The schedule is coming.
Yes, this is the week (probably on Tuesday night) during which the league will rip the sheet from the slate of 256 regular-season games to be played in 2019. We know who will play whom and where those games will be played, but the question of when those games will be played takes on great significance, especially when it comes to figuring out which games will land in the highest-profile TV slots of each and every week of the campaign.
Currently, the league waits until mid-to-late April to finalize the schedule, allowing the dust to fully settle on free agency before deciding the all-important “when.” But one significant offseason player-acquisition event remains undecided when the schedule is determined: The draft.
For that reason, at least one owner (and possibly more) would like to see the schedule release delayed until after it’s known where the top rookies will be playing.
It actually makes sense. This year, quarterback Kyler Murray stands out as the biggest potential drawing card from a September-December TV standpoint. With Arizona’s plans for the first overall pick still unknown (and the NFL likes it that way, from a late-April TV standpoint), a decision to drop 49ers-Cardinals into the second half of the traditional Week One Monday night doubleheader risks that the game won’t be as compelling as it could be, because it may not entail the official debut of the most fascinating prospect of 2019.
If the league were to wait until after the draft, it would know who has Murray, along with whether any other team’s picks, trades, etc. make a given game more or less compelling. What if Jack Del Rio’s hunch as to Russell Wilson is right, and he gets traded? What if some other trade that would shake up the landscape of the league happens?
On the other side of the coin, what’s the benefit of knowing the schedule before the draft? Are team really picking incoming players based on whether they’ll be facing Patrick Mahomes in Week One or in Week 14?
If the ultimate goal is to have the most compelling regular-season schedule possible, the league should wait until after the draft. And then the league would have one last made-for-TV offseason tentpole that would frame the final countdown for the coming on the new season.