The NFL’s quest for 18 games continues, more than a decade later

NFL: SEP 17 Seahawks at Bears
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The NFL finally has managed to expand the regular season from 16 to 17 games. The NFL still wants to expand the regular season to 18 games.

It’s a desire that has existed for years. In an excellent oral history of the 2011 lockout, Daniel Kaplan of TheAthletic.com shares a nugget that underscores the duration of ownership’s desire for 18 regular-season games.

“We were in separate rooms, the players in one, the owners in the other,” Giants co-owner John Mara told Kaplan. “And Jerry Jones said, ‘I’m going to go in there and I’m going to sell them on 18 games.’ I said to Jerry, ‘You have no chance of doing that.’ He said, ‘You watch me.’ I said, ‘Jerry, if you go in there and sell them on 18 games I will wear a Cowboys jersey in Times Square every day for the next week.’ We all go in there, as soon as he mentioned 18 games, ‘No way. Absolutely not. We’re not even discussing.'”

Obviously, Jerry failed to make the sale. The strategy emerging from the 2011 CBA also failed to get the players to agree to 18 games.

The deal that ended the lockout swapped the NFL’s previous ability to unilaterally add two games for the ability to shrink the preseason by two weeks. At the time, the league planned to eventually cut the preseason in half, hopeful that the union would see the impact of the lost weeks on the salary cap and then volunteer to add two regular-season games in order to offset the losses. The owners, however, never got to the point where they believed that strategy would work, because the players were so vehemently opposed to playing 18 regular-season games — and because the financial impact of losing two weeks of the preseason affects the individual players far less significantly than it would affect the individual owners.

Last year, the owners got to 17 games by making it clear from the outset of talks that the next deal would entail 17 games. The union knew that, if the league didn’t get 17 games voluntarily, it would reprise the 2011 lockout and, at some point, get the 17th game.

The question now becomes whether the league can finagle an 18th game before the current CBA expires in a decade. As legalized sports betting continues to spread throughout the country and the value of each additional game mushrooms, the two sides may realize that they want/need to add what would be another 32 total games in order to capture the extra cash. The union, however, may decide to publicly insist that 18 won’t happen, hopeful of privately ending up with an even better deal when finally agreeing to it.

Regardless, the NFL has wanted 18 games for more than 10 years. Chances are that, within the next 10 years, the NFL will finally get it.