If everything goes according to plan, the New England Patriots will report to their training camp on July 28 and play their preseason opener versus the Detroit Lions 16 days later on August 13. Plans are very much fragile constructs these days, however, with Covid-19 still impacting life in the United States and forcing the NFL to adjust on a regular basis. Training camp and the preseason will therefore very much look different as well this year.
While the league is trying to get players back into the facilities rather quickly — plans for this process were presented earlier this week — the current preseason structure could very much look differently in the aftermath of the Coronavirus: according to a report by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the league and the NFL Player Association are “discussing the possibility of shortening the 2020 preseason” from currently four to two contests.
Such a move would allow for a longer acclimation period to start training camp after players were unable to participate in any on-field activities over the course of the offseason due to the pandemic, and instead had to rely on virtual workouts. According to Pelissero, shortening the preseason — effectively by dropping games one and two — is a realistic scenario even if players agree to report one or two weeks earlier than usual to training camp.
“Under normal circumstances, preseason games are critical to evals of these huge 90-man NFL rosters,” former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham, a current analyst for NESN and The Athletic, said about the league’s reported plans on Twitter. “The last thing you would want with no offseason program is less live evaluation. But, the decision to start camps in late July without an offseason makes a preseason game two weeks later seem very unlikely.”
The Patriots are scheduled to play four preseason games this year. Following their matchup with the Lions at Gillette Stadium on August 13, the team would host the Carolina Panthers on August 20 before traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles (August 27) and to New York for the traditional Week 4 matchup with the Giants (September 3).
This year’s preseason, of course, will be highly important for the team: with Tom Brady having left in free agency, New England will need to groom a new starting quarterback. Accordingly, the team might opt to give projected new starter Jarrett Stidham as many opportunities as possible to perform against live competition — opportunities that may now decrease in case the league’s plans to shorten the exhibition schedule do actually get adapted.