And now, your questions …
What is the goal of preseason games from a team perspective?
Coming out healthy. In watching these games, I would say only two words: “Get up!” I would focus my binoculars on any player who stayed down on the ground longer than usual, following them to the bench to watch their interaction with the trainer and/or doctor.
There is little good that can come out of these games, but a lot of bad. Injuries are a necessary evil—just see above—but they always feel worse when they happen in a meaningless preseason game.
I understand that coaches do evaluate players and that some players flash in these games, but the truth is that most decisions on players are not influenced by preseason games.
What about scouting preseason games; is there any valuable information teams get?
Yes, preseason football presents players auditioning for future waiver claims and signings. In the press box at any preseason game are about a dozen scouts from around the NFL, clad in their team-issued gear, checking out players who may be released soon. In fact, our scouts were never at our preseason games; they were evaluating rosters at other games.
When the average fan has long tuned out of these games, due to unrecognizable names and faces filling out their favorite team’s jerseys, the work of the team scouts truly begins. This is where they determine if other bottom-of-the-roster players are better than their own bottom-of-the-roster players. Scouts report back to their general manager with things such as “I saw a safety who’s better than our fourth safety,” meaning we would look for that player’s name on the waiver wire.
In other words, the latter parts of preseason games are more about players playing for the rest of the league, as their employment relationship with their existing teams is likely to soon end.
What are some interesting preseason memories you have?
Most involve the weather. I remember playing against the Chiefs in the Hall of Fame game, a game mercifully called in the third quarter due to lightning and torrential rain in Canton that night.
I remember playing in Cleveland and, soon after checking into our hotel the night before the game, the power went out. I remember watching 90 players sit in the lobby by candlelight, and I negotiated a contract extension for one of our players on a hotel napkin lit by flashlight.
Then there was a home game against the Titans one year in our last preseason game. The skies opened up in the second half and lightning caused the referees to clear the field and delay the game.
The starting players had long since exited; the game was full of fringe players, most of whom were to be released the next day. Fans were filing out the doors. After talking with Titans general manager Floyd Reese and getting our coaches’ blessings, we called the league office to see if we could end the game at that point before players were needlessly injured.
Word came back to us that Commissioner Tagliabue, reached at a dinner engagement, ordered the game finished, no matter the hour. The game then re-started sometime after midnight in front of a smattering of diehard (and well-lubricated) Packer fans. And yes, a couple players suffered injuries requiring injury settlements when released the next day.
I will never forget having to complete that meaningless game after midnight on a slippery field. Like the Hall of Fame game, it should have been called.
The NFL says it is studying how to improve the preseason. Thoughts?
The NFL has been trying to improve the preseason, or fan interest in it, for some time. However, absent a mandate for teams to play their starters for a certain amount in these games—a directive that would be a nonstarter with teams—there is little to be done.
The NFL will continue to try to find a way to “fix” preseason football. Speaking of which …
Is the NFL still talking about two preseason games and 18 regular season games?
The 18-game season discussion hit a nerve with players, fans and media as a hypocritical money grab for a league that champions the importance of player safety. The NFL faced outrage over the issue in the most recent CBA negotiations, so it wisely backed off … for now.
My sense is that the 18-2 concept, as the NFL refers to it, will resurface at some point. It has two huge benefits for the NFL: (1) additional revenue estimated at $500 million per season, and (2) solving the “preseason problem” by cutting it in half.
If and when the NFL raises the issue again, it would be wise to first quietly meet with player leaders about the benefits: increased revenues that positively impact the salary cap, extra bye weeks, the same 20-game total structured as 18-2 instead of 16-4, etc. Although dormant for the time being, I believe reports of the death of the 18-game season have been greatly exaggerated.