Report: NFL owners pitch 18-game schedule, but with players restricted to 16 games

·4 min read

NFL team owners have pushed for an 18-game regular-season schedule for years. NFL players have resisted the idea for fears of the added physical toll that would incur.

Is it possible in the league’s the next labor agreement that both sides can find common ground on this issue?

One wild idea that’s resurfacing — as reported by the Wall Street Journal — is for the owners to get their 18-game schedule, which would raise revenue immensely, but for the players to be limited to 16 of those games.

The owners’ proposal during early negotiations is one that radically would reshape roster and game strategy. Here’s a starting point to consider how radical the idea is: Every team would need its backup quarterback(s) to start a minimum of two games each season.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has pushed for an 18-game regular season, along with team owners. But would players agree to this? (Getty Images)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has pushed for an 18-game regular season, along with team owners. But would players agree to this? (Getty Images)

Could something this wild happen?

The current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) is set to expire following the 2020 NFL season, in March of 2021. A decade ago, labor negotiations were tense and drawn out. An owner lockout lasted well into the summer and wreaked havoc on the timing and planning of the 2011 NFL season, even though it was salvaged with a new agreement that July.

That time around, the owners initially made a strong push for an 18-game schedule, and you could understand their justification. According to WSJ, adding two games to each team’s slate could result in an additional $2.5 billion in revenue.

Extrapolate that, and it could lead to an estimated $15 million added to the salary cap for each team the first year. Spread out over 32 teams, the additional revenue could lead to approximately half a billion dollars going to roughly 2,000 players each year.

But you also can understand how the players balked then at the idea of putting their bodies through an additional 120 minutes of real football each year. Even the promise of additional revenue wasn’t enough to convince them, and the issue died on the vine last time around.

It was clear that health considerations were a big part of the NFLPA’s strategy during the previous negotiations, as one of the union’s biggest concessions gained in the current CBA was gaining more free time for players during the offseason.

What are the potential hurdles?

The 18/16 proposal would solve the wear-and-tear issue — but potentially raise a whole host of new concerns and questions.

Such as:

  • Are there enough quality quarterbacks in the NFL to keep the product from being watered down?

  • Rosters likely would have to expand as well, and there might be an even greater need for a developmental league to prep players — especially QBs — for action.

  • Would, say, Kansas City Chiefs fans be on board with paying full price for a game in which Patrick Mahomes doesn’t start?

  • Are there enough quality offensive linemen to go around?

  • What about kickers, punters, long snappers and holders — would every team need to roster two of each?

  • Could players be placed on some sort of exemption list on weeks when they’re not playing to preserve roster spots?

  • Would highly competitive players be OK with sitting and watching for more than 10 percent of the regular season?

  • The NFL has warmed on its stance toward gambling on its sport, but this type of lineup tinkering would have a massive effect on the sportsbooks.

  • Might a team in last place opt to sit all of its key contributors for the final two games of a season and effectively raise questions about tanking and competitiveness?

And so on and so forth ...

The NFL typically lags way behind other major sports in terms of innovative ideas, and this proposal certainly belies that — at least hypothetically. But it also creates a wildly different NFL in which teams would have to rewire their thinking completely on how to construct a team and use their players with considerable restrictions.

“No players are banging down my door asking me to think about this,” NFLPA president Eric Winston said.

Right now, we file this into the too-fantastical-too-accept category, although it certainly can’t be ruled out if the league provides a financial gain for the players that’s too alluring to overlook.

And it’s at least a sign that both sides appear willing to think a bit off the grid in trying to prevent another major work stoppage before it happens.

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