The league and its owners opted not to vote on moving forward with a 17-game season for 2021 at last week's virtual meetings, but the subject remains very much at the forefront of NFL business and a vote is expected in the coming weeks. There is abundant support among owners for the measure, according to multiple league sources, who view the vote as a mere formality.
"Absolutely, it's going to pass," said one source who has discussed the topic with numerous owners and NFL officials.
The vote itself was tabled as the league continues to negotiate multi-billion dollar broadcast deals with a handful of networks and interested parties (including Amazon), with the pandemic leading to delays in the process. Originally, those deals were on track to quite likely be agreed to before the season, but the league had to re-imagine the 2020 season, create COVID-19 protocols and testing measures and navigate through a series of unforeseen circumstances that took precedence over completing the TV deals.
However, a vote is expected before the Super Bowl, and there is a sufficient appetite to move to 17 games as soon as next season, the sources said. The format of a 17-game season was already agreed to in principle in the latest collective bargaining agreement, with a window of time in which the owners could opt to implement it. With revenues down across the league -- and throughout many sectors of corporate America -- the additional streams possible through an extra week of regular season games, in addition to the expanded playoff format, would allow an opportunity to recoup at least a sliver of what was lost.
The plan is for the preseason to be condensed -- playing the 2020 season with no preseason games at all only furthered the momentum to curtail exhibition games -- and for the season to still feature one bye week. This week the league agreed that the extra game will be out-of-conference. There has been talk in the highest reaches of the sport that over time, especially post-pandemic, some of these games could be played in neutral sites both domestically and abroad, with the added inventory an opportunity to continue to grow the sport in Europe, South America and Asia, specifically.