The NFL and NFL Players Association are discussing the possibility of shortening the 2020 preseason, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday, according to sources informed of the situation.
Nothing has been finalized or is near finalization, but multiple team executives informed of talks currently believe they could end up playing half of the typical preseason schedule, going from four games to two, Pelissero added. A shortened preseason would allow for a longer ramp-up period for a league filled with players who weren't able to get their usual offseason work in with their teams due to restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Pelissero, there have been talks about implementing an earlier report date to allow for a longer runway for players to better acclimate themselves to the physical requirements necessary to participate in training camp and actual games. Some think the players won't be very eager to report early, leading to the discussion of a shortened preseason to allow for the longer ramp-up period to still happen within the confines of a schedule that has a hard regular season start date of Sept. 10 when the Chiefs host the Texans.
Perhaps most importantly, a shortened preseason and longer ramp-up period would also allow for the league's medical experts to better implement and refine safety and testing protocols for COVID-19.
"None of this has to do with when the regular season would begin. This is strictly about the preseason, having the testing protocols, the game day protocols, all up to speed," Pelissero said on NFL NOW. "Let's go back to 2011, coming out of the lockout, there was a rash of injuries league statistically, hamstrings, Achilles injuries, and guys just coming back in not the best of shape.
"That's why there've been ongoing discussions between the NFL and NFLPA about having some kind of ramp-up period, perhaps having one week of Phase 1, normally in the spring. Then a week of Phase 2 before the players even get on the field in a practice setting. If you just do the math there, and that doesn't start until the last week of July, it becomes really difficult to go from just doing basically strength and conditioning to playing in a game setting in a matter of weeks."
As we've seen with everything related to the pandemic, but especially in the sports world, time is the greatest asset available. While other leagues have been forced to suspend operations in the middle of their respective seasons and employ creative approaches to return to play, the NFL has been in its offseason for the entirety of the pandemic's effect on the United States.
That time is running out, though, with training camp less than two months from opening and preseason games arriving shortly thereafter. If there's a need for and ability to create extra time, it would seem wise to do so.