The NFL can't afford the cost of worthless preseason games anymore

Mark Sanchez's injury is anything but meaningless for the Jets. (USATSI)
Mark Sanchez's injury is anything but meaningless for the Jets. (USATSI)

Rex Ryan got his quarterback hurt, and that's a shame, but maybe in his ineptitude Ryan has done something that will hasten the NFL out of these dark ages and into a bright new era:

The one without a preseason.

That day's coming, you know. There are too many factors mounting, too much momentum building in that direction. Preseason football is a joke, and it's always been a joke, and everyone knows it's a joke. But there are more serious issues at work now than punch lines: The concussion lawsuits against the NFL. The gushing revenue streams of TV contracts. The crazy money invested in starting quarterbacks.

Looking at it like that, I can talk myself into the position that the league just about can't afford to play preseason games anymore. Maybe I'm not thinking clearly, blinded by my apathy for the NFL's preseason. Talk about a waste of time; the only real thing that happens in an NFL preseason game is that players get really hurt. Everything else is the equivalent of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles going 21 for 25 through three preseason games: It happened, but not really.

The NFL preseason is so farcical that Jets coach Rex Ryan is under attack for having the nerve to play starting quarterback Mark Sanchez in the fourth quarter of a four-point game against the New York Giants. If ever there was a preseason game that a team should want to win, this was it. Only, there isn't such thing as a preseason game a team should want to win. Not even when you're the Jets and they're the Giants and you share a city and even a stadium, all of which means losing is unacceptable. Because losing isn't unacceptable -- not in August. Who cares what happens in August? Who even remembers?

Turns out, we'll remember that game, but not for who won it. Um, who did win it? Let me see ... ah. The Jets won 24-21 in overtime. Somebody kicked a field goal, I guess. Truth is, I woke up Sunday morning to the onslaught of Sanchez-Ryan coverage and never bothered to see who won. It didn't even occur to me. More interesting was Ryan's decision to play his starting quarterback late in a pointless game, followed by Sanchez's injury, capped by Ryan's bizarre postgame press conference where he sounded like a 9-year-old ("I can say anything I want") and then acted like one by spinning back and forth, showing that he doesn't have to look his questioners in the eye if he doesn't want to.

All that silly stuff from Saturday night overshadowed this reality -- the head coach of the New York Jets is having to explain himself for trying to win the damn game.

Read that sentence again. Never mind, I'll highlight the important parts:

Coach. Having to explain himself. For trying to win.

If there's a better metaphor for the absurdity of the NFL preseason than what happened Saturday night at MetLife Stadium, I'd like to see it.

Meantime, what we won't see is Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on the field this preseason. He has been ruled out for the exhibitions while still being anointed the Redskins' starter in the regular-season opener. And that makes all the sense in the world, because Griffin is coming off a knee surgery and needs the extra month to heal, and because even if he's ready for an exhibition or two, why bother? They're only exhibitions. They don't count. Rex Ryan isn't coaching the team, so winning doesn't matter. Fans go, but only because they have to go. They've been blackmailed into buying preseason tickets in their regular-season ticket package, so what the hell? They go and they drink beer and they sit through two exhibitions of bad, irrelevant football because those tickets are paid for. They're going. Whether they want to go or not.

To recap, this preseason has driven home the point that players don't have to play to defend their job -- but coaches who try too hard to win will have to defend theirs. Another preseason like this one, and maybe everyone will be ready to negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement that does away with the preseason entirely.

The math works for me: Eliminate all four exhibition games (two at home), add two regular-season games (one at home). Instead of playing 20 games total -- 16, plus four exhibitions -- teams would be slated to play 18. That would drop their tally of home dates from 10 to nine, but owners could recoup their losses by parlaying the longer regular season into a better TV deal during the next round of negotiations.

Meanwhile, players might decide that an 18-game schedule (with no preseason) would be worth it because TV money trickles downhill -- and they might even decide that 18 real games would be no more harmful to their health than 16 regular-season games and parts of four exhibitions. Owners could trumpet the league-wide reduction of playing dates from 20 per team to 18 as an example of limiting the chances for concussions. And everyone could stop covering their eyes every time a $20 million quarterback steps behind center in an exhibition.

All of this makes sense to me. Getting rid of the NFL preseason has always made sense to me, and probably to most of you, but the preseason has never seemed more pointless than it did Sunday morning when we woke to the news that the head coach of the New York Jets screwed up by trying to beat the New York Giants.

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