It’s clear the NFL wants to expand the playoffs. It’s so clear the NFL wants to expand the playoffs that it will now be even harder for the NFL to secure an agreement from the NFLPA to expand the playoffs.
Even though new NFLPA president Eric Winston has said that he supports growing the field from 12 teams to 14, the NFLPA eventually has to sign off on any proposal to expand the playoffs. Officially, the union has been coy, pointing out repeatedly that no proposal has been made.
For Commissioner Roger Goodell, the challenge comes from persuading at least 24 owners to vote for playoff expansion without coming off as overly eager to the union. At this point, the league seems to want to expand the playoffs more than the players want to expand the playoffs, which means that the players will want some other concession (or two . . . or more) in exchange for an agreement to expand the playoffs.
When the two sides met earlier this month, with the league fully intending to raise the issue, the topic never came up. Which at a minimum means that the league realizes that the players may not be inclined to automatically endorse expanding the postseason field.
In theory, it should be enough for the players to see significant revenues flow into the pot from which the salary cap is crafted. But collective bargaining doesn’t happen in theory. It happens in a room where guys sit back with their arms folded, waiting for someone to blink on that last key point that is keeping the deal from being done and acting like they don’t care if the deal never gets done.
The problem for the NFL is that there hasn’t been much blinking by either side since August 2011. While the two sides have been able to work out an agreement on the salary cap each year (because they have to), the three-year-old agreement to reach an agreement on HGH testing remains stalled over one final point regarding the appeal process for discipline imposed by the Commissioner for a violation of the steroids policy unrelated to a positive HGH test.
And so unless the league is willing to give the union something else for agreeing to expanded playoffs — something other than the reduced preseason that the league also clearly wants — expanded playoffs may not be happening any time soon.
In the end, the league may have no choice but to exercise its unilateral right to cut the preseason by as much as two weeks, hopeful that the corresponding drop in total revenue would motivate the players to agree to something/anything that would re-grow the pie.
Even then, the players could still afford to be coy. Stalled growth of the cap resulting from abandoned preseason games will affect the players on a per-person basis far less dramatically than it will affect the teams, which are generating huge profits from the the meaningless games of August.
So when the owners talk next month about expanded playoffs, a big part of the conversation needs to be coming up with a strategy for getting the players to agree, too. Even if that means giving the players something else that the owners may not want to surrender.