Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The NFL preseason is the second cousin who always shows up to Thanksgiving dinner empty-handed.
Sure, he's a nice guy and responsibly drinks a few adult beverages with you.
Year after year, he shows up a little too early to sit on the couch and watch football.
He drinks your beer without contributing. He eats all of Uncle Conrad's smoked Buffalo wings without providing anything to the appetizer table. He piles his plate high with mashed potatoes and turkey – and slips out the door just after Aunt Ginny finishes the last slice of pie.
Like your second cousin, the NFL preseason offers very little to the sport. Most fans pay attention to the first few drives – all with their collective bowels filled with water, hoping key veterans don't succumb to a freak injury.
Once the second half rolls around, America is stuck watching B-team players with little chance of making a roster.
Now, thanks to the novel coronavirus, the NFL offered to the NFLPA no preseason games for 2020.
I am not sad to see the preseason become victim to the long, strange time we find ourselves in, but find contemplating the what-ifs as teams begin to report to training camp.
An Unnecessary Burden
Preseason football served two purposes:
Let veteran players, assured of a roster spot, see live action.
Allow coaches to possibly find a few rough gems to play special teams or rotate on specific downs.
Maybe some fans thought there was more to four televised practice games, but San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan crushed that dream during a press conference last August.
"Yeah, you absolutely don't need four preseason games. I'd rather have zero than four, preferably I'd like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off."
There are always surprises - a veteran player cut or an undrafted free agent who makes the squad - that provides interesting tweets and news for a few hours.
Preseason football adds an exponential amount of unnecessary risk to players this year. Keep in mind that teams have not been able to hold officially organized team activities during the offseason. I prefer the 49ers spend extra time installing new plays and coverage in person than flying out to Denver for no real reason.
Players Like Raheem Mostert
The one real downside to a possible lack of preseason football is not seeing a player like running back Raheem Mostert claw his way onto the final roster.
Mostert remained on the 49ers roster during the 2017 offseason when general manager John Lynch was burning mountains of sage to exorcise the previous regime's demons.
Mostert was on the 90-man roster at the start of training camp and then went on to exceed all preseason expectations.
Throughout August 2017, Mostert silenced any doubters. He helped seal the victory against Kansas City, running for 15 times for 89 yards. Shanahan did not play Mostert at running back against Denver, but he did return two kicks for 21 yards.
Against the Vikings, Mostert was a jack-of-all-trades for the 49ers. He rushed four times for 26 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 104 yards. Eighty-seven of those receiving yards and his touchdown came on a 3rd-and-22 screen pass from then-rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard.
Mostert stayed while running backs Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs were released and waived.
The NFL loves success stories like this, and a lack of preseason means we are robbed of these real-life Disney stories.
The Sloppy First Quarter of the Season
There is no amount of practice that can prepare an athlete for live competition. Anyone can look great shooting free throws in an empty gym or running passing routes in a helmet.
But real competition, against an opponent who is so hungry to make a professional roster, is what turns athletes from bubble gum to humans carved from wood.
Plus, preseason football allowed teams to work out the early mental errors, like having 12 men in the huddle, or illegal shifts.
Expect to see these errors carry into September, along with the timing being slightly off between quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and his receivers. It will be a little ugly for a few weeks, but at this point, I'd trade ugly for a small sliver of sport in a nanosecond.
Say Good-Bye to the Preseason
For as much as the NFL cares about protecting its brand and shield and filling the bank full of fresh money, its insistence on preseason football seems baffling.
Sure, an early August game whets the appetite for any football junkie trying to fill time with the NBA or MLB.
But the players don't like the preseason. Coaches don't seem to support it, and fans who attend these games cannot be happy with investing time and quality money to watch an extended practice.
Hopefully, once the NFL finishes training camp and starts the regular season, the NFL will realize that four practice games are a waste of time. Fans and players do not need a series of meaningless warm-up games to get excited about America's new pastime.
Instead, the hunger for American football will be even stronger.
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