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Bills-Redskins: Investigating the perils of FedEx Field

If you Google “FedEx Field turf,” you’ll notice a variety of articles, mostly written in 2013, complaining about its quality, which should come as no surprise after the knee injuries Robert Griffin III suffered on it during his spectacular rookie campaign with the Redskins.

There are even a few pieces that, back then, called for the Redskins to replace FedEx Field’s natural grass with artificial turf.

Now, more than three years removed from that incident, I wanted to revisit the reputation of FedEx Field’s playing surface before the Bills head there for Friday’s preseason outing against the Redskins.

On Tuesday, Mike Jones of The Washington Post, answered a turf-related question in his Redskins’ mailbag column:

In watching the game from home on Friday night, FedEx field looked in mid-December form — that is lumpy, bumpy and clumpy. I thought a new type of turf was coming to the field and that it would resolve this eyesore and safety issue once and for all. Can you please provide an update?

– Carrie Wosicki

I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to. I stood on the field pre-game, and there weren’t any gaps and dirt patches like you see in December. I re-watched it on television and didn’t notice that the field looked bad from that view either.

Sorry to break it to you, but they’re not likely to change any time soon. Bruce Allen, Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden all prefer natural grass. The team’s workers re-seed the field after every game and water it throughout the week, and then rip up the sod midway through the season and re-sod it. That’s how it’ll stay for now.


Turns out though... just six months after the final knee injury of Griffin III’s rookie season, which began his precipitous downward spiral in the nation’s capitol, the Redskins put in new sod at FedEx Field, according to a June 2013 report from Sports Illustrated. According to that article, the new field was “a bermuda grass sod mix specifically designed by Oklahoma State University horticulture experts in conjunction with the United States Golf Association.”

With the turf’s quality under immense scrutiny in the aftermath of the knockout injury to RG3, then the face of the franchise and a burgeoning NFL superstar, the Redskins front office was clearly serious about upgrading the field on which its team played.

It appears the decision Jones’ alluded to above about re-sodding in the middle of regular season came in 2014, per CBS DC.

In late July of this year, Peter King of MMQB, wrote an article about the league and NFLPA’s creation of “a joint committee—two representatives from the union, two from the league—that would meet at least twice a year to monitor field conditions.” King went on to write:

In addition, the NFLPA’s designated field consultant “will be granted equal access to all NFL playing fields and field test results,” according to the agreement, which was signed last week. “For the avoidance of doubt, this access includes non-traditional venues (e.g., London, Mexico City, Hall of Fame Game).

Outside of RG3, the most notable injury on FedEx Field was Adrian Peterson’s ACL and MCL tear on Christmas Eve on 2011, but, obviously, those type of injuries happen often on every field across the entire NFL.

Last season against the Redskins on FedEx Field, LeSean McCoy sprained his MCL and Robert Woods tweaked his nagging groin injury. Neither played in Buffalo’s final two (meaningless) games after that.

Searching for injuries on grass vs. turf yields what you’d expect on the Internet — essentially half the articles claim grass is safer while the other half say the opposite.

However, FedEx Field’s playing surface doesn’t have the best reputation in the NFL -- far from it. Beyond that, one disadvantage of natural grass is its tendency to resemble a dog track when enormous, world-class athletes ground their cleats into it on a regular basis. That obviously doesn’t happen with artificial turf.

For the Bills, getting on the turf in August instead of later in the year is probably a huge plus.

Therefore, to me, the most vital aspect of the Bills third preseason game against the Redskins on Friday isn’t Tyrod Taylor’s downfield passing, Sammy Watkins’ getting acclimated to game speed, or the pass-rush... it’s that they leave FedEx Field without any serious injuries to key players.