The NFL, as part of the recently-completed Collective Bargaining Agreement, is planning on extending the regular season from 16 to 17 games in 2021, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. By increasing the regular season, the NFL would decrease the preseason to two or three games. Before an extended season can be finalized, the league will first have to negotiate at least one new media contract.
The regular season would take 18 weeks to complete, as NFL teams would still have one bye week. The Super Bowl, which usually takes place during the first weekend in February, would instead be played during the second week of February. The increased regular season would help decrease the still-expected salary cap drop for 2021 due to COVID-19. The league's salary cap for 2020 was $198.2 million, and an extended season would likely prevent the cap from dipping below $175 million for the 2021 season.
This report supports what CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported last week as it relates to the NFL extending its regular season in 2021. Lan Canfora reported that, while league owners voted against extending the regular season for 2020, there is "abundant support" among owners to extend the regular season in 2021. La Canfora said that a vote to extend the regular season is expected to take place before Super Bowl LV, which is set to kickoff on February 7th in Tampa.
In March, NFL owners approved the expansion of the 2020 postseason, as seven teams per conference will take part in this year's playoffs. The expanded playoffs resulted in just the top seed in each conference receiving a bye, while the other 12 teams will play during wild card weekend. Due to the pandemic, no preseason games were played in 2020, as teams went directly into training camp before beginning the 2020 regular season.
The NFL has not increased its regular season since 1978 when the league expanded the regular season from 14 to 16 games. That was the same offseason when the league decided to implement the "Mel Blount Rule", which prohibits contact between defensive backs and receivers within five yards from the line of scrimmage. The new rule helped open up the passing game while creating higher-scoring contests.
NFL players will likely weigh in on an expanded season if it is approved by league owners over the next month. Prior to the completion of the new CBA, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman publicly opposed an expanded regular season. Despite his and other players' public objections, the majority of NFL players voted for the new CBA that included the possibility of an expanded season.
"I don't think it's something that players are interested in, honestly," Sherman said back in February. "And if that's the point they're negotiating on, I think these negotiations are going to go on a lot longer than anticipated, because it's odd to me -- and it's always odd -- when you hear player safety is their biggest concern. ...But it seems like player safety has a price tag. Player safety, up to the point of, 'Hey, 17 games makes us this much money, so we really don't care how safe they are, if you're gonna pay us this much money to play another game.'
"And so that's the part that's really concerning for us as a union and us as players, because they think that players have a price tag on their health and I don't think we're in the same ballpark in that regard."