The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement is up after the 2020 season, and negotiations have already began in earnest. Most of the discussions, as is the case across all sports when it comes to CBA negotiations, will revolve around players being paid appropriately as the sports industry grows more and more lucrative each year.
The biggest talking point in the public eye, as far as it pertains to the NFL, will always be the number of games. As more and more information about how the violence of the game impacts its players, it’s become a pivotal topic among both fans and the league. The owners have reportedly floated the idea of an 18-game season a few months back to the NFL Player’s Association, with the caveat being players are limited to 16 games. Jerry Jones doubled down on the idea on Tuesday, saying the NFL is “evaluating” the length of the preseason.
The concept is obvious: the more games there are, the more money owners will make, and the more football fans will see. A 16-game limit for players would do away with concerns about the physical impact of making the season longer. But there are numerous problems with this proposal. Simply put, it’s a terrible idea, and the NFLPA shouldn’t even consider adopting a longer season, especially under these parameters. In light of Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski both retiring due to the punishment of an NFL schedule, it rings even more true.
While the idea of a 16-game limit for the players seems to be a reasonable solution to the biggest opposition to a longer season, no one wins in that scenario. The on-field product would become saturated as coaches attempt to prioritize when the starters should play and when the backups should enter. There just aren’t enough good football players to ensure the quality of play wouldn’t drop when the most important guys on a given team are forbidden from playing two games out of the season.
There’s a lot of butterfly effects that would come from having to give backups meaningful playing time, too. Just imagine if Tom Brady went down from a torn ACL after the backup running back missed a blindside blitz, or if Aaron Rodgers breaks his leg again because the reserve left tackle lets Khalil Mack walk into the backfield. Starters already go down all the time before the season starts, and fans are all too aware of how the quality of play will drop and the impact it will have. Now think about how bad the backup for the backup would be. They would have to play at least two games, no matter what.
This isn’t even to mention the impact on the average fan who enjoys attending football games. Ticket prices are already extremely expensive, and I can’t imagine the owners would be willing to work on dropping the face value just because there’s two more games. Most fans have to buy their tickets in advance to afford attending. If you thought NBA fans were getting upset because their favorite player sits for “load management” on the night they have tickets, just wait until the Chiefs announce Patrick Mahomes will sit out the next game days beforehand.
The only clear winners are the owners, an exclusive group of multi-millionaires and billionaires who would earn more revenue from the two extra games. For the rest of us, the overall quality of play drops, you can’t count on your favorite players being active for any given game, and any injuries suffered over the season will have a dramatically increased impact.
Adding on two additional games isn’t going to help football’s biggest problem. We all watched as both Luck and Gronkowski broke down in emotional speeches about how the detrimental impact of the game on their bodies completely sapped their love for football. After hearing about how Gronk had to drain 1000 milliliters of blood from his leg after the Super Bowl or how Deshaun Watson couldn’t take the team plane to Jacksonville because his ribs were in such bad shape, our reaction shouldn’t be to add more games. Football is dangerous enough as it is. The focus should be on making sure the game isn’t so grinding on the players that make it up, not devising more ways to make money off that punishment.
An 18-game season is the worst possible thing for the NFL right now. The NFLPA shouldn’t accede to the league’s demands, no matter how enticing the offer.