Around a year ago from this time, the NFL and the NFLPA were working on finalizing the terms of a new decade-long Collective Bargaining Agreement, in which one of the principle changes was the right to expand the regular season from 16 games to 17 games. Part of the agreement was that the NFL could not exercise this option until at least the 2021 season.
While the time has come where the league has the power to do that, it is not yet definite that they will do so at this time. But it is heading in that direction, according to Mark Maske, writing earlier this week for the Washington Post about the evolving situation.
Maske quotes a source as saying, “I don’t think anything is definite, but I think it will be 17 and three”, meaning 17 games in the regular season, and a reduction by one game of the preseason schedule, which for a long time has been four games.
The NFL has been talking for a long time about expanding the regular season, even to 18 games, and perhaps that will eventually happen down the road. The regular season had not been expanded since the mid-1970s, when it jumped from 14 games to the now-familiar 16.
The 16-game schedule has been the norm for the past 43 seasons, and whether or not it changes this year, it will inevitably change in the near future. A few months ago, a plan was approved about how to create a 17-game schedule, the extra game being against a rotating non-conference opponent. Conferences would alternate years playing eight or nine home games.
Maske substantiates earlier reports citing pending league negotiations for new broadcasting contracts as being tied to the expansion decision. The new deals are being negotiated under the assumption of a 17-game broadcasting schedule.
An expanded schedule, of course, means more money—and especially for the players. As stated in the CBA, when the NFL enacts the expansion, the players’ portion of the revenue sharing ticks up closer to 50 percent, though still falling short. So there will be a bigger pie, and also a slightly bigger percentage of the pieces for the players.
In recent weeks, there has, however, been some skepticism about the possibility of the new contracts and the expanded regular season having a significant impact on what the 2021 salary cap figure will be. The NFL recently announced that it would be $180 million, but indications are that it will not be significantly higher than that.