One of the major tentpoles of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified last year was a clause that gave the NFL permission to expand the regular season to 17 games as soon as the 2021 season, with the stipulation that they agree to new broadcasting deals, which would also trigger an increase in the percentage of revenue that the players receive.
The league, of course, wasted no time in getting those deals done and then enacting the clause earlier this offseason, which puts the 17-game schedule into place. Understandably, many players are less than thrilled, even though they have agreed to it.
Count Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster among them, who told Adam Schefter on the ESPN reporter’s podcast that he’s “not really a fan” of the expanded season. “I’m young, I’m 24 years old, but still, adding another game, it puts a toll on your body”, he said, when asked for his opinion.
“I want to play for 10-12 years, but instead, hey, I’m playing for eight years, because there’s an extra game on the line”, he added, “and it comes down to the point where, in order for us to make the playoffs, we’re gonna have to have our starters play throughout the whole season”.
I’m not quite sure that his timeline predictions are exactly accurate—I doubt that a player who would otherwise play for a decade would then only play for eight years because he played one extra game per year—but it’s human nature to not want to see your workload increased.
Of course, the biggest conversation surrounding the expansion of the regular season, which we have been having for decades, is the issue of player safety. It goes without saying that playing another regular season game is not in the interests of player safety.
This is the first expansion of the regular season (though not the playoffs) since 1978, when the league jumped from 14 games to 16 (having previously gone from 12 to 14 in 1961), and many feel that it was a long time coming.
Part of the negotiations during CBA talks was that the league would not be permitted to attempt to expand the regular season further for the length of the deal, which spans a decade, so it will be a while before the NFL tries to renew its attempts to produce a long-discussed 18-game season.
In the meantime, teams will alternate from having nine home games to nine away games every other year, with the 17th game being an interconference matchup on a rotating basis, playing a team from an interconference division that finished the previous season in the same rank.
This year, that means the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Seattle Seahawks, and as the AFC is host for 2021, that game will take place at Heinz Field. While we know the who and the where, we will find out the when tomorrow when the schedule is officially announced.