Trendy NFL Joint Practices May Be Coming to an End

Twenty-seven of the NFL's 32 teams scheduled joint practices this offseason

Charger Joshua Palmer tries to bring in a pass at a joint practice.
Joint practices may be proving to be more trouble than they're worth
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Following two fight-filled days of joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday, the Patriots and Packers couldn’t get through pregame warmups without tempers flaring before the start of their preseason matchup at Lambeau Field on Saturday night. About 40 minutes before kickoff, players from both teams converged at midfield, and a scuffle broke out before cooler heads prevailed.

More than two hours later, one of the players involved in the scuffle, New England rookie cornerback Isaiah Bolden, was carted off the field after suffering a concussion when he was kneed in the head by a Patriots player while attempting to make a tackle. Following that scary scene, New England coach Bill Belichick and Packers coach Matt LaFleur agreed to suspend play and officially end the preseason game early in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots had planned to fly to Tennessee on Sunday to hold two practices with the Titans leading up to Friday’s preseason finale. Instead, the team headed home to Massachusetts after canceling the joint practices “due to the circumstances surrounding the abrupt and unexpected ending” to Saturday’s game. Late Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans agreed to cancel the joint practices that they were scheduled to hold in New Orleans on Thursday and Friday before meeting in their preseason finale. The decision was made because of the amount of injuries Houston has had during the past two weeks, according to The Associated Press.

“We just thought it was better to go ahead and cancel it and just be able to play the game,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “Hey, look, sometimes those things happen, and we were both in agreement on that. We’ll work on our own, and, I mean, we got a lot to focus on.”

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While the circumstances surrounding the cancellations are certainly different, what is becoming clear is that NFL teams are starting to re-examine the value of holding joint practices against other franchises. The trend is more popular than ever, with a total of 27 teams scheduled to participate in shared sessions this year, up from 23 last season, because they allow teams to see their star players in action against other teams without having to put them on the field during a meaningless preseason game. The idea is to keep stars safe from injury and to give rookies, backups and players battling for roster spots more chances at game action.

In theory, joint practices make sense. In practice, they are increasingly seeming to be more trouble than they’re worth as fights and flared tempers are becoming increasingly widespread during the sessions. From a fan perspective, another knock against the joint practices is that they make NFL preseason games even less compelling to watch because of the lack of star power. There’s also no evidence that joint practices have any correlation with winning as, along with only Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs aren’t participating in them.

“I think we control practice better the way we do it,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “Look how hard we were running against each other the other day. More than that, we cherish the preseason games. We use the preseason games. I’ve done those practices before, but we feel like we can keep our focus and stay within the stuff we need to do.”

Perhaps more coaches still start to feel the same, and the joint practice trend will come to an end.

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