Concussions are and will remain a major talking point in the NFL. The league has implemented a new initiative to curb them every year, it feels, and 2022 is no exception. In 2022, the NFL will debut the “Guardian Cap,” a softshell helmet covering designed to curb concussions in training camp.
As more minicamps open up Tuesday, players will once again be seen donning the cushioned helmets. Manufactured in 2010, this is the first year the caps will be mandatory, and they will be seen all the way up until the second preseason game of the season.
Here’s what to know about the Guardian Cap as 2022 camps continue, and some information about the cap and its purpose.
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What is the Guardian Cap?
The Guardian Cap was developed in 2010 by Guardian Sports. It’s meant to evolve the modern football helmet, which has notoriously been weaponized by some players (perhaps most infamously former Washington safety Brandon Merriweather).
The cap goes over the traditional football helmet, and has a waffle design that is meant to absorb impact.
According to Guardian’s website, it essentially works by cushioning the blow of helmets hitting moving objects. “An outer ‘soft’ material of the proper density, stiffness and energy absorbing properties reduces the initial severity of the impact.”
Which players have to wear the Guardian Cap?
Linemen, tight ends, and linebackers are the positions mandated to wear the cap, though some teams — like the Pittsburgh Steelers — have adopted it team-wide. In essence, the NFL is trying to reduce head injuries from constant head trauma in the trenches.
How effective is the Guardian Cap?
Guardian Sports claims it reduces impact by up to 33 percent, while also reducing static heat 15 to 20 degrees.
The Guardian Caps are also flexible enough to fit over various helmet sizes.
Per ESPN, the average reduction was closer to 10 percent compared to a traditional helmet, with that 33 percent number coming from high schoolers, who naturally exert significantly less force.
What does the Guardian Cap look like?
The Guardian Cap looks like you’d expect a large helmet covering to look.
Guardian Cap debuts during minicamps in effort to reduce avoidable head contacthttps://t.co/qGH9JhCa90 pic.twitter.com/AA1O3zXuG9
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) June 8, 2022
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was kind enough to model it without a helmet.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin joins in with his team to wear a Guardian Cap during the first day of minicamp Tuesday at UPMC Sports Complex. pic.twitter.com/CJIeXhX9i0
— Matt Freed (@mattfreedpghpg) June 7, 2022
The best 📸 from minicamp in monochrome ⬇️
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 12, 2022
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 9, 2022
It’s undoubtedly bulky, but that’s kind of the point. It’s not a fashion statement, it’s meant to protect players from head trauma.
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How many concussions did NFL players have in 2021?
Concussions are rarely talked about on NFL broadcasts — until they are. Any time a player is ushered off the field after a big hit to the medical tent, you’ll hear broadcasters discuss the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Concussions in the NFL have dropped sharply since 2017, but they remain a serious problem. The league saw 275 concussions in 2015, 243 in 2016, and 281 in 2017. From there, there were 214 in 2018, 224 in 2019, 172 in 2020 (no preseason), and 187 in 2022. This is to say, the NFL’s steps have undoubtedly helped, but the Guardian Caps are being implemented to even further curb head trauma in the NFL.
What are the players saying?
NFL players seem to largely be on board with the new caps, and the ones who aren’t aren’t speaking up (not abnormal in the league).
Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth gave perhaps the most honest perspective.
“We look dumb,” he said after the Steelers debuted the caps last week. “We definitely look dumb but it’s good protection.”
“It’s a new rule, it’s for their safety,” Tomlin added. “We’re going to make it a non-issue for us and focus on our work.”
Back in May, the Rams’ David Edwards had a more specific take.
— NFL (@NFL) May 3, 2022
“The Guardian Cap provided that extra layer of protection you needed during practice,” he said. “The last thing you want is to lose players on the offensive and defensive lines to head injuries during practice or training camp. The cap helped reduce some of those injuries and was useful to our team last season.”
The NFL will, of course, be tracking how successful the new helmets are. If that 10 percent collision reduction makes an impact, it should translate to fewer concussions during OTAs. In the meantime, the league will undoubtedly be looking at ways to reduce game speed concussions, as that’s where the vast majority of NFL head injuries still lie.