With the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2020 season, owners and the NFL Players Association have already ramped up negotiating efforts to prevent a work stoppage.
Both sides have plenty of topics to discuss, as the players association will likely be pushing for a larger share of league revenue and may even pursue elimination of the franchise tag. As for owners, they’re still hellbent on expanding the regular season to 18 games, a concept that’s far from a new one.
According to Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, sources indicated the league once again pitched the possibility of an 18-game season featuring a few creative wrinkles, including imposing a 16-game limit for each player.
Much like 2011, the last time commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL owners failed in their push for an expanded schedule during tense negotiations, players are resisting the potential change. And who could blame them?
As has always been the primary counterargument when approached about the possibility of adding two games to the docket, players rightfully remain concerned about the physical toll of extra football on their bodies. Injury rates are already higher on the grid iron than any other major American professional sport and forcing players to strap up twice more would only magnify that issue.
Sure, the NFL could increase annual revenue by more than $2 billion and the players would receive a large chunk of that money. But would it be worth it? That’s debatable.
Already short careers would become even shorter, as union analysts project the average NFL career would shrink from 3.3 years to 2.8. As Beaton wrote, that’s a major problem with players becoming eligible for benefits such as health insurance and pensions after being in the league for three seasons.
The league has already been under a microscope for its prior mishandlings of concussions and head trauma as well as failing to provide adequate health benefits to former players. Goodell wouldn’t want to add another similar debacle to his table.
Under the terms of this new outrageous proposal, stars such as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would be required to sit two games. Maybe amendments would be made to allow quarterbacks, who now benefit from rule changes established to protect them more adequately, to play in every game.
But even if that was the case, does the league really believe Bobby Wagner will sit out two critical regular season games that could impact whether Seattle makes the playoffs or not?
Even in the name of safety, the stakes are simply too high in each regular season game for star players to be willing to sit out when healthy. Imagine the nightmares such a rule would give coaches like Pete Carroll, who would have to decide which two games to “bench” Wilson, Wagner, and other stars.
And if you think the players, coaches, and executives for each NFL team would detest this setup, now picture the emotions of a fan who paid full price to attend a regular season game, only for his/her favorite player to be in street clothes on the sideline despite being healthy enough to play. Several teams are already hurting in the attendance department and such circumstances would only drive more fans away.
The NFL will always be a bottom-line business driven to increase profits and players will continue to seek out ways to receive a larger share of the pie. For those two reasons, the concept of an 18-game season won’t be going away anytime soon and will remain on the table throughout negotiations for the next CBA.
But if Goodell and the owners really want an expanded regular season, putting limits on how many games a player can play most certainly isn’t the way to do it. There’s absolutely zero chance the NFLPA would sign off on it.
Instead, focus needs to be shifted to reasonable ideas that both increase revenue and protect players, such as expanding rosters to 65 players and adding a second bye week. If they sweeten the pot financially for players with those two proposals attached, they may finally get their wish.