Last week, I asked one of my clients how he felt about playing an 18-game regular season. The answer he gave me was more than a simple yes or no. My client, who’s been with me for seven years, gave me a laundry list of things he would want before agreeing. It got me thinking about the ripple effect and wholesale changes that would come with playing 18 games.
Before forming my own opinion, I asked more players, coaches, GMs and even the commissioner for their thoughts. The more I delved into the subject, the more questions I found that needed answering. Moving to a longer season would have a serious impact on the current infrastructure, including offseason workouts, OTAs (organized team activities), mini-camps, player evaluations(particularly rookies), player compensation, scheduling, practice schedules, roster sizes, practice squad size, injured reserved terms and even training methods.
The assumption is that we would lose two preseason games and get the regular season started two weeks earlier. Of course, as an agent, my concern is for the players, but I wanted to hear from everyone who would be affected by the change. Here’s what I learned:
I spoke to 10 veteran players and one rookie. My veteran clients had similar responses, including this one: ”As long as we’re paid for the games, I’m OK with it.” Along with additional compensation, players want to be assured that there will be less wear and tear on their bodies during camp. By the 12th game of the regular season, everyone is beat up and nursing some type of lingering injury. So the prospect of adding two games and taxing the NFL body that much definitely have some risk. However, if camp is two weeks shorter, the consensus was that players will welcome the change.
On the specifics of compensation, it was unanimous that players would look to be additionally compensated for the games at a proration of their contracts. For example, if a player is making a base salary of $1.6 million ($100,000 per game) for a 16-game season, with one off week, he would expect to make $1.8 million for an 18-game season with one off week. One player felt he should be compensated 110-120 percent of his weekly game check for the two additional games. Four players brought up the idea of having an additional off week.
If the players are compensated and given a shorter, less physical camp, and their bodies are managed with more consideration to the longer season, I believe they will sign off on the proposal.
The first AFC West general manager I called had a strong opinion. He said, “Jack, I hate the f—–g idea! We would have to go back to the drawing board and redesign everything we do. Player evaluations will be more challenging, we’ll have more injuries, and the quality of the product will suffer in the first few weeks of the season.” He also said, “We’re holding our breath as it is that we can get out of a camp with healthy players and reach the playoffs with a healthy team.” There’s a very fine balance in getting players repped, calloused and rested for the start of the season. Losing two preseason games would put a strain on players’ bodies and their ability to learn. He added that a team is lucky when it can get to the postseason healthy. The two extra games could have a huge impact on postseason play.
Of the four GMs I spoke to, three hated the idea and brought up many similar concerns. The biggest change for GMs would be the way they evaluate younger players in the preseason. They would have to depend on their coaches to get their teams ready while simultaneously playing rookies more in the preseason. One GM said he would consider more weekly scrimmages with other teams.
More specifics from GMs: Expand game-day rosters and practice squads. Shorten the time players can go on the IR list with an opportunity to get them back during the season. Currently, when a player is placed on IR, he is prohibited from playing the rest of that season. One GM suggested it should be about nine weeks long. Another GM wanted more mini-camps to increase his ability to evaluate and prepare players.
One AFC Central GM was more subjective. He said the change would simply give more value to the fans, and we should embrace the change if it happens and make the necessary adjustments.
Of the three head coaches I spoke to, two were adamantly against the idea and one said it didn’t make much difference. However, all agreed that a change to an 18-game season would affect them the most. They would have to start over how they prepare for a season, how they work with their young players and how they get their teams ready with a shorter preseason.
One AFC West coach welcomed the idea and said it would be a good reason to cut back on a lot of unnecessary things they do. He thinks OTAs should be trimmed from 14 to 11 days. He doesn’t play vets much anyway and would cut back on their preseason game reps and give the No. 2s and 3s more playing time. He, like the other coaches, also wanted expanded rosters (53 on game days, 58 total), bigger practice squads (about 10) and more flexible IR terms. The problem with this, I’ve heard, is that owners don’t want bigger rosters.
I decided to get Roger Goodell’s quick take on an 18-game season and see if he really has thought through all the components that would need changing or adjusting. I wanted to see if this was a passing subject or an inevitable change. He told me that he’s been evaluating and exploring the idea for about a year and realizes he and the NFL would need sufficient time to prepare for modifications to the current system. They’ve been talking with coaches and GMs about this for a while now, and he’s also interested in the players’ perspective. He’s keeping an open mind and seems to be in the exploratory phase of this matter. However, I don’t know if he and new union chief DeMaurice Smith have tabled the subject for serious discussion.
Goodell also made it clear to me that the preseason game “stinks” as a product for fans and partners of the NFL. He’s interested in giving fans more value for their money. My sense is that he wants to see an 18-game season, eliminate two preseason games and also use the change to improve certain components of the system.
I’ve known Roger for many years, and an observation I can share is that he consistently looks at the game and all its elements through the eyes of the fans. He’s a fan’s commissioner.
MY TWO CENTS
I’m all for an 18=game season as long as:
Players are fairly compensated.
Fans get a clean exchange for their current two preseason games.
Players’ bodies are better managed on the front end of camp and during the season.
There are expanded rosters and practice squads.
There are more flexible injured reserve rules.
The start of voluntary offseason training is pushed back until April 15 or later.
OTAs are cut back.
Rookies are allowed to report to camp one week earlier than vets.
As an agent, I’m in tune with the strain that playing in the NFL puts on my clients’ bodies. These guys are hurting pretty bad down the stretch, and two more games can push their bodies beyond their limits. Unless, of course, more restrictions can be put in place on how their bodies are managed in the offseason and during camp. Most NFL coaches do a good job during the season managing players’ health. However, some players never fully recover from a tough camp.
I worry about LaDainian Tomlinson and other running backs getting 30 to 50 more pounding carries, QBs taking 10 extra hits over the last two games and linebackers having 20 more violent collisions. Two more games will have an impact on player health if the management of the preseason isn’t handled with extra care.
I also worry about the late rounders and undrafted free agents who may not get the reps they need in the preseason to get fairly evaluated or even scouted by other clubs.
I have a concern that clubs with new GMs and new head coaches will be at a big disadvantage putting in new systems and evaluating new faces. As a result, bad teams may stay bad even longer without proper preparation time in the preseason. This could be a negative for those teams’ fans and first-year head coaches – and a plus for teams like the Steelers and Patriots that have successful systems in place.
One GM I spoke to who absolutely hated the idea said, “The 18-game season is inevitable. We will all toe the company line and make the necessary changes to adjust.” And I agree. It’s coming.
I want to hear from fans. What are your thoughts on an 18-game season?