The NFL is only in the first year of its new 17-game season and will use the coming years to gather health and safety data, but a push for an 18-game slate at some point is seen as inevitable by many within ownership circles.
Any further expansion of the schedule would have to be signed on by the NFLPA, and we are years from the league broaching the topic with the union, but the NFL inserted windows into its long-term television contracts that likely dovetail with when the eventual push for more regular season games -- and even fewer preseason contests -- will emerge. The league can reassess and/or opt out of most of its broadcast deals after seven years, which is seen by many in the industry as the most opportune time to once again expand the number of games available to be broadcast to allow for further revenue streams.
"If you want to know when to expect it, look at the TV deals," one ownership source suggested.
Another offered: "You won't hear anything for the next three-to-five years. The PA is opposed to it, and there's no need to push right now. But down the road, sure."
Recent events continue to show where the league's thinking is, with expanded regular season and playoff games recently going into effect, and the NFL announcing last week that there will now be a Monday night Wild Card game as well. Adding an extra home game for each team - at nine a season rather than rotating - is viewed as an obvious next step to many atop NFL front offices, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear how much he approves of a truncated preseason. The continued appeal of doing week-long joint practices has helped alleviate the need for as many exhibition games.
Selling the union on further expansion won't be easy, but then again getting to 17 games wasn't either, and there are always other tradeoffs that could be made to incentivize it for the players. Regardless, as we approach those windows in the TV contract, you can expect a drumbeat to emerge about further shifting the schedule, with creating more inventory of games an immediate boost to the bottom line of all NFL owners.