The latest reason to expect a sooner-than-later reduction in the preseason comes from evidence shared by the NFL on Tuesday regarding preseason concussions: This year, they spiked. Significantly.
According to Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal, concussions happening during 2019 preseason games jumped from 34 to 49. That was driven heavily, as told to Fischer by NFL executive V.P. of health and safety innovation Jeff Miller, by a “surge” in concussions during the final two weeks of the preseason, when starters are playing less and less and bottom-of-the-roster players are scrambling to get one of 53 jobs.
For training camp and the preseason, the total concussions for 2019 matched 2018 at 79. The flat number resulted from a 15-concussion drop during training camp practices, which in our estimation possibly resulted from the elimination of Oklahoma drills and similar head-banging drills.
Miller also told Fischer that players who don’t make the 53-man roster have become more likely to absorb head injuries in preseason games. Although the article doesn’t suggest potential reasons for the difference, obvious factors include fringe players taking greater risks with their bodies in an effort to impress their own coaching staff or, if need be, other coachings staffs and fringe players being more willing to self-report concussion-like symptoms, if they sense that they’re going to be cut anyway. For many of these players, there’s a clear financial incentive to be candid about head trauma; an injury settlement along with several weeks of regular-season pay could be the outcome of the inevitable placement on IR followed by an injury settlement.
The data comes at a time when the NFL wants to reduce the preseason and, in turn, expand the regular season. And if the evidence shows that preseason games are actually more dangerous from a head-injury standpoint than regular-season games, the case for swapping out 16 and four for 17 and two could get a lot stronger.
Of course, starters and other regular contributors may not be influenced by this data, given that the extra concussions aren’t happening to them. But if the preseason shrinks to two games and if those games unfold more like the final two games of the preseason currently do, starters won’t be playing much, if at all, in the exhibition season.