The Vikings would never think of placing Adrian Peterson on the field during a preseason game. They don’t want one of their most important players to get hurt during a meaningless exhibition.
This might be a good time for agents of the other Vikings starters to ask this question on their behalves:
What are we, Spam?
Saturday, the Vikings will again pretend, like the rest of the NFL teams, there is value in preseason games. They will play their starters for a limited number of plays, then pull them off the field to keep them safe.
Let’s call it American Roulette. It’s OK to risk injury for 15 snaps, just not for 60. It’s as illogical as a seat license, and it exists for the same reason.
Last Saturday, the Vikings lost right tackle Phil Loadholt for the season because they used him in a preseason game. This Saturday, the Vikings will risk the rest of their starters, other than Peterson, in a preseason game.
Coaches and NFL traditionalists will defend the value of preseason games because that’s what coaches and NFL traditionalists do. They will speak to the value of game action in sharpening veterans and testing rookies and fringe players.
But that’s not the reason preseason games exist. They exist because they make money.
Because the television ratings are shockingly good given the low entertainment value of the games, and because NFL teams can packages these August farces with their season-ticket packages, and American football fans, desperate for the resumption of their favorite sport, will pay whatever it takes to attend regular-season games.
The NFL has grown up quite a bit in the last couple of decades, transitioning from brutal training camp two-a-days with full tackling to the modern version of camp, featuring little contact and fewer repetitions.
It’s time to take that new, evolved approach to its logical conclusion. Intelligent NFL teams should stop playing important players during preseason games, and should stop holding joint practices. If preseason games are to continue, they should be laboratories for players trying to make the team, not dangerous calisthenics for established players.
The ridiculousness of joint practices has been highlighted in the last two weeks. We’ve seen wild brawls that court serious injuries, and we’ve seen Dez Bryant, one of the league’s best and most compelling players, taking a punch to his jaw that could have sidelined him, just as a punch to Geno Smith’s jaw will cost him a month or three.
Joint practices and using key players in preseason games are products of the coaching mentality. NFL coaches do it because they can’t stand to let a teaching opportunity slip by, and because they don’t want to fall behind other teams.
That’s why the NFL should end exhibition games. If nobody played in them, there would be no competitive disadvantage for coaches to worry about. No games provides the same proverbial level playing field as four games.
If college football players can get themselves ready to play in a game that counts without the benefit of exhibitions, NFL players should be able to as well.
In 2015, we know that NFL players risk their brains and limbs every time they take the field, that the cumulative effect of blows to the head can be as damaging as one massive hit.
We know that the greatest risk to the NFL’s place on the iron throne of modern sports is the threat of future player lawsuits and the insurability of football as a business.
We know that preseason games mean nothing, and that joint practices usually end in brawls that further risk the health of important players.
There is only one reason for the NFL to continue playing preseason games: greed.
Injuries are the great variable in pro football. Risking them for a few extra snaps in a fake game is foolish. So if a key Viking gets hurt Saturday in a game that means less than nothing, you know who to blame:
The NFL for allowing these farces to exist.
And the Vikings for exposing their best players to this risky charade.