NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reignited speculation about a longer regular-season schedule on Monday, when he suggested the league could attempt to cut down on the number of preseason games during ongoing labor negotiations. Goodell’s comments came just days after the Washington Post reported that “some owners” want to pursue an 18-game regular season as a way to boost revenue.
NFL executives have repeatedly pushed for a longer season in recent labor talks, including the 2011 round of negotiations that briefly resulted in a lockout. Players have long resisted the concept due to concerns about the long-term effects an expanded season would have on their health, as well as a desire for higher pay in a league where contracts with guaranteed money are a rarity.
“The players are very unlikely to budge on this issue because it is a health and career-longevity issue, and also tied to the fact that most players have only limited monetary guarantees on their contracts,” said Michael LeRoy, a sports labor law expert and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
With the current labor deal set to expire after the 2020 season, the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have already begun negotiations toward a new collective-bargaining agreement. Player health initiatives and compensation are expected to be major factors in negotiations, regardless of whether ownership formally proposes an expanded schedule.
While Goodell did not say whether a reduction from the current slate of four preseason games would result in an 18-game season, he argued that the current system produces an on-field product that falls short of the NFL’s standards.
"I feel what we should be doing is always to the highest quality, and I'm not sure preseason games meet that level right now," Goodell said while speaking at a charity event in Buffalo, adding that he was “not sure, talking to coaches that four preseason games is necessary anymore to get ready for a season.”
While Goodell expressed optimism that labor talks were already underway nearly two years before the deal’s expiration, there are signs that both sides are preparing for contentious negotiations. The NFLPA warned agents earlier this month to tell their player clients to save their money for a possible work stoppage of a year or more in length in the event that talks stall.
If talks were to hinge on the length of the league’s schedule, an increase in guaranteed pay could entice players to accept an expansion.
"I don’t even think players will make a counter-proposal for more money — that’s how strongly they seem to feel about health and safety,” LeRoy said. “If I were to speculate to the contrary, I suppose one approach would be to have guaranteed contracts for all players, thereby shifting the entire risk of career-ending injuries to owners.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.