The NFL is making the right call in canceling the 2020 preseason, but it could make things harder for rookies on the Houston Texans to get up to pro speed.
With news becoming official that the NFL is canceling the 2020 preseason in its entirety due to the global coronavirus pandemic, all 32 teams around the league will be forced to continue one of the strangest and most unique offseason preparation schedules in the history of the professional game.
The NFL already had to contend with the virus during a bizarre free agency period where some meetings, workouts, and sitdowns had to be scrapped because of rising numbers of cases in March. In April, things got weirder still when the Draft was held entirely virtual because of COVID-19.
This summer has been no different. Many franchises scrapped their offseason programs or made them virtual entirely. Players have been doing their best to get together with teammates as they can for individual workouts and small group training, but for the most part, it’s been a very unusual time for the NFL and its constituents.
With training camps getting underway currently (rookies are reporting, quarterbacks will be coming early next week, and full teams should begin practicing by next Tuesday), the league finally bowed to public pressure and pressure from the NFLPA and made the tough decision to gut the preseason entirely.
It’s the right call, especially considering how playing football really is the perfect recipe for a high degree of transmission of the coronavirus, which is mainly spread through close contact and swapping respiratory droplets through the air.
The league has enough of a problem trying to figure out how to make the regular season happen, contain outbreaks (which will happen), and decide what to do with having or not having fans in the stadiums (so far, the NFL is leaving this up to individual stadiums and teams). They don’t need to further endanger players, coaches, trainers, staffers, media, referees, etc., with unnecessary preseason games.
The 2020 NFL Draft rookie class is in for one heck of an initiation period
That said, the one group of individuals who really might take the brunt of losing the preseason this year is the NFL rookie class.
Traditionally, the preseason is the perfect time for high draft stock rookies to get acclimated to the speed of the pros and feel what it’s like to compete against strangers from another team as opposed to the guys they’ve been practicing and scrimmaging with against all summer.
Additionally, the preseason is often viewed as the final opportunity for lower draft stock rookies — and especially undrafted rookie free agents — to audition for a role on the final roster. It’s often in the preseason games — particularly during the third and fourth weeks — that these players either do enough or don’t do enough to make it on the team ultimately for the regular season.
They will not have that opportunity this year.
As my colleague pointed out earlier this month, the Houston Texans are at a bit of an advantage this year in that department, however, because they had just five draft picks last April and also didn’t sign as many undrafted rookies as they normally do.
Even still, it will be interesting to follow the development of all the Texans’ rookies — both those who were drafted and those who were not — to see how they all fare throughout training camp and then once the regular season rolls around.
With no traditional offseason programs like OTAs, rookie camps, mandatory minicamp, or preseason games, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Texans rookies — and the rookies around the league this year — struggle to make as much of an immediate impact as certain rookie classes do in “normal” seasons.