarding the league’s use of “Guardian Caps” over helmets in training camp this summer.
“It’s got great benefits … but I do think there’s a balance in everything, right? Too much of anything is a bad thing. I do think because of the soft blow, it’s kind of lending the players to use their heads a little bit more. I do think the first time when they take it off—anybody who has played football knows the first time you take your helmet off or you hit with the helmet or you have a collision—there’s a shock,” Saleh told MMQB.
“I do think that if you’re waiting until the first game for that shock to happen … I don’t know, time will tell. It’s just interesting with those Guardian Caps and what exactly are we trying to accomplish,” Saleh continued.
J.J. Watt voiced similar concerns when speaking with reporters at Cardinals camp.
“I mean, I think you know what I think of the Guardian Caps we’re wearing,” Watt said. “You feel like a bobblehead. Like you’re gonna fall over. I’ll probably get fined for this.”
Could the caps become more widely mandated? That probably depends on what the data ends up showing after this year’s usage.