The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers both suffered devastating injuries during NFL preseason games on Sunday.
The Packers lost top wide receiver Jordy Nelson to what is believed to be a torn ACL, while the Steelers lost All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken ankle, which may need surgery.
It’s assumed both players will miss the entire season.
Injuries are often unavoidable, but to lose top players in preseason games, which don’t count, adds insult to injury.
Criticism of the NFL’s preseason isn’t anything new, but Aaron Rodgers is the most recent player to speak up. When a top-flight quarterback speaks up, people listen.
“This is a sport we’re all going to be injured at some point,” Rodgers said after the game. “It’s a 100% injury rate for every player. You’re going to deal with it. You just hate to see it in the preseason because it doesn’t count for anything.”
He added, “It’s difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game.” Rodgers said he thinks all players would be open to cutting down preseason to just “a couple” of games, but knows it would be difficult when fans are paying almost full-price for tickets.
While the Steelers kept a “next-man-up” attitude about Pouncey’s injury, it nonetheless affects them. Former Steelers offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin noted how big of a loss Pouncey is, telling Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I’m not saying this team can’t overcome it. The offensive line is better now than it was two years ago. But it’s a significant loss. Don’t think that it’s not.”
While injuries are indeed part of the game, this is an overly melancholy tone for exhibition games.
The threat of serious injury brought Washington coach Jay Gruden under heavy fire for leaving Robert Griffin III in a preseason game, which he eventually left with a concussion. One Washington player told Eric Edholm of Yahoo, “How do you keep sending him out there? With Trent not out there, with the other guys struggling, you pull [RG3] there. No question.”
Again, this is nothing new. In July, Packers president Mark Murphy said the NFL was looking how to better protect players’ long-term health, but wasn’t sure of a proper solution:
“I think with all the concern about player health and safety, it would be difficult to go from 16 regular-season games to 18. One of the things that has kind of been looked at is, do we reduce the number of games overall [to] three preseason games and 16 regular-season games? But obviously there’s a loss of revenue that comes with that.”
“The four preseason games are an issue for us. One, you have a question whether we really need it to put on the best quality product. Two, you have an issue of how our fans are reacting to it, and they’re not reacting positively. It’s not the kind of standard that the NFL is used to producing.”
Granted, the NFL can’t just eliminate preseason. In this same period of time, promising Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL without contract in practice. Much of this just comes down to bad luck.
Still, it doesn’t help the NFL’s business if top players are suffering season-ending injuries in meaningless games. Finding a solution isn’t easy, but it seems there’s a need for reform to make sure players are healthy and getting a shot to play the games that actually matter.
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