The NFL has decided to shorten its preseason to just two games in 2020, a concession to the realities of returning to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NFL Preseason Two Games
The NFL plans to reduce the 2020 preseason to two games, pending approval from the NFLPA. (Image: Justin Edmonds/Getty)

The news follows the NFL’s previous decision to cancel the Aug. 8 Hall of Fame Game.

Players Gain Extra Time to Prepare for Games

While the coronavirus is behind the decision, the NFL isn’t eliminating preseason games due to concerns over spreading the virus. Instead, both the league and the NFL Players Association agree that players need more time to prepare after an offseason in which training was difficult or impossible.

As such, the NFL has essentially canceled Week 1 and Week 4 of the preseason. The league will adjust the existing Week 2 and Week 3 schedule to make sure each team gets one game at home. While players will report to training camp in late July, the first preseason games won’t take place until Aug. 20.

The NFLPA will hold a conference call on Thursday. The union has yet to approve the two-game preseason plan, mainly because some players appear to be in favor of playing no preseason games at all, according to the NFL Network.

Shortening the NFL preseason is hardly a radical idea. Once upon a time, the preseason actually lasted six games, until the NFL reduced that number to four in 1978. Since that time, four games has been the standard.

NFL owners may activate a provision in the current collective bargaining agreement that would expand the regular season to 17 games as soon as 2021. That expansion would coincide with a reduction to no more than three preseason games per team.

Preseason Games Far from Essential

Few people will miss the extra preseason games. Most fans and teams already perceive the fourth week of the preseason as a throwaway: few significant players are willing to risk injury in these games with only a few marginal roster spots sometimes up for grabs. The first week isn’t much better: starters usually play very little while working on the conditioning needed to be in game shape.

An agreement on the NFL preseason won’t end negotiations between the league and the NFLPA. The two sides are still discussing protocols for reopening team complexes, as well as the health and safety measures that will be taken as the league attempts to begin its season.

Several issues are on the table, including a potential requirement that players and team personnel quarantine at home for two weeks before they travel to training camps. Given those time frames, both sides agree that they need a deal by the end of next week in order to start team activities on time. Most teams have scheduled their training camps to begin on July 28.

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