National Football League ownership has been pining for an extension of the 16-game format to 18 games for years now. In previous collective bargaining negotiations, the proposal has failed to get even the slightest bit of traction. It has been a non-starter for the National Football League Player’s Association (NFLPA) based on the increased risk of injury it would present.
That clearly has not deterred NFL owners from scheming workarounds for the player safety issues an 18-game schedule would present. Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal reports that NFL team owners are floating the idea of an 18-game schedule where players are limited to playing in only 16 games apiece during each season.
The idea is that each player would essentially have two personal mandatory bye weeks each. These would be scheduled as the team sees most strategically advantageous. This is not unlike what millions of fantasy football players do throughout the season to field a complete starting lineup each week.
Consequently, the proposed idea would present similar pitfalls, only far more exaggerated. Finding a second quarterback to start is difficult enough for 12 teams, much less 32. Are there 64 (would likely need closer to 75-80 due to injuries) quarterbacks of sufficient quality to start NFL games? Who among us doesn’t want to see another matchup like Derek Anderson versus Josh McCown? I’m sure CBS will be thrilled to broadcast that heavyweight tilt.
Do you play your starting quarterback without your premier receiver or vice versa? Do you expose your franchise signal-caller behind reserve offensive tackles needlessly risking major injury? Would teams just treat two games each season as some do regular-season finales once their playoff seeding is clinched? Will these rules give teams an excuse to tank down the stretch for a better draft slot? Would it be fair to charge fans full admission price in any of these scenarios?
What about roster size? The NFL roster crunch is already as restrictive as it can be. Several positions on each squad tend to not have a dedicated reserve. Every front office and coaching staff prioritize guys that can play all three interior line spots, edges that can kick inside in sub packages, safeties that can play both high and low, and linebackers that can fill every role. Not to mention being able to contribute on special teams.
These versatile roles are critical with a 45-man game day dress limit. Are they going to start asking utility players to go full ironman now? Maybe they should work the concessions too.
Of course, there is also the not-so-secret marriage the NFL has with gambling. Not to mention the blurred lines between fantasy and gambling that is daily fantasy. These could all be grossly affected by the 18-game/16-limit format.
Are teams going to have to declare which players will sit days ahead of time as they do with injuries to ensure accurate spreads and lineups? What if the Patriots declare Tom Brady out but then Brian Hoyer gets food poisoning Saturday night? Cancel all of the bets and tell the Patriots’ opponent sorry, they’re getting sandbagged?
The list of potential obstacles is staggering and the lack of any semblance of a developmental league would be prohibitive to personnel-based solutions. Under this Collective Bargaining Agreement, there aren’t enough practice reps for the strenuous personnel needs now, much less a vastly increased developmental and preparational burden.
This weather balloon floated by NFL ownership appears unfeasible without drastic reformations. It would require not only a thorough restructuring of the CBA rules and limitations in place now but also a reimagining of the strategy of NFL football as we know it. And we all know how much football coaches love change.
Ken Grant is a writer for Prime Time Sports Talk. You can follow him on Twitter @dat_BCB.