Expert Analysis

5/31/24

5 min read

How Will Players View an 18-Game NFL Regular-Season Schedule?

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow
If/When the NFL goes to an 18-game regular-second schedule, will it add a second bye week as Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow suggested.

The NFL is going to have an 18-game regular season. That feels inevitable at this point.

It will take some time to sort out questions such as when and how, not to mention myriad details. However, the why is pretty obvious and is the answer to most questions when it comes to business in general and the NFL in particular: money.

The big question revolves around the players' appetite for adding another game after a close and contentious NFL Players Association (NFLPA) vote to approve the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2021. That CBA added the 17th game that has been part of the NFL schedule for the past three years.

I think the rhetoric and debate will be similar to 2021's before the two sides reach the same conclusion of adding an “extra” game. Rather than get bogged down in the details of the inner workings of the players’ union or even the fact that it sounds like the NFL wants to implement this sooner rather than later — which would mean opening up a CBA that doesn’t expire until 2030 — I want to look at it from a player’s perspective.

There are reasons why I suspect the players will ultimately be in favor of adding a game yet again.

NFL Regular Season Games

GamesYears
141961-77
161978-2020
172021-present

Rank-And-File Players Are Key

Unlike the professional athletes in the MLB or the NBA, the stars of the NFL don’t run the show. This is because the sport is a numbers game, and there are a lot more rank-and-file players making the minimum salary in the NFL than there are in the other sports. Those players, for the most part, are very well aware of their football mortality.

I know because I was one of them, making the league minimum for five of my seven years in the league.

The best way I can describe the extra game is that if you went into the locker room of every team that didn’t make the playoffs immediately after the last game and asked them if they were willing to play one more game (and get the game check that comes with it!) the following week, the vast majority of them would say yes.

Yes, they would be worn down and beat up at that point. And having to play another game after such a long, grueling season would not be ideal. However, the answer would be yes because the opportunity to make another $50,000-$85,000 for one more week of work is worth it for those players and their families. And that is just what the checks look like for the guys making the minimum.

This is pro football, after all, and the players are cognizant of the trade they make on a yearly, weekly and even daily basis: They are willingly suffering bodily harm in exchange for a great financial head start and a measure of financial security.

New England Patriots quarterbacks Drake Maye, left, and Joe Milton
New England Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10 (front) and quarterback Joe Milton III (19) (back) do a handoff drill at the New England Patriots rookie camp at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

At that point in the season, the players would have put in all the time prepping for the season from the offseason program workouts in March and April to the OTAs and minicamps in May and June and training camp in July and August. That's before even getting to the season itself. Many realize that there is no guarantee of even being on a roster the following year. But even if it was, they put in all that work to get to that point, so why not push through and play one more time?

There will be stars and long-time established veterans who will push back, but ultimately there are way more minimum-salary types than there are the other type of guy.

When doing the math, the extra game will generate so much more revenue that those game checks would be a decent amount bigger than the numbers above that represent the current paychecks.


Adjustments Must Be Made

There are a lot of considerations to be sure for an 18-game season. 

Should there be an additional bye week like Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow talked about recently? That makes sense, but unless the NFL starts the season earlier, the Super Bowl would not land on the three-day weekend Roger Goodell referenced in an interview with Pat McAfee.

Multiple people have told me — and I've never understood this — the television networks don't want an additional bye week, even though that would give them another week of the best program inventory going.

Another concern is that increased exposure means a greater potential of season-ending injuries for star players. However, both anecdotally and based on the league’s data, it doesn’t appear that has been a major factor to this point over the three seasons since the addition of the 17th game.

There’s also a thought that these longer seasons could lead to shorter NFL careers, which seems like a reasonable conclusion. But is that a big negative if the economics are so much better? In other words, isn’t it ultimately better for a player’s body to make $5 million in five seasons and retire at 27 then to make that same money over seven seasons and play until you are 29?

I’d sign up for five longer seasons if that meant two fewer training camps and full seasons ... if that’s how the math worked out.

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and we’ll see what the NFL is willing to give up to get the extra game. Can the players go from 48.5 percent of the revenue to 50 percent or close to it? How much do the minimum salaries increase? Will there be more roster spots, perhaps?

Whatever the solutions are, my guess is the players will eventually agree to adding an 18th game because, right or wrong, it’s worth it.

Tags: NFL schedule

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