DB’s Weekly Take: The NFL refused to delay its season. Now the players are paying the price

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New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is carted to the locker room after being injured during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. Photo by Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo.

Let me begin this piece by saying how happy I am that football is back. Few things give me more enjoyment than a Sunday full of watching the NFL, so for selfish reasons, I’m glad the season started on time. But after witnessing the barrage of injuries that took place during Week 2, I’m starting to think the NFL could have made some different decisions to keep its players safer. 

On Sunday, the NFL lost two of its most exciting running backs when Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants went down with a torn ACL and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers left his game with an ankle injury. Barkley will be out for the rest of the season, while McCaffrey is expected to miss multiple weeks. 

In addition to these two young superstars, other players to go down with injuries on Sunday include Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Raheem Mostert (49ers), Tyrod Taylor (Chargers), Parris Campbell, Malik Hooker (Colts), Davante Adams, Corey Linsley (Packers), Cam Akers,  Joe Noteboom (Rams), Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton (Broncos), Byron Jones (Dolphins), Anthony Barr, Mike Boone (Vikings), Tavon Young (Ravens), Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan, Connor McGovern (Jets), Brandon Scherff (Washington), Brandon Linder (Jaguars), Issac Seumalo (Eagles), Kaleb McGary (Falcons), Chidobe Awuzie (Cowboys), Bruce Irvin (Seahawks), Will Fuller (Texans) and Jonathan Joseph (Titans). 

Obviously, football is a contact sport that is full of injuries, but if this seems like an absurdly high number to you for one day, you’re not wrong. Watching NFL RedZone yesterday, it seemed like Scott Hanson was giving a new injury report every five minutes. And this list doesn’t even include players like Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints or Sterling Shepard of the Giants, who didn’t play this week due to previous injuries. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most injury-plagued week of NFL football I have ever witnessed comes two weeks into a season following a weird offseason schedule due to COVID-19. There were no offseason team training programs. Players didn’t even begin to work out as a team until the beginning of August, and weren’t full-on practicing until Aug. 17. In addition, there were no preseason games or joint practices, which I understand are a risk of injury themselves, but still they help work the players up to game speed without having to go 150% like they do in games that count. 

Do I think a couple of preseason games and a longer training camp would have prevented all these injuries from happening? Of course not. There are injuries every year. But do I think delaying the season and giving players a little more time to train and prepare would have helped cut down on the sheer volume of injuries we’ve seen so far? Absolutely. 

As with most things in life, money matters, and the NFL knew how much money they would lose by moving the season back even just one week, so that Sept. 10 start date wasn’t moving for anyone. But I think it was irresponsible to rush the players, who had only been practicing for three weeks at the maximum, into full-speed regular season games where most of them are playing north of 50 snaps. That’s just asking for injuries. 

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) is helped off the field after being injured during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo by Bill Kostroun/AP Photo.

The best method in my opinion would have been to start the training camp at the same time they did, with all the COVID-19 precautions taking up the majority of the first week. Then, have the ramp-up period and start full practices in the middle of August like they did. But instead of going right from that into the season, starting the week of Sept. 10, each team could have been paired with another team, and they could scrimmage against each other for a week or so. Then, the next week, the teams could play a full-on preseason game to get the players reacclimated to game-speed situations that many hadn’t played in for over eight months. 

Then, if everything still looked good from a health standpoint, the season could start on Sept. 24, just two weeks later, and play a 14-game regular season instead. That would have required some serious revisions in the schedule, but every other league has made shortened seasons work. I believe those two weeks of more demanding activity would have greatly benefited the players, and it’s unfortunate the league valued money over player safety. Although I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised. 

The NFL wanted the season to start on time, and I’m sure most of the players did too. But giving the players a couple more weeks of training camp to make up for the strange offseason definitely wouldn’t have hurt. Even one preseason game could have made the transition to the regular season a little less strenuous on these players’ bodies. 

But here we are, with key players on more than half the teams in the league missing at least some time with injuries, if not the whole season. Now, some of the league’s brightest stars aren’t playing. Fans’ favorite players aren’t playing, and that’s not good for the sport. 

So the NFL is getting its precious 16-game season in (barring any COVID-19 issues). But at what cost? 

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