NFL, union discuss lengthening season
NFL and union officials discussed adding two games to the regular season when they met Wednesday for their first negotiating session since February.
Teams would still play a total of 20 exhibition plus regular-season games under the proposal. The league would go from four in the preseason and 16 in the regular season to two and 18.
"This is an idea that is really gaining momentum, particularly with the owners,'' Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said on a conference call.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March, which could lead to a work stoppage during the 2011 season.
In quotes released by the NFL Players Association, Tom Brady and Ray Lewis expressed concern about the damage two extra regular-season games could do to players' bodies.
"I've taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games,'' said Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback. "The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care.''
Murphy said he frequently hears Packers fans complain about the quality of exhibition games, as starters now play sparingly in the preseason. With offseason training, he said, players come into camp in good shape and no longer need four games to prepare.
"Part of it is really providing more value to our fans,'' Murphy said. "The quality of our preseason has really deteriorated over time.''
Murphy suggested that more regular-season games would mean more revenue - which means more money distributed to players. The earliest season with an expanded schedule would be 2012.
"I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don't like all of them,'' said Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker, "but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games — when players already play hurt — comes at a huge cost for the player and the team.''
Murphy said the league would look into how players train during the offseason and season to try to reduce injuries. The size of the active roster and practice squads could also be increased; that would have to be agreed to in bargaining.
The NFL could expand to 22 games — four exhibition, 18 regular season — under the current CBA, subject to financial negotiation with players, but Murphy said the league would not make a change without an agreement from the union.
He floated the possibility of creating a developmental league to make up for the experience lost by younger players with the reduction in preseason games.
"If you look across most professional sports, we're the only league without some type of minor league or developmental system to develop players,'' Murphy said.