The reason NFL preseason games were wiped from the 2020 schedule might seem obvious. As the league attempts to start the season amid a global pandemic, why risk the health and safety of players, coaches and all team/league personnel for games that don't count?
That indeed is part of the reason the NFL Players Association pushed the league to ditch preseason games in 2020, but it goes a little deeper. In the wise words of the great Allen Iverson, we're talkin' about practice.
With the NFL-NFLPA joint medical committee having suggested a 48-day training camp, including a 21-day acclimation (strength and conditioning) period, the NFLPA pushed the league to implement that schedule. All 2020 offseason programs have played out completely virtually, and while players have been working out individually, the thought is they need extra time this year to get into ideal football shape and mitigate the risk of injuries.
But the league, even though it already had slashed the preseason schedule from four weeks to two, had insisted on a pair of preseason games for each team so it could preserve that revenue. With two preseason games on the schedule, the 48-day training camp and the 21-day acclimation period would not have been possible unless the league pushed back the start of the regular season.
That's part of the reason a massive chunk of high-profile players took to social media on July 19 and publicly criticized the NFL's defiance in the face of the joint medical committee's suggestion.
We all want to play this season, but we need to stay safe in order to actually have a season! It’s time for the @NFL to step up and do their part so that us players can be safe at work and go play the game we love! #WeWantToPlay— Carson Wentz (@cj_wentz) July 19, 2020
We need Football! We need sports! We need hope! The NFL’s unwillingness to follow the recommendations of their own medical experts will prevent that. If the NFL doesn’t do their part to keep players healthy there is no football in 2020. It’s that simple. Get it done @NFL— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) July 19, 2020
The NFL has ignored the safety recommendations from the experts that THEY hired. We all love this game and want to go out and compete with our brothers. The NFL needs to provide a safe work environment for us to do that. #WeWantToPlay— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) July 19, 2020
This is not to say that NFL preseason games don't hold value for the players. With 90-man training camp rosters (reduced to 80 in 2020) eventually trimmed down to 53 for the regular season, roughly 1,200 players are cut during the preseason annually. Those guys in 2020 won't get the dress-rehearsal opportunities to prove themselves worthy of a final roster spot.
Some have argued at least one preseason game in 2020 also would have given players and coaches a chance to experience the health and safety protocols being implemented this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including the eerie lack of fans in the stadium. But as one NFL team owner told NFL Media, they "can manage."
Apparently in response to that public pressure from the players, the NFL reportedly went back to the negotiating table with a one-week (Week 3) preseason schedule. Then, after an NFL-NFLPA call to discuss outstanding issues related to health and safety, the NFL "offered" the players zero preseason games. NFLPA spokesman George Atallah later clarified what happened.
"(The) NFL didn’t offer or give up preseason games for us," Atallah tweeted Monday night. "They had the right to set those (or not) under the CBA already."
The NFLPA accepted the zero-game proposal, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on July 27 confirmed there would be no preseason games in 2020.
Said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith on a conference call with media: "To engage in two games where players would be flying all over the country and then engaging with each other to work, and to do that prior to the season, doesn’t increase the likelihood of starting and finishing the season on time."
That seems to be why the NFL agreed to cancel preseason games in 2020. Sure, both the league and the players will take a money hit without exhibition games, but not nearly as big of a blow that would come from a compromised regular season.
The NFL for months has made clear its primary goal is starting and finishing the regular season and playoffs on time and, therefore, preserving that revenue. As Smith noted, preseason games can't help in that regard. They can only hurt.