According to the Associated Press, the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed that there will be no preseason games in 2020. The same report says agreements have been reached to reduce training camp rosters to 80 players, down from the usual 90, and that the players will have an 18 day acclimation period from the time they are required to report to training camp until the time they are required to participate in practices.
Taking the last point first, veterans are required to report to training camp on July 28. 18 days later will be August 15. So if the Associated Press report is true, there will be no team practices, other than rookie drills, prior to August 15. That certainly is different. It will be a challenge for all NFL teams to get game ready by the second week of September when they have had no OTAs, no minicamps, and the first time they step on the field as a unit will be four weeks from opening day. It’s probably not a stretch to expect the first few weeks of the season to be particularly sloppy and wildly unpredictable.
The immediate cut down to 80 players in camp will produce a flurry of transactions involving fringe players and some cap cuts that may surprise people, but for the most part this will not be very impactful. Think about how up until very recently the NFL had staggered cut down days, with the first cut bringing rosters down to 75 players. How many times did we end up lamenting the guys cut in the first batch? I’m sure there are a few examples, but for the most part the final cuts were the ones that sometimes ended up regrettable. The first cuts usually pretty clearly did not belong in the NFL. The rule change will be a huge disappointment for the players who are cut without so much as a cup of coffee, but for the teams the impact will likely be minimal. Perhaps a few interesting cap cuts will shake loose early, and the Jets may be able to capitalize on some of those.
The elimination of all preseason games will probably have little impact as well. Preseason games were always mostly about generating extra revenue for the teams. Starting players would routinely get about 60 or 70 snaps over the entire preseason schedule. Replacing those snaps with practice reps is unlikely to produce an enormous reduction in readiness for the veterans. The backups likely to play substantial roles during the season also typically get about 70 snaps during the preseason, and the same applies to them: the impact on their readiness for the season will likely be minimal. To the extent there is an impact, every NFL team will be in the same boat. Teams like the Jets that have a large number of new starters may be negatively impacted to an extent. However, preseason games rarely run much of the playbook. Game plans are rudimentary to non-existent. Teams don’t spend a lot of time with the same player rotations we see in season, often choosing instead to constantly rotate guys in and out of the games, getting a feel for how different guys look in different packages. There just isn’t a whole lot of continuity in preseason lineups, so the impact on how units gel will probably not be all that important.
As far as coaches and the players most likely to have an impact on the season are concerned, the elimination of the preseason is likely to be a net positive, as teams have increasingly chosen in recent years to barely play their impact players to reduce the possibility of injury. The bottom line here is, fans will have no opportunity to see the new players and how the team is shaping up prior to opening day, and that may be regrettable. Back of the roster guys will lose opportunities to show they belong in the league, and that will be regrettable for those players. To the extent the loss of preseason games give the coaches a little less data to evaluate who makes the team, there may be a marginal effect on the quality of such decisions, but the impact of a few dozen preseason game snaps compared to five weeks of practices was always likely fairly minimal, and to the extent roster decisions are slightly less informed, all the teams are in the same boat. In the end, the loss of preseason games will likely turn out largely to be much ado about nothing.