Understandably, the majority of fans weren't happy about the Seahawks decision to rest most of their starters during the preseason. Such frustrations aren't misguided, especially for those who attended two home games at Lumen Field and paid regular season prices to ultimately watch reserves - a number of which wouldn't even be on the roster three days later - play for four quarters.
Paying for such an expensive ticket, those in attendance wanted to see Russell Wilson sling a few spirals, preferably to DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and rookie Dee Eskridge. They wanted to see a revamped line featuring guard Gabe Jackson in front of a deep running back group. They wanted to see Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks hunting down ball carriers, Carlos Dunlap and Jamal Adams feasting on quarterbacks, and Quandre Diggs picking off passes from center field.
Aside from Eskridge getting his first NFL snaps last weekend, much to the chagrin of fans who paid hoping to see them, none of those players ever saw the field during the preseason beyond warm ups. As general manager John Schneider said during his pre-game interview on ESPN 710 last Saturday, this development marks a substantial "revolution" compared to how the team handled playing starters during the preseason in the past when Wilson and company used to at least get a few drives in for a couple of exhibition contests.
As coach Pete Carroll noted after Saturday's 27-0 win over the Chargers in the preseason finale, the Seahawks decided to put the plan into practice after not having any exhibition games last August and racing out to a 5-0 start. Learning from the experience, they didn't feel it was necessary to expose veteran starters such as Wilson to potential injury playing in games that don't count in the standings.
“That was the way we basically approached it, for the whole preseason, to make sure that we maximize the opportunity to see the other guys; to not just see them, but knowing that so many of these guys are going to be on our team," Carroll said. "We wanted to take them as far as we could, and get them as ready to backup and support the effort throughout.”
Over the years, more and more NFL teams have handled preseason games in such a manner. While there are still a few holdovers - the Buccaneers and Chiefs played starters, including quarterbacks Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, in two games apiece - the majority of teams believe the risk outweighs the benefit.
An argument can be made Seattle should have given Wilson and other starters on offense a brief run in at least one of the games with a new offensive being installed under coordinator Shane Waldron. If the unit looks rusty or struggles executing new plays in the opener against the Colts, some will be quick to point to the decision not to play the starters in the preseason as the main culprit.
But for those wondering how players feel about not getting any snaps before the regular season, safety Quandre Diggs believes most veterans have been around long enough to know how to prepare for Week 1 without playing in the preseason. Those reps are better suited for young players trying to establish themselves in the league and needing evaluation from coaches.
“We didn’t play last year, and we started out 6-1 or 7-1. For some young guys it’s good, but I’m in year seven so I know how to play ball and I know how to get myself ready," Diggs said following Tuesday's practice. "I think a lot of other guys feel that way also. Whatever Pete and the coaching staff have planned, we just go with that plan and that’s what they wanted to do with us.”
Moving forward, as hinted by Schneider last Saturday, the Seahawks may choose to schedule joint training camp practices with another team as a replacement for preseason games, something they have not done since Carroll became coach in 2010. Under those circumstances, he argued it would be easier to maintain control over what happens in such an environment and quick whistles can be blown to avoid injuries while still getting quality repetitions against outside competition.
Although it may not be what fans want, it's the right and only decision to make for a franchise like Seattle with a veteran quarterback and a number of established stars. After seeing linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and receiver John Ursua suffer season-ending torn ACLs during a 30-3 loss to the Broncos in the second preseason, those injuries should serve as a harrowing reminder of what could happen to notable players in a game that doesn't count in the standings.
For that reason alone, it simply doesn't make sense for Wilson, Wagner, and other noteworthy players to do anything beyond individual drills and the team period in pre-game. Fans should be more than comfortable with seeing them sporting caps on the sideline and cheering on their young teammates who actually need the play time. That's what these games are all about and adequate preparations can be made by those players on the practice field while mitigating risk and the possibility of a season-altering injury.
As for the warranted complaints about the price of preseason tickets, that unfortunately won't change anytime soon. It's a money maker owners don't want to forfeit. But if more teams follow the Seahawks and opt to sit most of their starters for those games, it's not out of the question the future may include only two of those contests on the docket or they could be phased out completely.