If you had the authority to tangibly and forever alter a longstanding NFL paradigm, which one would you choose? Would you do away with meaningless, fart-in-the-wind “incentives” and introduce fully-guaranteed contracts, thereby ensuring that NFL players are compensated in the same manner as their peers in the NBA, the NHL, and MLB? Would you encourage the players to engage in constructive political dialogue, even if doing so means alienating sizable pockets of your team’s fanbase? Would you draft legislation dictating that all new stadiums must be domed arenas and erected at least 30 miles from downtown-proper in order to pacify the incredible infrastructural strain caused by 70,000 additional bodies descending on and departing from a given city on game day? Would you, despite the absurdity in doing so, expand the schedule?
That last one is the hill that hayseed oil goblin (and emperor of the Dallas Cowboys) Jerry Jones is willing to die on. Jones wants an 18-game schedule, dagnabbit, and he's convinced that implementing it will impose no deleterious health outcomes on the players whatsoever. He’s got the research to prove it, by God! From 105.3 The Fan in Dallas:
“I think, candidly, it’s [an expanded regular season] probably physically better for players than it is to have the longer preseason, the longer practicing. Our studies show that we actually have a ramped-up injury situation with players during preseason as opposed to the injury factor in the regular season.”
Now in fairness to Jones, he did indicate that the validity of these vague, unsourced findings is “debatable,” which is probably a fairly accurate assessment. In fact, I’m actually inclined to agree that the preseason is noticeably more hazardous than the regular season—after all, preseason games feature myriad no-name or unheralded players who are doing absolutely everything in their power to make the final 53-man roster, injury implications be damned. Like, Antonio Brown (if he were playing) probably isn’t going to waste his time laying out for a wobbly pass or fighting for extra yardage in the preseason, but an undrafted receiver is sure as anything gonna put his neck on the line, enthusiastically darting across the middle of the field and catching a poorly-thrown slant before getting assassinated by some late-round free safety who’s doing his absolute best to make his own team.
But, c’mon; to suggest that doing away with two preseason games and adding two regular- season ones would magically “create a safer game for players”—as Jones dopily claimed in this interview—is flatly ridiculous. The preseason should definitely be shorter—two games is probably ideal, but going to three I think is fine—but adding real, actual games of consequence in their place is not an acceptable alternative. Many starters—and most superstars—play extremely sparingly in the preseason, giving way to unproven youngsters and role players with chips on their shoulders, so adding two additional games would put a ton of mileage on the guys who people actually want to pay to see. An 18-game schedule would precipitate another full season on players’ odometers by the time they reach year nine. That’s crazy! If you think the running back market is stagnant and undervalued now, just wait until a 27-year-old back with 108 starts under his belt hits free agency. Even the Jets would laugh Le’Veon Bell out of the building.
Also, I hardly think that players would support an expanded schedule, especially if it exacerbates their injury risk (even if this isn’t completely accurate, it would certainly increase their general fatigue, which I assume the players would, you know, not want), shortens their careers, and negatively impacts their longer-term earning potential. It’s hard to draw too many apt parallels between professional sports and “the real world,” but adding two extra games that the players didn’t ask for is kind of like your employer issuing a directive that states “Actually, you will now be required to work two Saturdays a month.”
So, yeah, adding a 17th and 18th game is objectively stupid and benefits precisely no one except the owners, who would stand to make a fortune from the additional revenue that two extra games is certain to generate. That being the case, though, I’d expect the schedule to balloon to 18 games by 2022 at the latest.