The biggest league-wide story of the NFL’s 2020 offseason has not been Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots or players getting more vocal when it comes to addressing social matters, but rather the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the upcoming season. With Covid-19 showing no signs of slowing down its spread in the United States — quite the opposite in most places, unfortunately — pro football will have to continue to adjust as well.
Some first adjustments were already implemented as early as March: offseason workouts and the draft were moved to a virtual forum, the league decided to close facilities and release new safety guidelines, and the Hall of Fame Game was canceled. The latter was a sign of things to come, as the NFL reportedly is aiming at reducing the preseason slate from the usual four games teams have down to just two.
That plan, however, was not met with universal approval.
The NFL Players Association wants to cut back the number of preseason games even further, down to zero. The board, which includes Patriots representative Matthew Slater, even voted last week to officially recommend canceling the exhibition schedule. Slater is acting in the interest of New England’s locker room, and for two of its members — defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty — the main question is not how many preseason games to play.
“Does it matter? We have to first figure out ‘How do we get back in the locker room?’ When we go back, are we straight to training camp? What is that procedure?” said Devin about the currently ongoing debates on the latest episode of the Double Coverage podcast he runs together with his twin brother Jason. “For us as players, we still want to know ‘How everything is going to function and work?’
“Don’t get me wrong, everybody is working towards that and building,” he added. “There’s calls and everything. But I think that’s more important than whether there’s four preseason games, two preseason games, no preseason games. All that stuff will work itself out. All that stuff matters if the first phase of us being back in training camp is going well. If that doesn’t go well, then there is no anything. For me, that has been more my focus. I haven’t really cared what the preseason games look like.”
The Patriots’ preseason slate was originally scheduled to be kicked off with a meeting against the Detroit Lions on August 13. While the two teams could still meet albeit on a different date, and under different circumstances altogether, it seems like a foregone conclusion that such a contest would at best represent 50 percent of New England’s preseason this year.
“For me, just assuming things are flowing, any time you reduce preseason games, I know for some people you look at it and it’s just like, ‘Hey, no one goes to those games, they are not as important, blah, blah, blah,’” Jason added to the conversation. “But at the same time, some of your favorite players now were guys that had to go out there and make a name for themselves in those preseason games. Whenever you see those types of games taken away, it hurts, because that’s the way guys make the team that they are on. They make other teams.
“At this point, it’s just like ‘What is the safest way to get back on the field and actually have a season?’ If that means that we’re reducing preseason, whatever the case is, obviously we have to do what we need to do,” the 32-year-old continued.
McCourty, who joined Devin in New England back in 2018, knows what he is talking about. He originally arrived in the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick by the Tennessee Titans back in 2009, and had to compete against other players for a spot on the team’s cornerback depth chart. His performance during preseason helped him carve out a role on defense and special teams, and eventually became the foundation for what is now an 11-year career — looking at a 12th that could be unlike any other season in NFL history.