EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When you talk about the NFL in 2017, the first word that comes out of just about everyone’s mouth — no matter what side of the fence they happen to reside on — is safety.
And the fourth preseason game exposes it all as nothing more than lip service.
Here in East Rutherford, the Philadelphia Eagles are set to play the New York Jets in the annual preseason finale for both clubs, and Philadelphia actually brought along three players it signed off the street Wednesday with the promise of a nice per diem and a little team-issued swag — defensive end Jake Metz and linebackers Christian Tago and Carlos Fields.
Obviously, none of those players are in for the Disney-like ending, catching a coach’s eye immediately and earning a spot on the final 53-man roster. Even the practice squad is out of the question because they are competing with young talent that has been with the organization since the spring.
Players like that and the obvious intention of why they were brought in, highlight the hypocrisy on both sides of this issue.
Those who claim safety is dogma sure aren’t jumping on the soap box to point out the short-term hire of what are essentially crash-test dummies is probably not the most moral and ethical thing to do, because the television cameras will not be there when the names being discussed are unknowns.
Conversely, the league and its member teams are all too happy to take full price for an inferior product, even going so far as eliminating the first cutdown from 90 to 75 so coaches would have to play even fewer valuable pieces in the fourth exhibition game if they so choose.
Valuing the safety of only those important to the bottom line of wins and losses isn’t exactly what everyone is supposed to be preaching.
From the Eagles’ standpoint, they are banged up at linebacker with starter Jordan Hicks convalescing from a groin injury and key reserves Najee Goode and Nate Gerry unavailable due to hand surgery and a hamstring, respectively, so the organization needed bodies at the position to get through the fake football on Thursday night.
As for Metz, he’s a former star with the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul, as well as a local product who is doing this for a second straight season.
None of this would be going on if the final preseason game didn’t exist, something even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged isn’t necessary.
Heck, the hypocrisy here even breaks through a third wall if you really want to think about it because “football safety” is almost an oxymoron from the standpoint that you simply can’t make an unsafe game safe.
At some point, there has to be a stipulation here.
Critics who claim to care about the well-being of players they actually do know have to acquiesce when it comes to the rights of adults to make their own decisions about their careers, and those who believe the environment around football teaches many valuable things might have to start moving toward flag football until kids are developed enough to handle the hitting.
Seems like a logical compromise, but those are two words that are rarely valued in the word of advocacy.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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