The NFL plays you for fools, because you love football too much.
Hate to break this to you Broncos Country. His nickname is DangeRuss, but the most hazardous duty quarterback Russell Wilson should pull during a preseason game is to sit in the stands and eat popcorn.
A franchise quarterback playing tackle football in August? What, are you nuts?
“You always have to look it as risk-reward,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said.
The risk of injury to Wilson isn’t worth it.
If Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford can win the Super Bowl with a new team without playing in the exhibition season, then what sense does it make for Wilson to risk getting hurt in a game that doesn’t count in the standings?
The only reason the NFL plays meaningless football in August is to separate fools from their money, no offense to the 64,541 fans who showed up Saturday night at Empower Field.
Two snaps into the game against Dallas, linebacker Jonas Griffith, one of only two players in Denver’s projected starting 11 on defense to see the field Saturday, went down with an elbow injury and went immediately to the locker room.
Football warriors from the rub-some-dirt-on-it era of hard knocks look at the way NFL teams prepare for the season these days and wonder when the game got softer than the meringue on your granny’s lemon chiffon cake.
“They call these practices?” joked 70-year-old linebacker Randy Gradishar, one of the toughest hombres ever to don the orange and blue, after watching the Broncos and Cowboys participate Thursday in a controlled scrimmage, where no tackling to the ground was allowed.
Your grandfather’s NFL training camp is dead. Twice daily practices under a blistering sun? The Oklahoma drill? Gone forever.
“Football has changed, certainly because of the concussion issue, the safety issues and the amount of money that guys are making in guaranteed contracts,” Gradishar said. “The last four or five years, I have tried to turn on the Pro Bowl and watch that. But they don’t even tackle anybody anymore. The rules have changed, just like our society changes.”
Hit somebody? Nah, Hackett would rather hug everybody at practice. Training camp at the team’s Dove Valley Headquarters is so laid back that radio commentators Zach Bye and Brandon Stokley, my pals at 104.3 The Fan, call it glamping.
The new-age approach adopted by Hackett is kind to bodies that get beat up plenty by a violent sport during a 17-game regular season.
But it is reasonable to wonder how well this pitty-pat football in the preseason will prepare the Broncos for their season opener, when they travel to Seattle and 72,000 fans will be screaming for the Seahawks to crush Wilson into the Sumatra Roast ground daily by their favorite barista at Starbucks.
Resting starters during the NFL’s silly exhibition season, however, is the smart thing to do. Exhibit A: The practice game staged Friday between Philadelphia and the New York Jets was memorable for only two reasons.
Taking an awkward tumble after scrambling out of the pocket, Jets starting quarterback Zach Wilson suffered a knee injury that could well keep him out a month, possibly forcing washed-up Joe Flacco to open the season under center.
Running in a failed attempt for a first down, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts went out of bounds and got bashed in the head by linebacker Quincy Williams with a cheap shot that even Jets coach Robert Saleh labeled “egregiously awful.”
Hackett has figured it out: The No. 1 goal of exhibition football is not to get Wilson or anyone important hurt.
“The No. 1 most important thing is getting the guys healthy going into the season,” Hackett said. “That’s all that matters.”
The controlled scrimmage late last week between the Broncos and Cowboys, with injured Denver outside linebacker Randy Gregory wearing a bucket hat while taunting his former teammates with smack that could’ve made Nature Boy Ric Flair blush, made for more compelling theater than this exhibition of uninspired football on a cloudy summer night.
The NFL needs to stop living in the past and change its approach to August football. Here’s what I propose:
Play one exhibition game. No more. Treat it as a full dress rehearsal, with starters making an appearance, whether it’s for one series or a full half. And if a coach chooses to use the entire game as nothing more than a chance to see how back-of-roster players react under the bright lights, so be it.
Raise the price for regular season games for season-ticket holders to make up any lost revenue. But stop the charade of including meaningless games in the cost of season-ticket packages, which result in a team’s best customers trying to give away their seats to an unsuspecting cousin or undervalued business associate.
Schedule two joint-practice sessions, one at home and one on the road, with another NFL team every August. Turn those practices into a three-day fan festival, culminating with a free controlled scrimmage in the stadium, where there will be no tackling to the ground but the opportunity to see Dak Prescott or Wilson run full-speed plays against a No. 1 defense.