Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been a popular punching bag in recent years for floating ideas about the future of the NFL that the players, their union and many media members loathe. Jones was at it again Tuesday, resuscitating the idea of an 18-game regular season.
Most people agree that the NFL's preseason feels long, but few agree on how that can be reduced without lowering the league's revenue. Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that he is in favor of an 18-game schedule, reducing the preseason to two games.
"It's probably better physically for players," Jones said, per Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota, to play 18 regular-season games. Jones believes it will "create a safer game for the players."
Jones' logic on the matter feels flawed, and any evidence he might trumpet to support that concept would have to be carefully parsed. It's easy to see that that raw number of injuries are higher in preseason games than in regular-season contests because the rosters include 90 players, not the 53 teams are allowed in the regular season.
But Jones says concussion incidence is higher prior to the regular season.
“I can make the case that we have an uptick in concussions in the preseason,” Jones said. “If you look at it, I would contend there would be less exposure.”
We'll wait to see sanctioned data on this before assuming it's correct. Instead, we have to assume that his stance is directly related to increased revenue: More tails in seats equals more money for teams. The Cowboys, for instance, might have had paid attendance of 88,883 and 85,546 for their two exhibition games, but the actual number of people physically present for those games was clearly lower.
They averaged 92,721 paid fans per regular-season game a year ago, and that number is far closer to being real for the games that matter. More people in seats equals more parking money, concessions, memorabilia and the like. Come for the game ... stay for the other salable goods.
Jones' motives are pretty obvious. But that doesn't mean it couldn't benefit the players with the right arrangement. Ever the salesman, Jones claims that regular-season games would mean more money — for all parties.
“It would provide more than $1 billion to the players,” Jones said. “It’s certainly worth considering. It would direct more value for what the players expend to the players.”
Again, he's just throwing a number out there perhaps. With the likelihood of gambling being legalized in many places, that also could increase the pool, but projections at this point feel like blind dart throws at best.
The NFLPA's message to this point has been something along the lines of "hell no" to the idea of 18 games, but the view here: that's a bargaining position. Everything in theory should be negotiable this time around after the players failed to take better advantage of the owners last time around. If the NFL somehow increased the level of guaranteed compensation commensurately ... then maybe we'd have a solid starting point.
We've been hearing that an 18-game regular-season schedule has been imminent for nearly a decade now, and it wasn't that long ago that commissioner Roger Goodell floated the idea of 17 games. The prior collective bargaining agreement actually allowed the NFL to expand the season to a whopping 22 games, but that never happened and almost certainly never will in our lifetimes.
But let's, for argument's sake, just throw out the idea of 18 games and what it would take for that to happen. It likely would require the regular season starting before college football — such as this week on the calendar, with Labor Day on the horizon — and two built-in bye weeks. The NFL has resisted starting the season too soon or letting it linger too late, but we might have to consider a mid-February Super Bowl to be in play to make it work.
Would Thursday Night football stay in place? If so, the players might insist on the byes happening prior to or immediately after those games. We'd have to also be talking about roster-size increases, even more expanded injured reserve rules and perhaps even less offseason activity. Is that something the NFL will want to entertain?
This is all table-setting stuff for the labor agreements that will come to a head sometime after the current CBA expires following the 2020 season. We still feel the chances are slim for this ever happening, but if the league is willing to concede on a few crucial issues that benefit the players, it can't be ruled out completely in a few years.