4-game preseason schedule is just an exhibition in futility

ON THE NFL

August 29, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

The NFL's four-game exhibition season is too long, too hazardous and too irrelevant to serve the purpose for which it once was intended.

Under the current format, injuries are piling up before opening day, seasons are lost before they officially start and careers are often shortened needlessly.

What other business eliminates as many assets before starting on the work clock as the NFL does? How much is too much when you're talking about blown out knees and fractured fibulas?

When is enough really enough? We say now, yesterday and last year.

Remember when the Atlanta Falcons lost quarterback Michael Vick in their second preseason game a year ago? And the New York Jets lost Chad Pennington not long after?

With its long, over-baked preseason, the NFL randomly handicaps teams each summer. The Falcons and Jets drew short straws a year ago.

The Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles are in jeopardy this summer. The Cardinals have lost leading receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) and defensive end Fred Wakefield (foot) until mid-October, and running back Marcel Shipp (broken fibula) for the season.

The Dolphins won't have receiver David Boston (patellar tendon) this year and safety Chris Akins (knee) perhaps ever again. The Eagles have lost defensive end N.D. Kalu (knee) and running back Correll Buckhalter (patellar tendon) for the season.

Players are getting hurt in practice, too, like Boldin and Buffalo rookie quarterback J.P. Losman (fibula). You can't cut back on practice, but you can cut back on preseason games.

A quick history lesson: The NFL used to play five preseason games in the 1960s, went to six in the early '70s, and down to four in 1978, when the league adopted its 16-game regular-season format.

The time has come to cut down more. In an era when players report to camp in shape because of offseason workouts, the league should work to assure that teams go into the season as close to full strength as possible.

In today's salary cap climate, starters rarely play more than a series in the first and fourth exhibition games. They get game-conditioned in the second and third games. Rookies and players trying to make the team get much of the rest of the time.

So here's a suggestion: Play two controlled scrimmages against other teams and two preseason games. Get the starters ready in games, give the rookies a chance to show under set conditions.

It would work, of course, unless all the owners really cared about was collecting preseason game revenue.

Collins vents

Even as rookie quarterback Eli Manning appears on the verge of beating out two-time Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner for the starting job with the New York Giants, deposed starter Kerry Collins still is steaming in Oakland.

"Was it sickening to me how they chased Eli? Yeah, it was, because of the ferocity of it," said Collins, the Raiders' No. 2 man behind Rich Gannon. "It was the feeling of, `My God, they think they can do better with somebody else?'

"It eats at me a lot. That was my football team. ... The reflective part of me, thinking about what they did for me in my career, I wish them well. [But] part of me wants them to fall flat on their face."

Chargers score

His team hasn't had a winning season since 1995, but San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith sure sounded smug after getting quarterback Philip Rivers signed 25 days late.

Smith broke off negotiations on Aug. 8 after Rivers rejected the Chargers' "final" offer of $40.5 million over six years plus incentives. When Rivers accepted that same offer last week, Smith gloated over how agent Jimmy Sexton came down from $45 million to $44 million to $42.5 million to $41 million and ultimately to $40.5 million.

"The message is clearly that when we say something, we mean something," Smith said. "I know what the history is here, that the Chargers always cave. But all I want to be judged on is what I'm doing here. We set a price, felt it was fair, which it is. It is the second-highest deal in the draft behind Manning."

Tice fumes

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Marcus Robinson was a late scratch in last week's preseason game against Atlanta with a hamstring injury. Robinson's availability the rest of this preseason remains in doubt.

Which doesn't make coach Mike Tice happy. Calling it a "mild, mild sprain," Tice has demoted the former Raven to No. 3 receiver.

"He's one of those gifted athletes that I guess needs to be right all the time," Tice said. "I don't know. I've never been right, so I don't know what it would feel like to be 100 percent."

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