In one way or another, it seems like there will be some sort of change to the NFL season format once the new collective bargaining agreement is in place. With the league and NFL Players Association having already hit their stride in talks with the goal of ratifying a new one before the current iteration expires in March 2021, the biggest talking point to now has been.
The league was initially hoping to get an 18-game regular season out of the deal -- presumably at the expense of two preseason games -- but has backed off of the plus-2 game addition for now. Instead, it's now proposing a plus-1 that would make it a 17-game regular season, undoubtedly hoping to woo a players union that isn't yet prepared to agree to more games.
A key negotiator in CBA talks is Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was asked about the rumored reduction to 17 games over the initial goal of 18, and he not only confirmed it -- he explained why owners and the league believe a schedule expansion makes sense.
"First of all, it is an item of negotiation, and we are involved in negotiation with the players union," Jones told 105.3 the Fan on Friday following Week 4 of Thursday Night Football. "I've been going to Chicago. I think I've mentioned this to you guys before, but I've been going to Chicago -- it seems like back in the spring. But I've been averaging once or twice or once a week or once every two weeks I've been going up there for six months negotiating this.
"We certainly have a lot of work to do, but as a part of it, and as part of looking at the preseason; we're looking at in its whole, as we would, and do believe that [it] makes a lot of sense today since players really are in shape year-round. It makes a lot of sense to have additional regular games, [and] maybe additional playoff games. So, that's what you're reading there in context with that."
From there, Jones stopped short of revealing if the NFLPA has been receptive to the idea(s).
"I couldn't comment on it because, again, I don't have any idea where the players are on this matter," he said, before making a bit of a U-turn. "I do have an idea, but I don't want to get into that. It is a solution that I am for, and that is to have the additional game and then we'll work the detail out as we work it out."
Of course, despite the fact most players do remain in shape year-round, there's still the concern regarding player safety. The NFL is unlike any other major American sport in that it brutalizes player's bodies and brains, which is why there are only 16 regular season games to begin with. That said, if ratified, it wouldn't be the first time the league has added games in the fall, nor is this the first time they've approached the NFLPA with the proposal. As far as Jones is concerned, the stretch to 17 games -- and/or an expanded playoff bracket -- wouldn't undermine the focus on safety.
He feels the league and its owners are as keyed in on it more now than they've ever been.
"I think safety is paramount," Jones said. "I think that's in everybody's interest and certainly does the right thing for our fans to have availability. I've always said ability -- when you think of an athlete or a football player -- is the first thing that comes to mind, but availability is probably as important. Well, that's another way at looking at safety.
"And we obviously are continue to work to keeping our game more safe as technology allows us to do it and knowledge allows us to do it, but safety and then the economics. And at the end of the day, those are the things that would go into making a decision about additional games and less preseason games -- those kinds of things."
There's still a lot to hammer out with the new CBA, and on a running clock, no less. The sooner both sides can agree on any and all issues, the better the chances of avoiding a lockout after the 2020 season. With the league's decision to drop the 18-game ask for a more reasonable one, they've taken one step toward possibly achieving that goal.