Texans running back Lamar Miller suffered a season ending ACL injury (Cam Newton and Jordan Reed also left their games with injuries), unsafe conditions in Winnipeg forced the Packers and Raiders backups – after coaches decided to hold out their starters due to the increased risk of injury – to play on an 80-yard field and the Ravens-Eagles game ended prematurely due to weather (as opposed to the teams waiting out the lightning strikes and finishing the 4th quarter); just about everything wrong with NFL preseason football was on display last weekend. While it’s apparent to fans and those within NFL facilities that the league’s pre-season matchups are an inferior product – the president of one team said, “we have to do something about the preseason product“, team owners are reticent to eliminate games that fans pay to see (and that broadcast networks pay to carry) – unless there is a way to offset the loss in revenues. To date, the NFLPA has rejected the idea of replacing two pre-season games with two additional regular season contests (i.e. an 18-game schedule) despite the games being worth as much as an additional $2.5 billion in annual revenue (the players would keep just shy of half that money).
Howie Long-Short: Training camp injuries have long been the bane of a football coach’s existence, but the desire to ensure the team is prepared for the regular season has always justified the risk of playing guys in preseason games. That mentality has changed of late, though. A greater percentage of coaches are holding out key players (see: Rams held their entire starting offense out of all four games last year, many starters this year) and with those marquee names taking even fewer snaps than the series or two fans have been conditioned to expect, the time has come for the league to finally address what Jerry Jones acknowledges has been a problem “for 30 years.”
NFL chief operating officer Maryann Turcke issued the company line on exhibition games calling them “a fun opportunity to see some players and an opportunity to bring some younger people out [to the stadium].” While Turcke acknowledged that there are both internal discussions and conversations with the NFLPA as it relates to “improving the schedule every year”, she was not prepared to proclaim change is certainly coming to the league schedule.
The reason Turcke can’t guarantee that an 18-game season is on the horizon is because the league needs the players to be on board with program and historically the NFLPA has been opposed to extending the season; it’s been suggested two additional games/season would reduce the average NFL career from 3.3 years to 2.8 years. Remember, preseason games are glorified practices and aside from the first half of the 3rd game, veterans take few reps.
That’s not to say a deal can’t be negotiated – in fact, Andrew Brandt (Sports Illustrated) has said there won’t be a new CBA without the players agreeing to 18 games (current pact expires following ’20 season) – the league is just going to have to offer up some concessions (think: reduce commissioner authority over off-field issues, end discipline for marijuana usage) to get it done. If the league can’t convince the players that all 32 teams should play two additional regular season contests, they’ll likely settle on expanding the playoff field. Adding one additional team in each conference to the post-season is an easier sale and it would give the league two additional playoff games to monetize. While they certainly won’t bring in billions of dollars, it’s feasible the games could generate enough revenue to offset one week of preseason action. For reference purposes, ESPN pays $100 million/annually to carry a single Wildcard game.
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