NFL: An 18-Game Schedule? Here’s What the League Has to do to Make it Happen

NFL fans have become accustomed to having a 16-game regular season schedule, which the league first instituted in 1978. But in recent years, speculation that the league wants to move to an 18-game schedule has grown, and that possibility is in the news again. So what will it take for the NFL schedule to expand to 18 games? The players aren’t as excited about the extra two games as the owners are, so the owners will have to make some concessions to the players to get what they want. Here are some examples of what may have to change in the next collective bargaining agreement in order for the NFL to add games to the regular season slate.

Fewer preseason games

One thing that the league would almost have to give in on is playing as many preseason games as it currently does. Right now, each team plays four preseason games, making for a total of 20 games when added to the 16 during the regular season. Adding two regular-season contests would likely mean the league would have to cut the number of preseason games in half. But that’s not an even exchange because top-line starters usually don’t play much in the preseason, other than the dress rehearsal that is the third preseason game.

Less authority for Goodell

In recent years, the players haven’t been happy with commissioner Goodell having as much disciplinary authority as he has, and they would likely want his disciplinary power to be lessened in the next CBA if the union is going to acquiesce to the league’s request for an 18-game schedule. That would likely be just a part of a bigger package of concessions from the owners to get the longer regular season.

Money talks

Substituting two more regular season games per team in place of two preseason games means the league’s stars will be playing more and putting their body at risk more than they currently do. It stands to reason that they are going to want to make more money. That could mean a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to the league’s revenues, raising the amount of money teams have to spend with a higher salary floor, or possibly making changes to free agency.

The possible free agency changes could mean not having to wait as long to hit the market or eliminating the franchise tag, which players feel helps to keep salaries down compared to what they otherwise might be.

Better safety measures

An 18-game schedule in the NFL could happen at some point, but the league would have to give the players a lot of concessions.
Would Tom Brady (left) be forced to sit out two games in an 18-game schedule? It’s a possibility. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The NFL likes to make it seem as though the league is concerned about player safety, but going from 256 regular season games to 288 seems to go against that thinking.

The players’ union would likely want the league to institute more safety measures to help players from suffering concussions or other injuries. One thought regarding safety with a potential 18-game schedule is limiting all players to 16 games, meaning everyone would get at least two games off. That could hurt league, though, because fans wouldn’t be happy having backup quarters, as an example, playing two games a year while stars like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson ride the bench. Fans who spend big money on tickets to go to games might be particularly frustrated when marquee players aren’t playing.

When could an 18-game schedule happen?

Such a significant change would have to be negotiated as part of the league’s next collective bargaining agreement with the union. The current agreement will expire after the 2020 season, which means 2021 is the earliest that the NFL could have an 18-game regular season schedule. The league might have to give up quite a bit to make the 18-game schedule happen because the union is ready to wait out a long work stoppage if it doesn’t get its way.