Cutting two preseason games will have little impact on teams but welcomed by fans

The truth is that most starting players play one or two series in the first preseason game, the first quarter in the second game and then the first half in the third game before sitting out the fourth game.

Jeff Diamond
July 02, 2020 - 7:33 pm
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Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images

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Cutting at least half of NFL preseason games due to Covid will have little impact on teams and be welcomed by fans

By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM who co-hosted Monday Night Purple and Purple Sunday Postgame last season on News Talk 830 WCCO along with WCCO’s NFL Draft coverage.


The NFL has made the expected call to cut the preseason from four games to two to give players more time for conditioning and practices before games are played after the virtual offseason. Now the league awaits the NFL Players Association’s approval with some players union leaders questioning the logic of playing any games that don’t count in the standings amid the pandemic.

It all begs the question of how this coronavirus-caused decision will affect teams in their preparation for the regular season.

I’d say the impact will be minimal if at all. In fact I’d call it a net gain to eliminate at least two of these awful games that fans despise paying for and watching when there’s limited play at best from star players.

I believe playing two preseason games next month, as in effect dress rehearsals for regular season, makes sense. Preseason was going to be cut back anyway in 2021 from four games to three when the league moves to a 17 game regular season. The Canadian Football League may be a minor league but they’ve done fine with two preseason and 18 regular season games on their schedule.

The truth is that most starting players play one or two series in the first preseason game, the first quarter in the second game and then the first half in the third game before sitting out the fourth game. So they can get enough play time in two preseason games, even this year when there have been no on field practices thus far. Star skill position players such as Dalvin Cook—or Adrian Peterson in the past in Minnesota—often don’t play a single snap in preseason games to avoid exposure to possible injuries in meaningless games.

Coaches make the vast majority of roster decisions based on how players perform in training camp practices with preseason games perhaps helping to determine only the last few spots on the 53 man roster and the practice squad.

With the league seeking to cancel Weeks 1 and 4 of the preseason after previously nixing the August 8 Hall of Fame Game, the Vikings and the other 31 teams would have at least 23 days of practice after reporting to camp on July 28 before the first preseason games scheduled for August 20-24. The second week of preseason games will be August 27-31 and then teams would have 10-14 days to prepare for the regular season opener which for the Vikings is set for Sunday September 13 hosting arch-rival Green Bay with nothing yet decided on whether there will be a partial or full house of fans allowed.

If two preseason games are played, each team would have one home and one road game. The schedule would have to be reworked for teams such as the Vikings who were slated to play on the road in Weeks 2 and 3 of preseason (at Cincinnati August 21 and at Cleveland August 30).

The preseason cutback is the latest casualty to a sports calendar that has seen every sports league impacted by Covid. But NFL fans are surely cheering this shortening of preseason since they have been clamoring for less—or no--preseason games.

I remember well my first three years working for the Vikings in the mid-1070s when we played six preseason games and 14 regular season games. It was a brutal grind for coaches, players, team staff such as myself and fans to have to watch so many games that didn’t matter and worry about players getting hurt. Finally in 1978, the league cut back to four preseason games and 16 regular season games. But that was still two games too many in my view, especially once teams began scrimmaging each other during training camp (which will not be allowed this season).

I do feel for the undrafted rookies and other fringe players who are worried about how their chances to make a team may be impacted by the virtual offseason with no OTAs or mini-camps. Certainly the drafted players such as Vikings first rounders Justin Jefferson and Jeff Gladney will be given as many reps as possible to get them ready for the season ahead. But as I tell our rookie players—drafted and undrafted--that I work with at the Minneapolis-based agent group IFA, they will still have a good  opportunity to impress the coaches and GM as long as training camp opens as scheduled or shortly after. And with the new CBA, practice squads are being increased from 10 to 12 players so two more jobs are available.

So as plans for the preseason schedule crystallize as much as possible amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, the NFL and NFLPA also continue to discuss protocols for reopening of team facilities to non-injured players, testing programs and possible pre-training camp quarantines.

Stay tuned for more adjustments that are sure to take place for the NFL and all sports leagues as they re-engage. 

Around the NFL Observations:

1.The biggest NFL player news this week was the signing of quarterback Cam Newton by the Patriots. Newton is coming off a couple of injury-filled seasons but the 2015 NFL MVP reportedly is fully recovered from his shoulder issues and the foot fracture that caused him to miss 16 games over the past two seasons.

I think this is a great move by Bill Belichick and New England in signing a potentially dynamic QB when healthy for the bargain price of $7.5 million if he hits all his incentives. And it’s a smart move by Newton to sign with a perennial playoff team that has dominated the shaky AFC East for the past two decades and boasts the best coaching staff in the league led by Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Yes, Newton will be constantly compared to a legend in Tom Brady but if he plays well and stays on the field, he can set himself up for a huge payday in 2021, similar to what Ryan Tannehill did when he left Miami and went to Tennessee.

Second year man Jarrett Stidham was the anticipated starter before the Newton signing but the Pats look much more formidable with Newton on the roster. It will be a big challenge for the Patriots coaches and Newton to get him up to speed on the Patriots’ offense in short order but seeing how Newton to New England plays out is now one of the top story lines for the 2020 season.

Former Vikings great Randy Moss, who also set records playing with Tom Brady in New England, had an interesting take this week on Newton joining the Pats. “I think we are getting ready to see how fun this offense can really be,” Moss said. “Not discrediting anything Tom accomplished, because he accomplished some great things, but I think being able to have a guy like Cam who can run the ball, they’re able to spread guys out. I think we are going to see them have a lot more fun out there.”

Jeff Diamond was the NFL Executive of the Year in 1998 after the Vikings' 15-1 season. He also is former president of the Tennessee Titans. He does sports/business consulting, media and speaking work including corporate and college speaking on Negotiation, Management, Leadership and Sports Business--contact him at diamondj4@comcast receiver off

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