At one point in the not-too-distant past, the NFL had launched a full-court press aimed at persuading the players, the media, and the fansthat the 20-game football season should be shifted from four preseason games and 16 regular-season games to two and 18, respectively. Since then, talk of two extra regular-season games has quieted considerably, and as Peter King of SI.com points out in his latest Monday Morning Quarterback, it needs to stay that way.
“[N]o more discussion of an 18-game schedule,” King writes. “Please. Simple logic says that’s the dumbest idea of the Goodell Era. Unless the league pushes the novel but probably idiotic concept of every player playing a maximum of 16 games in a given season, it’s an idea that must go away.”
In the most recent CBA, the league actually abandoned the ability to unilaterally expand the regular season, preserving instead the ability to unilaterally chop the preseason in half. The thinking is that the NFL eventually will inform the NFLPA of the league’s intention to cut the preseason in half, and that the players will respond by reluctantly agreeing to add two games to the regular season, in order to preserve the revenue that otherwise would be lost by seeing 10 percent of the total NFL schedule (preseason and regular season) disappear.
If that happens, the players should call the league’s bluff. And if the NFLPA shrugs at losing the cash from half of the preseason schedule, the NFL surely won’t. And now that the offseason rosters have been expanded to 90, there are more than enough players to take the reps (and be exposed to injury) during the games that don’t count.
The lingering problem for the NFL, however, arises from Commissioner Roger Goodell’s repeated criticisms of the quality of the preseason games. “The fans have made it incredibly clear that they don’t like preseason games,” Goodell told a certain Internet hack back in 2010. “So the idea of staying within the 20-game format and taking two preseason games and converting them to regular season games has a lot of appeal. But you have to do it in a comprehensive fashion that is going to ensure that the game stays safe for our players, and that we maintain the kind of quality or improve on the quality that we’re doing.”
But there’s no way to keep the game safe for the players by exposing the men who are on the 53-man roster to two more games. That’s why it wouldn’t be a major shock if, in the end, the league locks on to the proposal mentioned by King. Under that approach, the NFL would play 18 regular-season games per team, with no player permitted to play in more than 16 games.
It would add a new layer of strategy to the coaching profession, even though for many starters injuries would make it easier. If a guy has, for example, an ankle that would benefit from a week off, give him the week off and count it toward his two mandatory street clothes games.
But the fantasy football crowd would revolt, and fans who have spent good money for regular-season tickets won’t be thrilled to show up at the stadium and find out that today is the day that Tom Brady won’t play.
So regardless of how the NFL tries to do it, it will be a hard sell to increase the regular season by two games, especially as sensitivity continues to grow regarding the risks of playing the game.