Thankfully, real games about to start

PITTSBURGH — There should be a celebration this Thursday night.

The Steelers will end the preseason with their fourth not-quite-a-game. No more pretend NFL football.

From that point forward, every game counts. Every one will be taken seriously with preparation and strategy and urgency. You know, all those things lacking in the preseason as free agents battle for spots on the practice squad.

There are currently four preseason games for most teams. A long time ago, there were as any as seven. Even four is too many.

Coaches like preseason games for the most part. It gives them a chance to see new players in an environment that’s not practice. But they also worry about injuries, which is why they usually don’t play starters very much.

Fans don’t necessarily like preseason games, but ticket buyers get stuck with them. If you want those eight regular season games (and priority for playoff tickets), you have to buy the two preseason games. As we saw last weekend at Heinz Field, a lot of ticket holders just eat the tickets for the preseason and stay away. It’s just the cost of doing business.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and a guy who has some sway within the league, proposes cutting the preseason to two games. Every team would play one game at a home and the other on the road.

Great idea, but will the players go for it? With all the attention being paid to head injuries, adding two high intensity regular season games is no small matter.

Jones has a plan for that. Ply them with money. Add some more money to the players’ pot and maybe they’ll be agreeable to an extra two games.

That sounds like a typical Texas solution, but there’s no assurance it will work. Players sacrifice their bodies to play in the NFL. Adding two more games will increase the risk.

The extra games would also be played in August and early September, when it’s still summer and oppressively hot in a lot of places. That might be a factor, too.

The real answer is to keep the 16-game season and still cut the preseason to two games. That won’t happen, though. As lousy as preseason games are, they generate money with ticket sales and they’re part of the network TV packages.

Once sports gambling takes hold, two more weekends of “real” games will be another factor.

Jerry Jones wants more football, and so do a lot of fans. Thing is, they’re not the ones out there getting their brains scrambled to provide it.

SUBHEAD: On the move

Multiple reports say Pirates’ second baseman Josh Harrison cleared waivers and is available in a trade before the Aug. 31 freeze for postseason rosters.

The Pirates would be agreeable to moving Harrison. Very agreeable, in fact. He’s due a leap to $10.5 million next season. The Pirates could buy that out for $1 million and spend another $500,000 to buy out the $11.5 million option on his 2020 contract.

Harrison is 31, which means he’s heading into his declining years. He’s been injured more often and his production has never come close to matching the 2014 season that got him the long-term contract.

Harrison isn’t a hot commodity on the trade market, given this season’s mediocre numbers and a lingering hamstring injury.

If another team wants Harrison this week, they’ll be able to get him without giving up much.

(Mehno can be reached at: