No one likes the preseason; for fans, the games are watered down, for veteran players, the risk of injury far outweighs the chance to knock the rust off, and risk-averse coaches live in fear that injuries to key cogs in the machine could derail an otherwise hopeful season.
Which brings us to Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who wants to see the preseason changed after he watched veteran tight end Benjamin Watson and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon leave an otherwise meaningless game with injuries. Watson, who tore his Achilles tendon, is done for the year. Dixon, meanwhile, damaged his MCL and is expected to miss around a month.
"I know the league and the players association is working very hard and trying to figure out ideas to work out the preseason," Harbaugh said Saturday night, via the Baltimore Sun. "These are big, fast, strong men running around out there. It's not 25 years ago. ... It's not the '70s anymore. These guys playing in these games -- it's tough -- and they're not meaningful games. They are important to get better, and they improve us. But we football coaches can find ways to get our guys ready and get our players evaluated without the kind of risk that a game necessarily entails."
Harbaugh says this isn't about Watson and Dixon -- or even Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is sidelined 6-10 weeks with a back injury -- but an overall observation on the current system.
"I'm really hopeful that the union and the league can get together and do something that's good for everybody, especially what's good for the players and for the fans," Harbaugh continued. "Maybe it's more games that are meaningful. Bigger rosters are something I think would really help. If you go more games, fewer preseason games, and bigger rosters, that's good for everybody. To me, that's something that they can put their heads together and work out. It would be a positive."
The NFL is undoubtedly paying attention, and we wouldn't be surprised if the lack of big names on the field during the first two weeks of the preseason, coupled with injuries, and Harbaugh's thoughts, will rekindle the debate for shortening the preseason and a possible 18-game schedule.
Of course, more regular-season games won't make players safer -- it's pretty easy to argue it would mean more injuries -- but it would mean more money for the owners.
But ESPN's Seth Wickersham has an interesting theory about the future of the preseason:
Lots of chatter among execs that these might be the last preseason games; that next year it could be all live scrimmages w coaches mic'd up.— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) August 27, 2016
It remains unclear how the league would make up for those lost revenues -- which brings us back to expanding the regular season.