The 49ers could benefit from a two-game preseason, which is being discussed among NFL circles.
Simply put, the 2020 offseason has been a strange one for the San Francisco 49ers and the other 31 teams around the league affected by COVID-19.
Rookie minicamps, organized team activities and other in-house events have all been affected, and the carryover could end up altering teams’ training camps, too. And it’s anyone’s guess how all this will transpire into the regular season, still projected to start on schedule in early September.
But one of the possible changes could affect the NFL preseason, at least according to reported discussions between the league and players union.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on Wednesday one proposed idea, shortening the preseason down from its usual slate of four games:
"The NFL and NFLPA are discussing the possibility of shortening the 2020 preseason, per sources. Nothing finalized or imminent, but multiple team executives informed of talks currently believe they could end up playing two preseason games, rather than four."
This matches a previous report about starting training camps earlier than usual, mid-July, to account for the lost field time usually allocated to OTAs and minicamps and necessary to acclimate players to the rigors of a full 16-game regular season. Without getting overly complex with the details, there are rules in the current collective bargaining agreement pertaining to how much time camps can begin before the first preseason games.
It’s not a new argument, either, as many have long called for a shortening of the four-game preseason set of exhibition games. Generally speaking, the third preseason game is viewed as a regular-season tuneup with starters and primary backups frequently playing a full half of football.
For a variety of reasons, few of which are fun to discuss, the league has balked at the idea of shortening the preseason. The current situation, however, could change that.
The 49ers, meanwhile, could ultimately benefit from an abbreviated preseason. The Niners are the lone NFL team still prevented from returning to their facilities outside Levi’s Stadium. Santa Clara County has prohibited a return, although that could change in the coming days. There are also relatively few roster spots up for grabs heading into 2020, meaning the extended looks at players vying to make the 53-man roster aren’t quite as crucial for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co.
“You absolutely don’t need four preseason games,” Shanahan told reporters (h/t 49ers Webzone) last year. “I’d rather have zero than four, preferably I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”
For now, San Francisco’s upcoming preseason schedule is as follows:
- Saturday, Aug. 15 @ Denver Broncos
- Friday, Aug. 21 vs. Las Vegas Raiders
- Saturday, Aug. 29 @ Chicago Bears
- Thursday, Sept. 3 vs. Los Angeles Chargers
With time being the crucial factor here, one might expect the league to trim the first two games and perhaps altering the typically Thursday fourth preseason bout to later in the week. Or the NFL could cut out the first and fourth preseason games, too.
Simply put, this remains a fluid situation. And as Pelissero reported, there’s no finalized decision pending.
Either way, the strangeness and uniqueness of the 2020 offseason has been notable, to say the least, and the hope is the 49ers can absorb whatever difficulties come their way with relative ease.