A move to reduce the NFL's preseason to three games, and have a two-week break between the final game and the start of the regular season, is reportedly under discussion by the league's competition committee. The idea of shortening the preseason has been floated many times but this current proposal is being credited to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
Few would argue that the current four-game preseason is necessary. In fact, it has been suggested at times to reduce it to just two games. The amount of lost revenue for franchises has always been the deterrent there so losing just one game would obviously be easier to stomach.
I have always disagree with the motion that the fourth preseason game is a “throwaway” affair. Coming off the third week, when starters and key players got the majority of the snaps, it's an important opportunity to make decisions about the bottom of your roster and practice squad. I think teams will still want that last look before they start asking guys to return their playbooks.
That said, I agree that the current format is too long. The first and second preseason games are similarly handled and fairly redundant as the starters play just one or two series. Traditionally, the third game has been that “dress rehearsal” when they get at least a full half, if not more.
If this new system is adopted then don't be surprised if that so-called “throwaway game” still exists. I could easily see teams using the first game to give starters a few reps, using the second game now for the dress rehearsal, and then still focusing on bench player and prospects in the third and final game. The downside to that would be three whole weeks that starters would have off between preseason and regular season play.
Another key consideration is here if the cut deadlines would be moved up to coincide with the earlier end of preseason. I think teams would love the opportunity to finalize rosters and take advantage of waivers a week ahead of their regular season kickoffs, so I would expect this to be part of the deal.
The bottom line is that this won't be a huge change for established players. They will likely play about the same amount of time as they have previously. Remember that some of the worst injuries the Cowboys have faced recently, such as Sean Lee's and Orlando Scandrick's, have come from the practice field rather than preseason action. Those incidents won't go down as a result of this move.
However, for guys like backup quarterback Jameil Showers, any lost opportunities to display your talent can't be welcome. They will have to become more reliant on practice field performance to earn their way onto to rosters and practice squads. Many coaches seem to lean more on those findings than what happens in games, anyway, so perhaps reality won't be all that new for these players either.
In the end, the greatest benefit of this move will likely be better rested and prepared teams at the Week One kickoffs. Nobody is going to complain about that.