Changing it up

What would a two-game NFL preseason look like?

Does J.J. Watt need the time? Bob Levey/Getty Images

The concept of a two-game preseason comes up every year when injuries happen to important players and teams now have holes they weren’t worried about before. This year there are already over a dozen players just with knee injuries who may not play in 2018. It’s about normal, but everyone complains about it like it isn’t anyway. It’s a great idea for some because it’s two fewer meaningless games we have to watch. But this change would have to be collectively bargained in a few years and might only happen if the players agreed to an additional two regular season games.

That’s a hard sell all around. From the players standpoint, it’s two more games they have to play at full speed where the chances of injury are higher. For the owners, it’s two less games they collect huge revenues while paying the players very little. It also means teams will have less time in training camp to get healthy and coaches will have less time to evaluate players.

That could be a huge deal for teams like the Texans. Imagine if Deshaun Watson had to be ready for game action a week from now. Would he be less than 100 percent? Would he have to sit out a game or two while Brandon Weeden leads the offense against the Patriots and Titans? The same argument applies to J.J. Watt, Carson Wentz, and Andrew Luck; all star players who suffered major injuries last year.

If the season were to start after two preseason games, it would make them a lot more interesting too. It would mean that the starters see more playing time instead of sitting out most of the game. That’s bad news for players at the back of the roster. Less playing time is less of an opportunity to make an impression. If coaches build their roster with less game film, it might not work out for the best.

Depending on when the regular season begins some players won’t be ready to take the field. With a four-game preseason, major injuries have time to heal but also be put to the test in practice and games. But because the games don’t count there is no reason for those coming off an injury to rush themselves. They generally start with a few plays and then work their way up to a full quarter or more. Shortening the schedule will force those same players into more action sooner. That could lead to a choice between recovery or getting prepared to play, but also make the games exciting. The current four-game schedule keeps a little more space for them to get used to full speed again.

Injuries are going to happen in football. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. Major ones that end a season take longer to recover. Cutting the schedule to two games will help some teams, but for the Texans it would hurt. Having Watt and Watson and Mercilus all coming back from injured reserve, there may not be enough time; forcing them to play the start of the season in less than ideal condition. These players are ready to return though. If they really are back to full strength, then having to play in only two games will be just what they need to work hard but not overwork early on.

Fans will probably be happy. This is a sort of neutral part of the season for them. The games don’t mean anything, but reporters write about them like they do. Fans spend money on game tickets only to see their favorite players for one series. On the other hand, preseason tickets are cheaper than regular season ones and it may be their only opportunity to make it to a game. A shorter preseason would mean that those games will have more stars on the field and fans will get a good look at them for a more affordable price.

The truth is, it’s going to be a hot-button topic until the next negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement in 2021. I’m on the side of shortening the preseason to two games. Adjustments will have to be made to training camp and regular season practice schedules so that players can be better prepared but it’s doable. I welcome the shortened schedule and would enjoy less time watching meaningless games full of players that won’t make a roster.

But owners don’t want a two-game preseason. For them these four games are a cash cow. The players are making less money for these games. However; ticket prices, concessions, and merchandise are still the same. Cutting that revenue stream in half won’t be on any of their to-do lists. There would have to be a lot of discussion and some give and take.

We will talk about this next year and the year after that. Nothing can change right now but I’m interested in the direction it’s going. The Texans still have three games left before the start of the regular season. They will continue to evaluate the young guys and work others back from injury. This year they need the extra game while plenty of others don’t. It won’t be the same scenario next year.


 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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