Niles Paul dislocated his ankle in his first preseason game of the year, as his Washington Redskins clashed with the Cleveland Browns. While that may not sound like a devastating injury, he’s going to miss the entire season because of it.
All that training, all that practice. Working hard, eating right, getting ready for the year. Planning to have a big role on an offense that needs to get things turned around. Getting ready to fight and battle beside your brothers.
Players know there’s a risk of injury when they play, but to go down in the first preseason game? That’s way different than getting hurt halfway through the year or feeling banged up toward the end of the season. The whole year has been ripped away from Paul, and he’s right back into offseason mode. Mentally, that’s a tough shift and it has to be hard on him.
He won’t be the last player to get hurt during the preseason. Some have even suggested that the NFL should do away with preseason games entirely to prevent this sort of thing from happening.
That argument holds a little water.
Football is very dangerous and violent. Every snap is a risk, so why not reduce the amount of potential snaps? Even if Paul was somehow fated to get hurt in the first game he played, at least it would have been in Week 1. Is that better?
Maybe, but not really. Not for the team. Either way, Paul is missing most of the year. The way things are now, the Redskins do have time to move forward without him. They can adjust. They can move the roster around. They can prepare for the offense to look different than they planned — they have three weeks to do it. If this happened in Week 1, they’d have just a week, maybe less—depending on how the schedule fell. They’d be making changes on the fly.
Plus, the preseason is part of getting in shape and ready for the year. Without it, would there just be a rash of injuries in the first week? Guys wouldn’t be ready for the all-out hitting that begins when the season starts. The preseason is low-caliber football, allowing them to work their way up.
It’s also a time for rookies to learn the game. This helps them in two ways, the first being that they experience real football. Some vets may argue that they don’t need the warmup because they know what’s coming, but rookies don’t. Every game they can play is beneficial.
The second way it helps them is by giving them a shot to make the team. The preseason isn’t for fans at all, it’s mostly for players and coaches. Players who would have been cut with no preseason games are going to make the final roster because of how they play over the next month. That’s huge for them and their careers.
It may be feasible to reduce the amount of games played. Two preseason games would cut the risk factor in half, but coaches would still get to see a lot out of their players.
Even then, though, it may not matter. The preseason isn’t that different from joint practices or team scrimmages. Paul could have been injured just as easily going against his own guys on a Wednesday. If the NFL cut the preseason games back and left two weeks of practice in their place, injuries would happen in practice just like the games. They just wouldn’t be as visible to fans.