AJ Green, Andrew Luck, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Jay Z, New York Giants, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pre-Season, Ryan Finley, Seattle Seahawks
There’s only one place to start this week’s post and that is the retirement of Andrew Luck. No one was expecting that the latest ankle/calf problems that had been troubling Luck though the Colt’s off-season activities and had stopped him from taking a snap in pre-season would be the tipping point for him to step away from the game. The video of him walking of the Colts field to boos resounding round the stadium when the news broke was a tough watch, and a clearly emotional Luck spent most of his retirement press-conference talking about other people to further demonstrate what a good person he seems to be.
The constant cycle of pain and rehab is Luck pointed to as the reason he was stepping away from the game he loved, and given how tiring chronic pain can be it should not be as surprising as it is that Luck chose to walk away. In fact, as awareness of head injury has grown we have seen more players unwilling to stay in the game once they have made their money. I have heard many coaches and players talk about how they love football but football does not love you. The injury rate is basically one hundred percent. It can be a brutal sport and there are many reasons to play it but for Luck, a career spent battling injuries since 2015 saw the start of his shoulder problems was too much. He is a man of many and varied interests (what other franchise QB founded a book club) and so whilst the league will be poorer for his absence, I hope he finds peace and fulfilment away from the game. I suspect he will.
What I Saw
On the field the week started with me watching the Bengals fall to a narrow loss to the New York Giants in their first home game and leaves me worried about the upcoming season. We know it is the first year of a new regime and the optimist in me wants to see a quick improvement, but we now know several starters against the week one opponents will be rookies who will have to go into Seattle to face the Seahawks in one of the league’s most hostile environments without AJ Green. More worrying for me is that for all the camp buzz about a better defence, it has looked decidedly fragile up the middle again and whilst I’m not suggesting that it is as bad as last season’s bottom of the league group it does not fill me with confidence.
I have always been resistant to the complaints about pre-season, but the increasing removal of starters has made it a tough watch for anyone barring your own team. Having been following the Bengals as usual I have my eye out for players throughout all four quarters but even with a bit of reading around the Packers and following the Raiders on Hard Knocks the games aren’t quite grabbing me as they have in the past. They are still as important for the players at the bottom of the roster but coaches are playing very vanilla and with them very much working the bottom of the roster it is hard to latch onto things. I may be personally happiest about the success Ryan Finley has had this pre-season, but probably the most impressive team I have seen this pre-season has been the Baltimore Ravens who I saw for a second time this week as I watched them play and beat pretty handily the Philadelphia Eagles. For all the talk of how good the Browns are and the Steelers being better through subtraction, the Ravens are going to be difficult opponents again this season and I think will be challenging for the AFC North.
What I Heard
I’m on holiday this week so not as plugged into the NFL media as I usually am, but the fates stepped in for me whilst I was double check something on ESPN and I suggest you read this: – No distractions: An NFL veteran opens up on his sexuality
What I Think
I was thinking again about Jay Z’s deal with the NFL again. I understand what the NFL are trying to do with the deal and time will tell if Jay Z has answers to those that are criticising him for the move. I don’t think we are beyond kneeling, but I also don’t believe Jay Z has just jumped into this business partnership only for commercial reasons. He does too much philanthropy of his own and is too smart to just provide expedient cover for the NFL and help them book new artists for the Super Bowl half time.
The reason that this is cropping up again in my brain is the nexus around sports and politics. I understand why those who want sports to be an escape want nothing to do with politics and I’m not unsympathetic (believe me, with the state of British politics I get it), but there is undoubted power in bring a wide selection of people together through sport and if there’s a way for Jay Z to co-opt the institution of the NFL to further that then I’m all for it.
What I Know
That this time next week I’ll be excitedly prepping for the first game of the season and I have not done any of the spreadsheet work that I was planning to this off-season for the picks competiton…
What I Hope
I’m hoping that all those who don’t make a team after the final pre-season game tonight get another shot if that’s what they want. I know not everyone gets the chance to walk away on their own terms like Andrew Luck but it would be great if all those who don’t get to make the league can at least feel like they gave it their best shot.