Talk of an 18-game regular season can be found in several statements by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell; that is, the NFL is looking into the possibility of expanding the regular season and compressing the preseason. Goodell sees the expanded season as a key point in the current CBA negotiations because more games means more television revenue, and revenue is at the heart of what the league and the union are fighting over these days.
At Wednesday's CBA negotiations, which were devoted almost entirely to talk of an expanded season, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady(notes) and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) sounded off about the issue via the NFL Players Association website.
These two aren't always on the same side (as evidenced by the accompanying photo), but they were in lock-step this time. "Don't get me wrong, I love the game of football," Lewis said. "If fans want to show their love, they should let everyone know that we are not machines. I've been blessed to play this game for so long, but it's time to start thinking about what legacy and impact changes like this will leave for the players of tomorrow, and us after we retire. I know our fans may not like preseason games, and I don't like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games — when players already play hurt — comes at a huge cost for the player and the team. I know our union is on top of it, and players need to stay in touch with the union and our Executive Director to stay informed."
Brady concurred. "I've taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games. The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care. Our Union has done a great job of raising the awareness on these issues and will make the right decision for us players, the game and the fans."
Injury risk is certainly one issue, but compensation standards are another (perhaps larger) concern. Since the NFL moved to the 16-game schedule in 1978, all contracts have obviously been based on a 16-game-season performance (with frequent postseason incentives), and there's no official word on how player contracts might be re-worked for more games. The NFL could argue that future contracts would be positively impacted by a larger revenue stream, but good luck getting that by the guys playing today — especially when the league appears bent on reducing the players' percentage of revenue.
Generally speaking, asking people to do more work for the same (or less) money, with no promise of expanded gains in future, will be met with an extremely negative response. No matter what you may think of the "whining overpaid athlete" argument, if the players bring the lion's share of increased revenue to the table, they should be entitled to a bigger cut. Until the NFL details how that will happen, it can expect the same resistance to this idea.