In 1978, the NFL changed its regular season format from a 14-game schedule to each team playing 16 contests before either entering the playoffs or the offseason. Through league expansions and the introduction of the salary cap this format has remained intact, but it looks as if a change could be on the horizon as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
According to the Washington Post’s Mark Maske, it seems “increasingly likely” that a 17-game regular season will be part of the new labor agreement between the two parties which is currently being worked on. The current CBA, which was agreed upon in 2011, will run through the league’s 2020 season and there appears to be momentum that a new deal could be agreed upon as early as the end of this year’s playoffs in February.
The 17-game schedule is one of the key points in the negotiations, and according to Maske “owners have shown a willingness to make concessions to get the players to put aside their concerns about a 17-game season.” How those concessions could look like and whether or not they are enough to sway the Players Association, which has publicly stated that it would be against expanding the regular season for player-safety reasons, still remains to be seen.
If the change is implemented, however, it seems likely that the league will also have to change its preseason format and general scheduling. Each team currently plays four exhibition contests in August, and the number will probably be reduced if the regular season goes from 16 to 17 games. Another bye week could also be implemented to address the player-safety issue central to the debate, while the Super Bowl will likely be moved back one week.
A related questions is dividing the league’s revenue between ownership and players under the current salary cap system. The NFL is estimated to make $15 billion each year, with around $6 billion this season being transferred back to the players (the salary has been set at $188.2 million per team for 2019). Increasing the number of games per season would also add more revenue, and put increased emphasis on the question of sharing the wealth.