‘Considerable Support’ In Place For Move To 18-Game Schedule

Roger Goodell made some headlines during draft week, expressing an openness to an 18-game regular season. On the fringes for over a decade, this long-running NFL talking point may become a front-burner matter in the not-too-distant future.

NFL owners are believed to largely support Goodell’s preference for 18 games — with a preseason contest being removed from the schedule — according to the Washington Post’s Mark Maske, who reports the league may be eyeing an effort to lengthen the regular season well before the current CBA expires. Agreed to in 2020, this CBA runs through the 2030 season.

Considerable support exists among ownership for a move to 18, Maske adds. While a rumor about support for an 18-game season emerged earlier this year, that report pointed to CBA’s expiration as the point this matter will be decided. It appears, however, we are in for a 2020s effort here.

Seeing as the NFL schedule stood at 16 games from 1978-2020, moving from 17 to 18 so soon would mark a major change. It would also require a significant concession from the NFL to the NFLPA, and a union source informed Maske an expectation the owners bring forth such an offering in the next “12 to 18 months.” Goodell stopped short of saying he would actively pursue a change to 18 games, but the veteran commissioner certainly did not do much to indicate the 17-game schedule is the setup for the long haul.

I think we’re good at 17 now,” Goodell said during an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show. “But, listen, we’re looking at how we continue. I’m not a fan of the preseason … the reality is, I’d rather replace a preseason game with a regular-season game any day. That’s just picking quality. If we get to 18 and 2, that’s not an unreasonable thing.”

The 2020 CBA states, “The League and/or Clubs shall not increase the number of regular season games per Club to eighteen (18) or more games,” which would set the stage for a battle between the league and the union. The NFLPA has stood against an 18-game season dating back to the 2011 CBA talks, and owners shifted to a 17-game goal when the union opposed 18 during the 2020 CBA talks. But it will be interesting to learn what concessions the NFL would make in order to make this long-sought-after number a reality.

How the schedule would be structured represents another central component here. Goodell pointed to the Super Bowl falling on Presidents’ Day weekend as a key measure. We heard years ago the NFL would target Presidents’ Day for its finale, but rumblings about a double-bye season did not lead to that logical plan being implemented. The NFL tried the two-bye setup just once — in 1993 — but networks felt that format weakened the schedule, and that view appeared to remain during the discussions pertaining to a 17-game season. If the NFL were to seriously consider 18 games, a two-bye season would almost have to be considered due to the injury-based resistance the NFLPA will likely show.

The NFL has held its season opener the Thursday after Labor Day since 2002. Removing a preseason game from the schedule and starting the regular season one week early would not add up with regards to the season extending to Presidents’ Day weekend. This would seemingly reopen the door for a two-bye season, and it probably should not be ruled out more safety-based measures — potentially surrounding the offseason schedule or in-season practices — could be concessions offered to the NFLPA.

The NFL is considerably safer than it was during previous eras; practice restrictions lead to a fraction of the contact work in practice past NFL generations endured. But players will certainly voice opposition to the schedule moving from 16 to 18 games in the same decade. The league’s increased safety measures and the salary cap growth that has taken place — and the money that would come from adding a game — is expected to be part of the owners’ push to players in a potential negotiation, Maske adds.

But the NFL has already adjusted the trade deadline, pushing it back one week (to the Tuesday following Week 9), but Browns GM Andrew Berry’s effort to slide the deadline past Week 10 came about because of the rumored 18-game push. It does not appear this topic will die down anytime soon. New NFLPA ownership — led by executive director Lloyd Howell and president Jalen Reeves-Maybin — will be tasked with leading the discussions on the players’ side.

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