While the NFL is expanding the regular season by one game (and one week), it is consequently also shortening the preseason by one game, as contractually obligated, since the CBA states that any season in which there are 17 regular season games cannot contain more than three preseason games.
It does not, however, shorten the preseason calendar, nor keep the total playing calendar the same length. That’s because instead of a fourth preseason game being played, teams will simply have a week off, like a bye week, prior to the start of the regular season, according to Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II.
“There is now an off week in there”, he told Bob Labriola for the team’s website. “What would have been Preseason Week 4 under the old format is now an off week. So there is now essentially a bye week (for everybody) before the season starts, and so that will be an adjustment for coaches and players in terms of how that fits into preparing for the opener. That was part of what we negotiated with the players”.
The more I think about it, the more it does make sense, especially depending on how much (or how little) teams adjust to the way that they divvy out playing time during the preseason. For example, if teams are going to be having starters playing in the third preseason game (it’s typically the ‘regular season tune-up game’), then it would be very understandable if the players wanted a week off before the regular season began.
What this means, though, is that the season will be longer by one week. The offseason and everything that follows will start the same time that it always has, but the regular season will last one week longer than it has previously, and consequently the postseason will end one week later than it normally would.
The real question is how those preseason games are played. The fourth preseason game previously was invaluable for the 54th and 55th guys on the roster heading into that game. I’m sure several dozen players around the league every year solidify or earn a roster spot based on how they perform in that game.
The thing is, every team is going to adjust in a different way. Some teams might play their starters in the third preseason game. Some teams might play their third- and fourth-string guys in that game. Maybe teams will discuss their plans beforehand. But it seems inevitable that there will be some adjustment regarding how this plays out on a leaguewide level.