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Expanding NFL schedule to 18 games not going to happen without players consent

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(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

It’s no secret the NFL is itching to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games. Everyone despises the four-game preseason and it makes much more economic sense for the league to enhance its inventory with another two weeks  that count.

Still, instead of being able to arbitrarily make the shift, the league understands it must be collectively bargained with the Player’s Association. And that means it will  become a significant line item for discussion before the new CBA begins in 2021.

The problem the NFL is going to have with the players is easy to predict. They are already getting physically beat up during the 16-game schedule. They are going to want something substantial in return for agreeing to expose themselves to two additional weeks of punishment.

The Wall Street Journal recently visited the topic of expanding the NFL schedule. It reported the league has made an interesting offer to the players in hopes of persuading them to move forward.

The league is interested in limiting each player to just 16 games, theoretically shielding them from the extra pounding their bodies would take.

While that might sound like a reasonable offer, just imagine how many problems it would create for the teams, the league and the fans.

What would NBC’s opinion be if a Bears-Packers Sunday Night game in November was played without a healthy Aaron Rodgers simply because Green Bay’s coaching staff felt pressured by their quota to give him the day off?

How would the teams juggle their rosters in the early season without knowing what their late-season playoff positioning might be? How might a personnel decision made in the first four weeks, that may have contributed to a loss, hurt a team in December?

And what about the extraordinary amounts of money bet each week? What’s to stop especially quizzical bettors from accusing the league of tinkering with the spread by forcing a team to rest a key player in the last few weeks of the season?

It’s going to be very interesting to see how invested the league is in this proposal and how the players and broadcast partners (the ones who really matter) take to this idea.

Seems to us NFL players are too competitive to accept what game limitations. There is no way Rodgers, Tom Brady, Eli Manning or Drew Brees, to name just a few, would accept being benched without cause just to satisfy the NFL’s roster requirements.

The fans would also rebel. No one is going to be interested in seeing a backup play when the starter is not injured.

It more than likely that an 18-game season is forthcoming based on an entirely different bargaining strategy. And that would be a more equitable sharing of the revenue the league would make by adding two additional weeks of regular season games. That will mean higher radio and television rights fees among other delectable delights for the owners.

There’s already a lot of money to share. Each team took its portion of the NFL’s $8.78 billion cash cow last season. That’s $274.3 million a team. Industry analysts predict the addition of two more regular season games would add an additional $500 million to that pool.

To this point, the NFLPA is taking a hard line on this, saying there’s no way it would agree to expanding the regular season. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward tweeted “18 games is straight baloney, either way you cut it.” Keep in mind, NFL players do not have guaranteed contracts protecting them from injury like Major League Baseball and NBA players do.

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(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

NFLPA Union executive director DeMaurice Smith said this to ESPN: “I don’t see an 18-game schedule – under any circumstance – being in the best interest of our players … If a coal miner is willing to spend more time in the hole, does it likely result in more money? Yeah. Is that a good thing for him as a person? Probably not. That’s the question nobody confronts. It’s easy to say it’s more money. But is it good for us? The answer is no.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, NFL analysts have concluded expanding the number of regular seasons games would reduce the average career span from 3.3 years to 2.8. The system current allows players to benefit from pensions and health insurance after three years.

There is historical precedent for the NFL increasing its schedule. It went from 12 to 14 games in 1961 and from 14 to 16 in 1978. This time, the onus is going to be on the owners to make the pot sweet enough for the players to lick the spoon.

Given the right amount of money, its not impossible to conclude that the NFLPA would acquiesce to the proposal. And that could come in a number of different ways.

“If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we’ll look at it,” said Smith. “I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that it would be good for the players.

“Why is it our job to figure out how to make 18 games work as players? You tell someone you’re going to work longer, and you figure out how to make it work? That doesn’t work. It’s not our job to put that square peg in the round hole.”