Injuries underscore scare, scam of preseason

Several injuries to key players halfway through the preseason underscore the scare of the “meaningless” preseason despite the full-price ticketing.

After a season-ending injury to Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, the preseason pushback is on.

Fans say, “Why bother?” Coaches say some preseason is must. What’s the right mix of the two?

The “right mix” isn’t the mix that owners are likely to cave to anytime soon. Sure, they want their players healthy – especially the stars – for the regular season, but they want their dollars even more.

In one of the great heists of sports, NFL teams charge their season-ticket holders the same price for preseason games as regular season. If you want to guarantee a seat all regular season long, you will pay for the privilege of watching second- and third-string guys most of the preseason – and nervously hope that the starters in the game don’t get hurt in their limited snaps.

That didn’t work for Nelson, who was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ frustration, we know how star players feel about the preseason.

“It’s difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game,” Rodgers said.

Meaningless is the operative phrase, for starters.

Nelson wasn’t the only injury of note over the last two weekends of preseason action. Steelers starting center Maurkice Pouncey suffered an ankle injury that likely will require surgery and keep him out for September. Minnesota Vikings starting right tackle Phil Loadholt was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Still, Nelson’s injury is the latest to spark the debate on the worth of preseason.

Nelson had 98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014, one of only seven players with at least those numbers in all three categories in a season. The yardage figure set a Packers franchise record.

While Rodgers was clear on his feelings about the importance of the “meaningless” preseason, the Packers likely will be just fine in the passing game with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, but Nelson’s injury presses their depth as well as their top-end talent.

Of course, the season-ending injury to Carolina Panthers star receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who also suffered a torn ACL, showed that injuries can happen in practice, too.

So what about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seemingly being open to the possibility of shortening the preseason? That might only happen with the lengthening of the regular season to 18 games, basically putting the starting players at risk for injury even more than they are in the preseason. The NFL Players Association would want more money for the players to do that and has resisted the idea with that carrot dangled, and given the full-price tickets being charged for regular season games, there isn’t going to be a much bigger pot of money for the owners to circulate down to the roster.

So maybe it’s time coaches treat the preseason like scalpers on the streets. Devalue them heavily. Keep the stars on the sidelines and evaluate only the second and third levels of the depth chart.

It’s proven effective for guys like Rob Gronkowski, who hasn’t played a preseason game since 2012 and is still the top tight end in the game, and Adrian Peterson, who hasn’t played in the preseason since 2011 and is still considered one of the top running backs, or as he put it, “I’m the Lebron” of the NFL when asked about Jamaal Charles crowning himself with that title.

The secondary market for preseason games is almost nothing. The announced attendance at games means little, based rather on the number of tickets sold rather than those actually walking through the gates. The vast majority of those sales are to season-ticket holders forced into buying the preseason at the rate of the regular season.

Scalpers know the deal, which is a deal for anyone looking to watch the second- and third-team players. Trying to sell a preseason ticket as part of your season-ticket deal? Good luck getting anywhere near face value – some are sold to scalpers at less than 10 percent of “face” – because the real value in preseason lies with the owners and players on the back end of the depth chart, not the starters put out there for a “meaningless” game.

Fans feel the financial pain and an unluckly few millionaire players feel the physical pain. But keep watching and buying. The NFL owners thank you.

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