NFL owners will always prioritize profit over player development

Lions coach Dan Campbell made a great point about the inevitable push for more regular-season games, and fewer preseason games. It’s a great point that will fall on deaf ears, as it relates to the ears that matter.

Yes, having only two preseason games (and 18 regular-season games) will hurt player development. No, the owners do not care.

The owners care about profit. That’s not a criticism or a judgment. It’s a fact. More money in, less money out. Plain and simple.

More regular-season games means more money in. If the cost includes fewer opportunities for young players to develop, so be it.

It’s already clear that the man hired by the owners to be the face and voice of their cash machine will gladly trade preseason games for regular-season games. His argument goes like this: Preseason games stink, regular-season games don’t.

Player developments doesn’t even register in the conversation, as far as those who own the teams are concerned. Players will develop another way. Or they won’t. There are 53 roster spots per team, and supply will always outweigh demand. If the reduction of the preseason to two games (or, in time, the elimination of it for a 20-game regular season) keeps some players from becoming the best players they can be, so what?

Someone else will make the team. Someone else will earn the reps. Someone else will make the money.

Besides, the NFL’s ultimate development program continues. It’s college football. The NFL’s free farm system. That’s where players will, or won’t, reach a level of performance that qualifies them for NFL opportunities.

This isn’t about whether it’s right or wrong to care about player development. It’s an acknowledgement of the reality that the owners don’t care, not if it eats into their profits.

The owners proved that 17 years ago, when the plug was pulled on NFL Europe. Dating back to the World League of American Football (which the NFL debuted in 1991), this spring-football minor league created important development opportunities for players, coaches, executives, officials, everyone. And if it was making enough money, it wouldn’t have been shut down.

The NFL’s multi-billionaires didn’t make their multiple billions by making bad business decisions. Look at what they’re doing to NFL Network. After 20 years, they’re finally treating it as a real business and not a loss-leader propaganda tool — and they’re stripping it down to the lowest of low-cost programming.

The NFL will not blink if/when it comes to shrinking the preseason to two games or one game or no games. It’s up to the teams to develop players. It’s up to the players to develop. Ultimately, 22 players will be on the field. Whether any of those players benefited from having real opportunities to develop after leaving college football doesn’t matter to the people who pull the strings and push the buttons.

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