Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed at the NFL’s bi-annual owners meeting two weeks ago that the league was “now focused on a 17-game season proposal, instead of 18 games.” ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote a day or two later that NFL players were amicable to extending the regular season by one game “as long as the players’ share of league revenue under the new [CBA] deal increased by a sufficient amount.” The owners’ proposal includes a one-game reduction to the pre-season.
Howie Long-Short: While it’s reasonable to believe that the NFL will ultimately move to a 17-game regular season (see: would grow the revenue pie, give the league a chance to increase its international slate), it’s “really premature at this point” to suggest 17 + 3 is going to be the format the two sides ultimately agree upon. One source intimately familiar with the discussions said that “there is still some significant [player] pushback [on the idea]. Consider the wear and tear that one more game each year takes on a player over an eight or nine-year career [and the prospect that additional games will shorten a career]; and on top of that, the data is inconclusive on if injury rates spike during the last month of the season.” Remember, many benefits (like a pension) are determined by the number of games a player is on the active roster for. The league simply hasn’t figured out how to address those concerns yet.
That’s not to say the players are ruling out regular season expansion. “[The NFLPA] is willing to listen, there would just have to be significant changes to the CBA – besides a bump in player compensation – for that to happen.” The problem is, the owners don’t appear ready to make those concessions. Shortening the period players need to play to receive benefits and altering how players can qualify for them are among the biggest differences that still need to be ironed out.
Our insider wanted to be clear that despite Goodell’s comments, “17 games isn’t a slam dunk on the owners’ side, either; hell, it might not even be likely at this point. There was a small minority that really wanted 18 games, but there was significant pushback from the larger group on that. Because some of the most influential owners wanted 18, a lot are willing to settle on 17; but, there are still a number that do not want to add any extra games. The 17-game season was trotted out there as a bit of a stalking horse.” 18 seems all but out of the question.
The NFL knows it needs to cut down its pre-season schedule, but it remains unclear just how far they’re willing to go. While the proposal references 3 pre-season games, “one or two makes more sense. The way the coaches view the preseason now is archaic. A lot of the new coaches are shying away from playing any of their guys in the games and there are more scrimmages and controlled environments, that are a bit safer for players, [reducing their importance].”
NFL players currently receive 47% of total revenues. Their annual salary is paid in sixteen ‘game checks’, so it’s understandable why they would want to see significantly more money if they are going to play a 17th game. Thus far, the owners have reportedly offered an increase to 47.7% or 48.25% (dependent on how stadium costs are deducted from total revenues); neither was deemed acceptable by the NFLPA.
Fan Marino: While playoff expansion falls into a separate “bucket” than regular season expansion (see: different compensation structure, doesn’t impact benefits, far fewer players impacted), the insider we spoke to was not ready to proclaim each conference would be adding a 7th playoff team. “There are owners who talk about wanting the regular season to remain as meaningful as possible. They want weeks 16 and 17 to really matter and adding playoff teams reduces the number of win and you’re in, lose and you’re out games [that would take place].”
Apparently, there are also some scheduling concerns around adding post-season participants. “If you have three playoff games in each conference, where are you going to play them? Right now, there are two games on Saturday and two on Sunday. Monday Night is out because it’s the CFP National Championship game. No one wants to play a playoff game on Monday at 4p EST. So, you’re going to get a triple header on Sunday. But that doesn’t really work on Saturday, the league is already worried about Saturday viewership.” It’s certainly worth wondering just how much playoff games at noon on Saturday and 4p on Monday would even generate in incremental revenues for the league.
Two issues that get far less attention in the negotiating room than they do in the media are Goodell’s disciplinary power and medical marijuana. The owners simply “do not want to be in the business of testing for marijuana anymore and enough have been hurt by the arbitrary nature of Goodell’s punishments that there’s going to be some natural fixes on those topics.”