Do NFL Training-Camp Fights Matter?

by Jim Geraghty

As part of the team’s continuing effort to dominate the NFL offseason and preseason,* the New York Jets are attracting additional national media attention for fights among players in training camp.

I realize this is the time of year when we find ourselves watching backups playing backups in the second quarter of preseason, and that every minor event of camp must be blown into a huge deal by an increasingly obsessive media. But has anyone ever found a connection between preseason fights and a team’s success in the upcoming season? Is there anything to suggest that a team with some players fighting in the summer sun won’t be playing as a team in autumn and winter?

ESPN’s James Walker argues it’s a sign of a team “out of control.” But former Redskins player Matt Bowen argues “no.”

If, say, a team’s starting quarterback and top receiver start swinging punches at each other, then yes, that would seem problematic for team chemistry in the weeks ahead. But in the case of the Jets, one fight was between a rookie running back (who’s fourth on the depth chart) and a rookie linebacker (who’s third on the depth chart). As long as they’re not injuring each other, they don’t really need to like each other.

(The fact that starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie reportedly took cheap shots at two offensive players, including starting tight end Dustin Keller, is a bigger concern.)

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seems unconcerned about fights in his team’s training camp. They probably ought to be expected: young men of great strength, competing for a chance at a roster spot and fulfilling their dreams, in a violent sport that involves running into each other and bumping into each other and trying to bring each other to the ground, all done in the hot sun of summer. Why wouldn’t tempers flare?

* Offseason and preseason: dominated. Regular season and postseason: Not-so-dominated.