Tuesday, January 25, 2011 Updated: January 26, 12:21 PM ET
With concessions, 18 games could work
By Ross Tucker ESPN.com
As labor negotiations between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith of the players' association continue, expect the topic of a longer season to remain front and center.
Unlike the majority of current and former NFL players -- not to mention Steelers owner Dan Rooney, evidently -- I don't have a huge issue with the concept of the NFL's enhanced 18-game season, provided certain concessions are made. I'll detail those below. That holds especially true if it is, in fact, the key component necessary for the NFLPA and NFL to come to terms on a new labor agreement, though I have some concerns long term if that is really the deal clincher.
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I know, I know -- easy for the retired guy to say that we should add two more games every season. I get that. But I truly believe that I would feel this way even if I were still an active player. Here are the stipulations that would have to be a part of any enhanced season proposal in order for me to sign off on it.
Commensurate compensation increase: This is by far the biggest issue, and it should be. Players look at an extra two games and think of increased wear and tear on their joints, increased risk for injury, and -- more likely than not -- shortened careers. Those are all legitimate concerns.
The only way this enhanced season works is if the players are compensated in a manner that takes into account these concerns. Let's say the shelf life for a given player was going to be eight years with a 16-game season. And let's assume for argument's sake that because of the additional wear and tear, that the same player only plays seven enhanced NFL seasons. The amount of compensation that he gets in salary, bonuses and benefits playing the seven enhanced seasons has to be equal to or greater than what he would have earned playing eight 16-game seasons. It has to, or the deal doesn't make sense. And if the revenue gained from the television networks for adding two additional regular-season games is not enough to make it worth each player's while, then the enhanced season is a no-go.
If the total compensation is equal to or greater than what a player would have earned playing an additional year or two or three, then I think this proposal has a real chance. A player could maximize his physical abilities and then tackle the next phase of his life earlier. Nothing wrong with that.
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Increased roster size: This is a must and would be a benefit for the union and journeymen players (like me). It doesn't really help the Tom Bradys or Troy Polamalus of the world, however, and thus is not a selling point that they probably would latch on to. Along with a bigger roster is the possibility for a reformed Injured Reserve system in which guys could come on and off of it during the season. There's a lot of different ways that could be done.
Relaxed offseason: The league would also probably have to dial back the amount of "voluntarily mandatory" offseason work. There are so many minicamps and organized team activities these days that a lot of players don't feel as if they are given enough time to recuperate and heal from the previous season, let alone train properly and prepare their bodies for the rigors of the enhanced season.
Less hitting: It would be pretty difficult to legislate this, and I'm not exactly sure how they would go about attempting to do it, but less contact in training camp and during the season would also be a very welcome addition to any enhanced season proposal. Those hits take their toll.
The biggest concern many people have about adding games is the dilution of the product through injuries to key performers. I think this is a little bit overblown. The NFL once expanded from 14 games to 16 in 1978, and you may have noticed that the product survived that increase pretty well and is in fact flourishing. And if you think about it, the wild-card teams in the playoffs play an additional game, and that one extra game did not appear to dilute the Green Bay Packers or the New York Jets all that much.
My biggest concern with the enhanced season is that it is just a temporary fix. A Band-Aid, if you will. Sure, the increased revenue from two extra regular-season games could make the pie big enough that a new collective bargaining agreement gets done in the near term, but does that really solve the problem? What happens five or 10 years from now? Adding more games is a well you can only tap so many times before it goes dry. There still needs to be a better revenue-sharing agreement between the owners for the league to have a long-term sustainable business model that suits both sides.
Both the NFL and the NFLPA will hold their news conferences next week at the Super Bowl, and with the clock ticking on the expiration of a current deal, this enhanced season is a topic that isn't going away anytime soon.
From the inbox
Q: I think you miss the point about trash talking taking the pressure off of individual players. I agree with you that the players don't give "one iota of thought" to trash talk once the game begins, but I do think trash talk can help control the national conversation during the week. For example, most pundits agree that Mark Sanchez played horribly in his game against the Colts. But instead of an intense media focus on his performance, Rex Ryan managed to center the media focus on him. When he's saying the game is between 'me and Belichick,' he's really saying, 'focus on me, not Sanchez.' Ryan can handle the intense media pressure; his young quarterback may not be able to do the same. Sanchez won't care about media scrutiny when he's in the game, but if Ryan hadn't spoken out, Sanchez would have been constantly questioned about his performance. That scrutiny may have affected his mental clarity during the week and thus his mental preparation for the game. Don't you think trash talking means more than "nothing" in this respect?
Jon from Washington, D.C.
A: I have seen and heard many others espouse the same theory, Jon, and although it would seem to make sense, I just don't buy it. Sanchez still had to fulfill all of his normal media requirements, including talking after practice every day. They still asked him about his uneven performance against Indy. His preparation was, or at least should have been, the same no matter what the media is buzzing about that week.
Q: I saw a question about how they determine where to spot a punt that goes out of bounds. They actually are a little scientific about it. The ref who stands behind the punter watches the flight of the ball (the line it takes to the sideline in the air). The ref who spots the ball walks up the sideline while looking at the ref who followed the ball. When their paths intersect, the ref behind the punter drops his arm to tell the other ref that he is right on the flight path and that's where the ball gets marked. Hope that helps you out. Also, I hope you do write up a column like you said you might regarding the ever-so-stupid coaching trees. I would love to hear your full comments about it.
Ron from Lakewood, Colo.
A: You are exactly correct, Ron. That is the way it works, and I should have been more clear about that in my response last week. That said, it is still far from a foolproof scientific approach to ensuring that the ball is placed exactly where it went out of bounds.
Q: What do you think about the new overtime rules for playoff games? We have yet to see this happen, but how do you feel about the possibility of games no longer being decided by kickers?
Sergio from Salinas, Calif.
A: I'm not in favor of it at all. I thought it was unnecessary and didn't really hear an outcry from fans or players clamoring for it. Instead, a couple of influential members of the media seemed to take this and really run with it. Overtime is, by definition, extra time. Each team had 60 full minutes of regulation. A coin-toss is, by definition, 50-50. The worst-case scenario is that the team that lost the coin toss still has the chance to kick off and play defense. In fact, the majority of the overtime games this year in the regular season were won by the team that lost the toss and had to kick off. Let's just hope the Super Bowl is not the first time that we take this baby for a spin.
Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.