The NFL reportedly is considering implementing expanded playoffs without union consent, absent a new labor deal. That likely would not be permitted by federal labor law. A different potential power play from ownership would be permitted.
The NFL has the authority to reduce the preseason, even if the players reject the pending CBA proposal that calls for a three-game preseason and a 17-game regular season, as early as 2021.
The 2011 labor deal gives the league the right to shrink the preseason, at any time. And while the owners would be sacrificing revenue if they do it, the players would lose revenue as well. And that would impact the salary cap.
Of course, the league has had the right to reduce the preseason since 2011. And it has yet to do so. However, the threat of a reduced preseason always has been regarded as part of a broader plan to expand the regular season. With the league determined to grow the regular season and, in turn, to shrink the preseason, the possibility of throwing away a preseason game and the revenue that would go along with it becomes very real leverage at a time when the NFL hopes to get the union to agree to an extra regular-season game.
The league has yet to rattle the sword in this regard, at least not publicly. Privately, however, it should be regarded as a very real possibility — especially since more than a few owners (we’re told) want to play hardball with the players.