If the NFL could be embarrassed, the league would issue a refund to everyone who attended that “game” on Saturday night.
About 90 minutes before the “Vikings” “played” the “49ers,” the Vikings released a list of 27 players who would not be participating. This list included all you might want to see.
Imagine buying a ticket for The Rolling Stones and leaving Mick Jagger and Keith Richards behind the curtain while the winners of a karaoke contest perform. That’s what the NFL is selling you if you’re a dumbass enough to think they care about keeping you entertained in August.
In a game missing only Spergon Wynn and Josh Freeman, the 49ers backups defeated the Vikings backups 17-7 at US Bank Stadium. Nobody had a good time.
This was the second of three preseason games on the schedule and it raised two questions: why and when?
Why are there three preseason games?
Everyone knows pre-season games are a joke. Reducing the preseason from four games to three did not solve this problem; The reduction just reminded us that we weren’t missing anything from this fourth game and wouldn’t be missing anything if another one were to drop.
When will the NFL improve on their poor bottom line by trading a preseason game for an 18th regular season game?
That’s where this is headed.
Two preseason games is still too many, and 18 regular season games will result in more injuries and risk hurting playoff teams from those injuries.
So what is the best possible schedule for the league, the players and their fans?
The Vikings’ joint drills with the 49ers this week provided a clue.
An 18-game schedule is dangerous for players, but there is a way to mitigate the risk. The idea isn’t new, but it’s the right one: allow two weeks of recovery bye and by law require every player to miss at least one game, whether through injury or decree.
Then every player would have at least a three-week break within 20 weeks. That’s about as good as the NFLPA will get.
Two preseason games is still one or two too many.
What will be achieved in the pre-season games in 2022? Coaches are resting many of their key starters. They want to see their offensive and defensive lines perform in live conditions, they want to test reserve or inexperienced quarterbacks, and they want to have open competition for bottom of the list and special team positions.
They can do all of that in one game.
They can play their starters briefly and then field their reserves.
If they want to see their starters get more work done, they can schedule drills together.
The difference between preseason games and shared practices is that coaches are generally more comfortable playing their starters in shared practices. NFL preseason games are scheduled by the league. Shared drills are scheduled by the teams, meaning coaches choose to work in a more controlled environment against coaches they trust.
A defensive end trying to prove himself in a preseason game could flatten Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and end the Vikings’ chances of the contest. This is less likely in a joint practice because NFL players are used to avoiding hitting quarterbacks in practice and their coaching staff are on the field to monitor them.
On Tuesday, in the teams’ first joint practice session, Cousins worked with a real first-team offense, including running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn. That combination may never, and shouldn’t, exist in a preseason game.
Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell is right about not playing his starters. The risk-reward trade-off of sending key players into meaningless games is heavily risk-weighted, and the “reward” was watching Kellen Mond throw horrific passes against a third-team defence.
Just stop charging people good money and pretending you are launching a representative product. A preparatory game would be more than enough.