We may be getting football this year, but what’s that football going to look like?
And is it really worth it?
We’re less than two months away from the NFL's scheduled opening weekend, and the Eagles and every other team have all these new players and new coaches who haven’t even met each other yet, much less found their way to the practice field.
The NFL and NFLPA are still trying to figure out how teams can safely practice, what game-day precautions will be taken, how often players will be tested, what happens with players who test positive and so on.
But what about the football itself?
What if the league and the union figure out a way for us to safely get to Sept. 13, and there is Philadelphia Eagles football for an 88th consecutive year?
It’s hard to imagine it will resemble what we’re all used to.
There’s a reason teams have weeks of OTAs and minicamps in the spring. There’s a reason players work out at the NovaCare Complex throughout the offseason whenever they’re allowed. There’s a reason players and coaches take advantage of every moment the NFL permits them to study film, diagram plays and work on technique.
They haven’t had any of that this year.
A normal offseason includes three phases: Phase 1 is two weeks of team-supervised strength and conditioning work in April, Phase 2 is three weeks of on-field individual instruction in late April or May with no team drills, and Phase 3 is the 10 days of full-team OTAs in June, including three days of mandatory full-team practice.
So the players are in the building learning the scheme from their coaches and getting stronger and fitter and faster under supervision of their trainers and strength and conditioning coaches from mid-April through mid-June. Then comes training camp, four preseason games and the season.
This offseason none of those days in the complex existed, none of that supervised lifting or on-field coaching happened, and two and possibly all four of those preseason games won’t be held.
If there are training camp practices, we don’t know yet exactly what form they’ll take and what restrictions if any will be placed on the players in terms of contact drills.
Everybody is basically going to be going into the season — if there is a season — with just a fraction of their usual practice time and at best half their actual preseason playing time.
And it would be naive to think that won’t affect the product on the field.
You can’t just pad up 22 football players and put them on a field together six weeks after they first meet and expect them to play at a high level.
And with the NFL — unlike MLB, the NHL and NBA — electing not to use a bubble, there will be positive tests.
The NFL’s own chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, told the Boston Globe last week that the NFL “absolutely expects” about the same percentage of positive tests to players, coaches and staff that other pro leagues have experienced — from 2 to 5 percent.
If each team has 90 players in camp plus, say, 20 coaches and 20 trainers and other staff, that’s about 4,000 people, which means the league anticipates between 80 and 200 positive tests.
Then factor in the expected increase in injuries. According to the NFLPA, the last time there was no offseason — during the 2011 lockout season — there were 25 percent more injuries once football resumed because players didn’t have team-supervised offseason workouts.
Now you have games in empty or near-empty stadiums between teams that barely practiced during the offseason being forced to use backups, some of whom have never played NFL football.
The Eagles will actually probably suffer less than most teams.
They’re the only NFC East team with a returning head coach, and the only projected 2020 starters who weren’t here last year are Javon Hargrave and Darius Slay, plus maybe Jalen Reagor.
But there are a bunch of new players they’ll be counting heavily on, a 38-year-old left tackle at a new position and several new coaches, including four on the offensive side of the ball.
So much of football is timing and chemistry and guys working together as a unit, and you can't replicate that with a few Zoom calls.
I know one thing: Any football is better than no football.
But what we see this fall could be a far cry than the brand of football we’re used to.
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