Tuesday, August 16, 2022
It’s Time to End NFL Preseason Carnage
T.S. Eliot notwithstanding, April is not the cruelest month. August is — for it is in that month that catastrophic injuries to players throughout the NFL occur in games that don't even count in the standings.
This a crisis. But the NFL has a history of never letting a good crisis go to waste.
We saw this in 1982, when a strike deleted eight games from the regular season. The NFL responded by recouping one of the games (all but two within the same division), resulting in the first regular-season games to be played in January in league history. It also caused the idle week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl to be scrapped.
We saw this again in 2001, when the games of what was originally slated to be Week 2 of that season were postponed because of the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks — and the word "postponed" rather than "canceled" must be used because the games that were not played on September 16-17 were played on January 6 instead. And once again, the idle week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl was scrapped. This also resulted in the Super Bowl being played in February for the first time ever — and every Super Bowl played since, except the following year's game, has been played in that month (and last season's Super Bowl was played on the second Sunday in February for the first time in history, due to the increase in the regular-season schedule to 17 games).
Meanwhile, the usual preseason mayhem got off to a rip-roaring start in its very first week, whose lowlights include one major scare and two season-ending injuries to starters.
The "scare" involves Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft out of Brigham Young — which is headed for the Big 12 in 2013 — who tore his meniscus in Friday night's "win" over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. While the preliminary indication is that he will miss "only" two to four weeks (nonetheless placing his status for the team's opener at home against the Ravens in jeopardy), more will be known after Wilson undergoes arthroscopic knee surgery today.
But neither Wilson's Jets teammate, right tackle Mekhi Becton, the team's first-round pick in 2020 (11th overall) nor Browns starting center Nick Harris, were as fortunate (maybe) as Wilson himself.
Becton, who went down with what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury involving cartilage damage in the team's 2021 opener at Carolina, didn't even wait until the regular season started this time around, fracturing his kneecap against the Eagles on Friday, ending his 2022 season retroactively.
On the second play of Cleveland's game at Jacksonville, also on Friday night (which ended in a Pyrrhic victory for the Browns by a score of 24-13), Harris injured his right knee and had to be carted off the field. According to head coach Kevin Stefanski, Harris will likely need surgery that will cause his 2022 season to be stillborn.
(The Browns are rumored to be interested in re-signing J.C. Tretter, Cleveland's starting center for the past five seasons, but was allowed to leave via free agency in March, and remains unsigned.)
And there already is an "excuse" to do away with the preseason, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic that catalyzed its cancellation two years ago.
Did the sky fall? Hardly. And is anyone claiming that the Super Bowl championship won by Tom Brady and the Buccaneers is in any way tainted by the 2020 season's lack of exhibition games? Not a one.
Plus, there could be two delightfully delicious unintended consequences of the preseason's permanent demise: first, the owners might be able to succeed in persuading the NFLPA (whose current president is the aforementioned J.C. Tretter!) to accept an 18-game regular-season schedule, especially if the owners dangle a second bye week for each team in front of the union. And second, the owners can turn their decades-long dream of holding the Super Bowl on the Presidents' Day weekend into a reality — thereby making "Super Bowl Monday" a national holiday if the beleaguered (to say the least) Joe Biden issues an executive order placing Presidents' Day on a fully equal footing with such holidays as Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
And speaking of Labor Day, if this means going back to opening the regular season on the Labor Day weekend (for the first time since 2000), that's a small price to pay (the owners cited relatively low television ratings for why opening day was pushed back one week). The off week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl would also be a casualty — to which the vast majority of owners, players, and fans alike will say, "Good riddance."
College football is busy chiseling its "new world order" into place. The NFL needs to follow suit.