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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Playing Time, Practice Fights, and Football Culture

The unsavory world of football has surfaced in the past couple of weeks and the changes need to start now.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

1. The New England Patriots have made a point of keeping their dinged up veterans off the field because there's little wiggle room should a player like tight end Rob Gronkowski or Dont'a Hightower suffer a long term injury. The same approach applies to players with injuries of the more minor variety. Head coach Bill Belichick left players like Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Scott Chandler, and Bryan Stork at home for their recovery, even though they're all nearly healthy. The thought: why engage these key players in a high-octane joint practice if they're not ready? It would just open up these players to greater injury potential.

Some injuries can't be avoided, unfortunately, like the Carolina Panthers (the Patriots upcoming opponents) that have lost their top receiver in Kelvin Benjamin to a non-contact injury. But coaching staffs need to do everything possible to balance regular season preparation, football readiness, and overall health. It's a difficult scale, but Belichick is doing his best to have everyone as healthy and as ready as possible for the opening week.

2. The side effect of letting every player nurse back to health? Tom Brady playing with the team's 3rd (Danny Amendola), 6th (Brandon Gibson), and 7th (Chris Harper) wide receivers and with the team's 3rd (Michael Hoomanawanui) and 5th (Jimmay Mundine) tight ends. Brady finally had LeGarrette Blount in the backfield, although the offensive line really struggled to block with both starting center Bryan Stork and 6th man Marcus Cannon unavailable.

Brady will likely play an extended amount against the Panthers, with the hopefully fully healthy offensive unit, before taking a rest against the Giants in the 4th week of the preseason. It's entirely possible that we won't see the actual starting offense of the Patriots until week 1 of the regular season, or even week 5 should the courts rule against Brady and the NFL Players Association.

3. Speaking of injuries, the Ravens edge defender Terrell Suggs had an ugly takedown of Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, he of the numerous surgeries and injuries. Bradford was running the read-option, similar to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, which means that Bradford was eligible to pull the ball away from the running back and run it himself. The read-option means that the quarterback is treated like a rusher and is fair game for the defense to wallop.

While Bradford wasn't injured, Suggs had no hesitation attacking Bradford's legs and taking him to the ground, ignoring the ball carrier. While hitting the quarterback is totally legal, Suggs was penalized for going after Bradford's knees:

It's the preseason. There's no reason to recklessly almost injure an opposing player. The play just makes me think of safety Duron Harmon, who had the opportunity to decapitate Saints tight end Ben Watson in the end zone, but instead just hit the receiver in the body. There are ways that Suggs could've sent a message to Bradford without going at his knees. It's senseless.

4. Another interesting point about senseless acts comes from Saints head coach Sean Payton. The league is trying to crackdown on fights and will be fining every player that doesn't leave the area of a skirmish during the regular season. It's an attempt to increase player safety, or something, even though players trying to break-up the fight will still be penalized.

Oh, and the league continues to glamorize fights by playing them in their daily news reviews and featuring them in Hard Knocks. News is news and you don't want to censor what's coming across in the preseason documentaries, but when the Cowboys website puts together a highlight video, with music akin to a high school prospect's recruitment footage, it shows a disconnect with the message that the league is trying to get across.

For the record, Payton specifically noted that he likes working with the Patriots in the preseason because of their professionalism.

"It's a big reason why we're practicing with [the New England Patriots] a third time," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "We know it's gonna be about improving both teams. We're both trying to do the same thing at this period of training camp."

5. Speaking to the culture of the league, retired linebacker Chris Borland has plenty to say. Borland retired this offseason after just one year in the league due to potential issues surrounding concussions and other injuries. He highlights the glamorization of violence as an act that he could no longer support, or participate in as an actor.

Borland is also revealing some of the slimier thought processes that could permeate throughout the league.

Borland attended the annual rookie orientation put on by the NFL. The league tries to prepare young players for what to expect on and off the field, and it brought in two prominent retired players to give the rookies advice.

"Get yourself a fall guy," Borland says one of the former players advised. The former player, whom Borland declined to name, told the rookies that if they ran into legal trouble, their designated 
fall guy would be there to take the blame and, if necessary, go to jail. "'We'll bail him out,'" Borland says the former player assured them.

This is a disgusting approach and needs to be changed at its source if the league wants to truly "protect the shield."

6. As the league continues to expand, the Jaguars will be a team of particular note. While no deal is finalized, Jacksonville is looking to strike a deal to play a home game in London through the year 2030. Jaguars owner Shad Khan purchased the team in 2011, when it was the 32nd most valuable franchise in the league. It's crept up to 29th and it has a greater growth rate than eight of the ten teams ahead of it in the valuations ranking.

Part of the value comes with the international approach from Khan. In the international popularity rankings, the Jaguars have jumped from 31st to 9th in the league, which is a major gain. While the Jaguars have a long way to go to catch the value of the Patriots (New England is valued at roughly 3x the Jaguars), Jacksonville's growing footprint will be fun to watch from a financial standpoint.