Analysis: With 18-game schedule, everyone in NFL wins
DALLAS — Few things seem as unsavory as defending a pro sports commissioner. It feels like coming out in favor of banks that commit mortgage fraud.
So I will try to limit my remarks in favor of a stance NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took this past week at league meetings (and has taken before). Instead, I will just ask fans a direct question.
Why do you hate the idea of an 18-game schedule?
The NFL is your favorite sport. You will watch it year-round, given the chance. I'm pretty sure I saw ESPN cover at least 10 minutes of Washington Redskins stretching Friday morning.
I fully understand why the media mostly hammers against the 18-game idea. It's because of a collective mind-set about safety as if we are fulfilling some civic duty to protect the players.
And a lot of it is just nonsense.
Yes, I understand that, in a general sense, more games mean more injuries. But I don't think there's any certainty that 16 is a safe number, so really we are talking about the equivalent of highway speed limits here — what's an acceptable level of carnage given our desire to use this product?
Well, we know that the NFL is moving in the direction of player safety. Whether the league has done this kicking and screaming as a result of enormous lawsuit pressure really doesn't matter for the purposes of this discussion. It's happening.
Kickoffs are safer. Wide receivers going over the middle are safer. And quarterback safety and protection (insert Cowboys offensive line comment here if you must) has never been better.
Take last season's passer ratings list. Of the top 20, 16 played all 16 games. Of the rest, Chicago's Jay Cutler, Oakland's Carson Palmer and Washington's Robert Griffin III each missed one game. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger missed three.
Aside from Michael Vick missing games in Philadelphia (and it's debatable as to how many he missed because of injury and how many because of the Eagles taking a look at Nick Foles), quarterbacks were close to injury-free.
Is playing two more games and throwing an additional 40-50 passes going to risk changing all that? I doubt it.
Consider the favor Goodell is trying to do for you. He's trying to get rid of two unwatchable preseason games.
Normally, starters play a quarter, maybe a quarter and a half in those early preseason games. So for most players, we might be talking about an additional five quarters of football in turning the season into 18 games.
It's not much more than a college conference adding a championship game for those teams that play in it.
My guess is running backs would have the most to fear, but we are moving away from the era of the single back carrying the load for his team, anyway. There were only five backs that ran 300 times last season, and I'm not sure we should even count the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, since he is clearly superhuman. Ten backs carried the ball 300 times as recently as 2006.
In fact, only 15 backs carried the ball 240 times last season. So, by a slight majority, most teams did not have a 15-carries-per-game back in 2012. That figure was 21 in 2006.
The NFLPA has been against the 18-game schedule, but I'm not totally sure that makes sense. To agree to the schedule, players would negotiate a salary increase. Revenues would go up with TV contracts on the rise for more games. Thus, the league's cap goes up and salaries continue to rise.
As it stands, players put themselves at risk in four preseason games, at least for the time that they do play and just because it's not always the starters out there doesn't mean the NFLPA shouldn't care about what happens to those players. And even the game's superstars are performing for minimal pay in August while the owners charge fans regular-season prices.
That's what fans hate. And that's what Goodell hates, too.
He's trying to do something about it. You can be cynical about everything if you choose and say that he simply wants to put more money in the owners' pockets. Even if that were true, the league's salary-cap rules would turn that into more money for the players as well.
The only reason not to have a coherent discussion on this subject is if players hate more money and the fans are in love with a full month of preseason football.