Household names like J.J. Watt, Todd Gurley and Patrick Mahomes have grown increasingly impatient with the NFL in recent days, clogging Twitter feeds with their #WeWantToPlay rallying cry as commissioner Roger Goodell has continued to drag his feet on establishing league-wide protocols to combat COVID-19. Amid escalating tensions, the NFL has made a rare concession, appeasing the players’ union by offering to scrap the entire preseason.
It’s a huge victory for the players, as they formally accepted the offer on Tuesday evening, who have long campaigned for fewer exhibition games, citing their relative insignificance (the preseason has always served fringe-roster types more than veterans) and the injury risk they present.
With so little time to prepare for the season amid unprecedented circumstances—training camp will represent each team’s first organized workouts of the offseason—it’s no surprise the preseason became a casualty of the coronavirus.
Among other things discussed in the NFLPA's call on Tuesday included the expectation roster sizes of 80 to start camp, a voluntary and high-risk opt-out plan and a stipend for the event of lost games. The union is still pushing for a longer ramp-up period toward camp, per NFL Network's Tom Peliserro.
The league had slowly been moving toward scrapping the preseason for months, reducing the number of preseason games from four to two, one and eventually zero. With stadiums unlikely to accommodate fans—the Giants and Jets, among others, won’t permit spectators at games until further notice—teams had little financial incentive to hold exhibition matchups, which surely made it easier for the NFL to pull the plug on its doomed preseason slate.
Considering football is a contact sport, limiting exposure to the virus by staging as few games as possible would seem to be a wise move. Minimizing travel has also been a point of emphasis in sports as MLB and two of the NCAA’s Power Five conferences (the Big Ten and Pac-12) have already opted for localized schedules. Those factors along with continued uncertainty over COVID protocols and best practices ultimately made the preseason expendable.
While Golden Tate and others have been vocal in opposing the league’s preseason, which, to be fair, has never been the most aesthetically-pleasing brand of football, exhibition games have traditionally served as a showcase for end-of-the-roster players hoping to make their NFL dreams come true.
Now that opportunity has been dashed, putting players without established roles in a uniquely vulnerable position. Even rookies or promising up-and-comers could see their development stunted without preseason game reps to fall back on.
Of course, the NFL, like all of us, is just trying to make the most of a bad situation.
So long, NFL preseason. We’ll see you in 2021.