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Why NFL preseason games are necessary, despite rash of injuries

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Despite what you’ve heard lately, NFL preseason games do actually matter.

The 2015 NFL preseason has been particularly brutal in terms of devastating injuries, and upon that swelling total a rising tide of hatred has emerged with respect to preseason games. Many have vocally called for the death of the league’s four-game schedule, citing the meaninglessness of these games.

One such critic is Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, who believes there is absolutely no value to these scrimmages. He wrote a column after Washington tight end Niles Paul was lost for the season in Week 1 in which he argued against preseason games. He centered his argument around two myths, as he termed it.

The first myth was that teams need time to evaluate the players on the roster. Freeman argued in the column, and then again on Twitter after Jordy Nelson’s ACL injury, that teams already know who they have and what they can do.

The second myth Freeman wanted to put to bed “is that players need the preseason to get used to the violence,” which he wrote is false because the players get plenty of action in scrimmages.

Freeman’s conclusions are ones held by many, but that doesn’t make them correct.

When trying to gauge the value of things football-related, it’s often much better to see things from a player’s point of view.

Ryan Riddle, who played for five NFL teams and had a stint in the CFL, spent his career as a player constantly on the roster bubble. He detailed in his article entitled “Life on the Roster Bubble: Thoughts from a former NFL Player” how he still has a “weird popping and grinding feeling” in his neck from a play made in a preseason game.

But rather than damning preseason games, as most have been doing these days, Riddle still believes these games are not only relevant, but necessary.

From his perspective, Freeman’s argument that preseason games aren’t necessary doesn’t hold water. In fact, he believes that more stars would be injured without these games than with them.

Also, in direct opposition to Freeman’s theory about how coaches already know who their players will be, Riddle points to guys like Victor Cruz, who literally came out of nowhere in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts to set the league on fire.

Additionally, there is much value to these games for guys like Riddle, who didn’t get much time to prove their worth. Every snap counts, and there just aren’t many for men at the bottom of the depth chart during training camp when the starters and second-stringers are preparing for Week 1.

The developmental league angle is an important one, and the league may be looking into starting one up again soon, if we’re to believe former NFL head coach Jim Fassel. But it’s an angle for another day. As of this moment, the league doesn’t have one, which is all the more reason it does need to continue a four-game preseason schedule.

Coaches don’t know who their final 53 will be at the start of training camp. To argue that is just ignoring the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

How many undrafted free agents have risen to the greatest heights of the game unexpectedly? Too many to list here, but here’s something to chew on: 15 players who went undrafted have then gone on to the NFL’s Hall of Fame.

Of late, guys like Arian Foster, Antonio Gates, James Harrison, Tony Romo and the aforementioned Cruz, among many others, have emerged from obscurity to become household names in the NFL. There’s no way they would have achieved this status without having blown coaches away during the preseason.

And, as it pertains to star players and their role in preseason football, consider this, from Zach Kruse of Cheesehead TV: “Crazy that Jordy Nelson tore up his knee on a reverse pivot, a move he’s executed hundreds of times.”

Whether it’s at a padless practice, training camp scrimmages or in games, injuries are going to happen in the NFL. We see it every year. It always stings when the league’s superstars go down in a heap, but that doesn’t mean the preseason is meaningless.

These games actually do matter.