It started innocently enough with Ryan Tannehill suffering an unfortunate injury before the season evan began. Since that time multiple teams have lost key contributors for the season due to injuries sustained during the course of the meaningless pre-season schedule. There have also been near misses that would have been catastrophic for the teams and players involved. In addition to Tannehill, Quincy Enunwa, Spencer Ware, Julian Edelman, Phil Taylor, and Cameron Meredith will all miss the entire season, or most of it, due to injuries suffered in the preseason. Odell Beckham Jr, one of the most visible players in the NFL, might miss a few weeks. First round receivers Corey Davis and Mike Williams both figure to miss significant time as well.
The preseason has been a point of contention between the league and the players association for some time. Recently the league has sought to remove two preseason games by adding them to the regular season, which so far the NFLPA has opposed due to money. There are benefits to having multiple preseason games as they give many of the fringe roster players opportunities to showcase their skills, veteran free agents a chance to earn playing time in new systems, and drafted rookies a chance to show that they can contribute early. Because they involve largely unknown players they also tend to be boring. While the league is not going to walk away from the ticket revenue (season ticket holders must pay for preseason games) the risk of injuries to players looms on the horizon and grows even greater as more contracts for top level players and rookies involve injury salary guarantees for multiple seasons.
As the league moves forward with its new “focus” on player safety, it would only seem logical that the NFL moves to reduce the exposure of players to injuries. The easiest way to do that would be to remove some preseason games but that would involve giving up some revenue, which neither the owners nor the players will do. As we move towards a looming strike in 2021 the preseason figures to be a major hurdle that will need to be overcome on the bargaining table, along with the league's disciplinary process and the ever present revenue share. If one or more teams suffers injuries to massive stars with healthy salaries between now and then it seems plausible that some owners will change their mind regarding the importance of the preseason and might move to shorten it. If enough top level players miss out on huge paydays due to season ending injuries then perhaps the players association will look to do the same.
Until someone budges everyone will continue to take the risk. The players most of all.