On Tuesday, the NFL officially implemented a long-anticipated change: lengthening its regular season to 17 games and reducing the preseason schedule to just three games. As part of this change, we learned that there will now be a bye week between the third preseason game and the beginning of the regular season.
Since Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid took over the team in 2013, we've become accustomed to a certain routine about the team's preseason games. We expect most starters to play only a small number of snaps in the first two games — perhaps only a series or two — and then play a little bit more in the third game. But in the fourth, we expect them to remain on the sidelines; it’s time for the rookies to shine, hoping that they can make their case to make the final roster.
Reid is famously addicted to routine. But when necessary, he's also been willing (and able) to institute changes. With a shortened exhibition season, how should he alter his preseason approach?
It would be tempting to assume that the Chiefs will simply truncate the schedule. Starters would play a small amount in the first game, a bit more in the second game and sit out the third.
And make no mistake: that could be exactly what happens. But now that there will be a week off before the season begins, this would mean the starters will not have played a live snap for three weeks before the first one that counts.
That doesn't sound like a move Reid would be inclined to make; he's been comfortable with his starters having two weeks of rest before the opening game of the season.
Does that mean the starters would play for at least some of each preseason game? It might. But there could be another alternative.
Let's not forget that during the 2020 season, Chiefs coaches consistently said they had very much missed the opportunity to see their rookies play in the preseason. The elimination of one preseason game isn't going to make that any better. So it stands to reason the Chiefs might still like to have at least one preseason game centered on the rookies.
If we take it as a given that in the third preseason game, starters will be participating well into the second quarter, when should the rookies get their game? I would argue that the most sensible approach would be for the rookies to get their shot in the first preseason game. Here’s why:
I’ve always found it troubling that in the final all-or-nothing preseason game, rookies get a chance to make the roster on the basis of a single game. To me, this carried an inherent risk: a rookie could make the team because of a fluke game he is never able to repeat. Wouldn't it make more sense that after a player attracted their attention, the team would have a couple of live-action games where they could test the player’s mettle a little more — that is, to be certain they aren’t making a roster decision based on an outlying performance?
Granted, such a preseason — the all-rookie game, the second game with starters getting their feet wet and the third with starters playing a little longer — would be a substantial departure from Reid’s normal plan. But the schedule is changing for the first time in 44 years; some things are going to have to change. For Reid, it will be an opportunity to once again prove that an old dog really can learn new tricks.