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As Stars Like Julio Jones Opt Out, Where is Value in Preseason Games?



UNITY TWP., Pa. — The 2019 NFL preseason kicked off on Thursday night, as the Denver Broncos played the Atlanta Falcons in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

But the national television viewers and those in attendance at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium didn’t get to see star Falcons wide receiver streaking down the sideline.

That’s because for the second straight season, Jones has decided that he’s not playing in preseason games.

Jones is coming back from a foot issue and is looking for a new contract that could top the $100 million deal that divisional rival New Orleans just gave to Michael Thomas. But Jones also didn’t participate in preseason games in 2018, and for the most part, feels that they’re unnecessary for a player of his stature.

“I’m a veteran. I’ve been doing this,” Jones said during a press conference on Tuesday. “I don’t need preseason to get ready. … I’ll get my reps in practice. I practice the way I play. When I get my reps in, I’ll be ready to play.”

Many around the NFL see preseason games as less and less useful, and some of the current four-game schedule is on the chopping block in most plans to expand the NFL regular-season or postseason schedule.

But that isn’t an opinion that’s universally held, obviously. The vast majority of NFL veterans will suit up for at least part of some of their team’s preseason games, even if most of the reps are given to younger players trying to make the team.

Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, entering his 10th season and also looking for a contract, feels that there’s something to be said for playing against a real opponent before the season starts.

“I feel like sometimes, you can’t really get game speed in practice,” Haden said to Steelers Now. “You can try, but I feel like sometimes, just the whole environment of being in a game setup, warmups, going through everything you get a little bit out of it. “But once you get past like nine, 10 [years] in, I can see it. Even coaches have been doing a lot more of keeping guys out.”

The Steelers have rested most of their veteran players at least once during the first six practices of training camp, though Haden hasn’t had his turn yet.

Haden also said he didn’t think there would be an issue if a Steelers veteran decided he didn’t want to play like Jones has.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “If it was like Ben [Roethlisberger] or a guy like [Maurkice] Pouncey, Ramon [Foster] or Cam [Heyward], guys that are vets that you know have been doing everything they need to do, try and prevent injury.”

If history can be used as a guide, most of the Steelers vets will only play a small portion of the first games, about a half of the second game, most of the third game and then minimally, if at all, in the final game.

One thing that playing in spring training games has going for it is the ability to match up with someone new and break the monotony of training camp. For a player like Haden, he’s already seen pretty much every move JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief can throw at him. It’s a useful challenge to hit a different-colored jersey.

“Just being able to to play against other guys, not against your teammates and just seeing how [your game] works when you haven’t really studied film or anything like that,” he said. As far as a contract, both Haden and Jones are playing the same waiting game, even if they’re taking different approaches. Haden’s agent Drew Rosenhaus came into Pittsburgh camp earlier this week, but left without securing a new deal for his client. The Steelers did renegotiate the contract of defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt to create cap space that could be used for Haden’s extension.

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