BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 07/15/2019

Thiel: NFL bids to talk players into 18-game slate

Talks aimed at a new collective bargaining agreement are underway in the NFL. The most controversial idea is an 18-game schedule, with a 16-game limit per player. What?

NFLPA President Demaurice Smith said no to 18 games. But it’s early. / Getty Images

One of the more annoying scams in pro sports is the NFL’s insistence on charging full price for each team’s two home fake games each August. I suppose that if theater goers are willing to pay to watch dress rehearsals, the NFL can say it wasn’t the first to the notion, but I stick to the ancient principle of charging half-price for half-baked.

The topic arises because the NFL and the NFL Players Association are discussing eliminating two fake games and going to an 18-game regular-season schedule, as part of the early commencement of negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal signed in 2011 expires after the 2020 season, but the parties agreed to get chatty now because they don’t want to walk into the next media-rights negotiations all ripped and unzipped from a labor war.

Team owners have always lusted for more counting games because of the additional revenues from broadcast partners. Players have always resisted, because of the health risks in a game that neurological science increasingly says is more insidiously crippling than owners ever wanted anyone, especially players, to know.

For what is believed to be the first time in CBA negotiations, owners last week put the 18-game idea on the table, with a twist — no player can play more than 16 games.


Imagine you’re a fan flying in your family of four from Anchorage to Seattle for the annual trip to a Seahawks game, only to discover that Russell Wilson was spending Sunday recording more cute-family-at-home videos instead of trying to reach Tyler Lockett in the end zone with a laser heave over Richard Sherman’s head.

You would be justified in bringing from home a bear trap and setting it near Pete Carroll, John Schneider, Jody Allen or whomever you deemed accountable for the perfidy, confident that no judge would sentence you for anything more than a misdemeanor. Perhaps the game might involve the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones, in which case your action would make you a national hero.

Aware of the potential for public contempt with the 16-game limit on players, the proposal was said in media reports to offer potential exemptions for QBs, punters and kickers, the theory being no one wants to see the backups for those positions. But how many positions would be exempt? Wouldn’t Rams fans want to see DT Aaron Donald play every game?

Multiple other consequences would derive from the proposed 18/16 change, not the least of which is the need to add roster spots to play more snaps. The owners wouldn’t be impacted by the new costs as much as the players would be irked by having to spread around more money from their share of the game’s overall revenues, currently at 48 percent.

But before we get carried away, 18/16 is just an opener. And it was already given an initial swatting by the union. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke with ESPN Friday and he said no, but not with the stridency typical in labor talks.

“I don’t see an 18-game schedule — under any circumstance — being in the best interest of our players,” Smith said in Miami. “If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we’ll look at it. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that it would be good for the players.”

The union made another point: It calculates the average career is 3.4 years. The additional games would drop the figure to 2.8 years, below the three-year minimum required for pension eligibility.

“Fans and media discuss what would happen to ratings and revenue or whether (18 games) is a good idea or bad idea. For us, it comes down to who players are as men, and is it good for us,” Smith said. “If a coal miner is willing to spend more time in the hole, does it likely result in more money? Yeah. Is that a good thing for him as a person? Probably not. That’s the question nobody confronts.”

But if the owners did make 18 games a CBA priority, what would players demand as concessions?

A big part of the 2011 CBA was reform on behalf of player safety, which greatly reduced the number of days and hours devoted to practice, and the amount of contact permitted. To add back extra games would seem to contradict those gains. At minimum, the players should get a second bye week, less training camp and elimination of the Thursday night games they uniformly hate.

The union already needs to do a much better job getting benefits to former players, and negotiating more salary protections for the shrinking middle class of players, those below the big-money stars who often find a minimal market after their four-year rookie deals expire.

Some players have also talked about a liberalization of the NFL’s marijuana policy. Feel free to pile on with stoner jokes, but there is rapid acceptance nationwide of CBD products for their virtues of pain/inflammation reduction without the THC ingredient that makes for highs.

When it comes to weed, it is hard to imagine a more publicly constipated high-profile group than the old white men who run the NFL. So imagine the cultural breakthrough that would follow if NFL liberalization were cast as a small part of the answer to the national opioid crisis.

Of the negotiations so far, Smith and NFL Roger Goodell have been quoted as saying progress has been made, and the atmosphere is not as tense as 2011, which resulted in a brief lockout. Both sides think it’s possible a deal could be struck before the 2019 regular season begins.

Right now, of course, nothing is urgent. Two full seasons remain on the current CBA. But the 18-game season is at least officially a talker.

Given the growing issue of safety, I think players would be foolish to let owners claw back hard-won ground on their physical welfare. Then again, this is ‘Murca, where when enough money is thrown, problems go away.



  • coug73

    For the men is suits there is never enough money. The cancer of greedy desires is never ending in pro sports. My youthful fanhood has given away to increasing apathy.

    • art thiel

      I’m going to guess that your father, or others of his era, said baseball was doomed as a business when the players won the right to free agency.

      You don’t have to like what’s happening. But life is about change.

      • Husky73

        “Ch-ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the strange.”

      • coug73

        Put away your crystal ball. My father and grandfather preferred fishing not spectator sports. My dad was a college swimmer and coach. My grandfather spent 15 years of his adult life over seas in the army. Do regret not going to a Tacoma Rainer’s game with him, the only time he mentioned a spectator sport. I spent years in a football suit and more coaching, not much of a spectator. I understand change is constant and my fanhood has changed for the better. Thanks for the commet and keep on writing.

        • art thiel

          In fact, I prefer recreational sports to spectator sports. But we know where the public interest is. My hope is that you and many increasingly skeptical fans can see through the BS and continue to enjoy caring about sports people and teams.

  • tor5

    I can’t really take this 18-game idea seriously. Seems like the owners are throwing out an absurd idea so they can recant as part of a “compromise.” Players should counter with a 14-game proposal. I see Art’s point about expensive fake games, but by August I’m so excited for football, I’ll watch. And we all want to see how the rookies play anyway. Maybe there are better ways to do it, but the 18-game idea isn’t one of them.

    • art thiel

      It’s a negotiation, so you can’t get something if you don’t ask.

      I didn’t mention in the column, but other business writers have, that the owners have some fear that the fade of cable subscribers and the growth of many platforms of digital media will end up fracturing/suppressing the cumulative total amount of rights fees in the next round. So the more content owners can provide, the better.


      • tor5

        To be honest, I already feel like a bit of a hypocrite because I enjoy the game so much even though I recognize that players are risking brain damage. I try to convince myself that the NFL takes this risk seriously and tries to minimize it, but you gotta wonder. I got the 16-game limit part, but they’d exempt QBs? Like they don’t take hits? And the implications for how the game is played, how rosters are built, etc. is profound. They might as well become the XFL. I say the next CBA needs to include mandatory, high-THC marijuana use by owners, hoping that they might glimpse some larger perspective beyond their fat wallets.

        • art thiel

          Now there’s a thought. Mandatory bud for all who own. The Dow Jones might lose 20,000 in one session.

          The best part is no one would care.

        • Kristafarian

          Yeah, great idea, pot can be an eye-opener; I’m thinking these guys could really benefit from a little Psychoactive (hallucinogenic) Therapy.

    • Husky73

      The CFL plays an 18 game schedule with two pre-season games.

      • art thiel

        And Tim Horton’s is better than Starbucks.

        • Husky73

          Even though I grew up with Gordon Bowker, I don’t drink coffee.

          • Kristafarian

            I like tea!
            Green tea.

            And 18 games is too many.
            Make it 12 – 14 with two bye weeks (not the first week) and you got a SEASON. Maybe the Players can play better if they’re not
            Hurt. Why age them so? We’re not going to eat them.

  • 1coolguy

    “old white men” – we are both a part of that group Art……..
    The reason I don’t follow the NFL as much as college ball is this story – billionaires and millionaires in negotiations. Pro sports money issues take up more print space than the games themselves.
    Me? I am excited that Sam Adams committed to the Huskies this weekend! This is a much more interesting sports story.

    • art thiel

      I know my demographic. I know how resistant to change it is.

      Frankly, i prefer the business side of the NFL to the business side of college sports. The NFL is transparent about its purposes, while college obscures the same purpose with the scam of amateurism and the corrupt practices to maintain it by exploiting players.

      It’s nice for Huskies fans that Adams chose UW. But it means little until he plays college ball. It’s like calling whipped cream a meal.

      • Husky73

        “Soup is not a meal, Jerry!” (Kenny Banya)

    • Effzee

      You’ve heard of the NCAA, right? At least the billionaires and millionaires of the NFL are adults. I don’t know, man. I kinda think grown men obsessing over the heavily manipulated decisions of exploited teenage boys is gross.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        ESPN paid the NCAA approximately $5.64 billion, about $470M/year for the college football playoff setup that includes a few other games. Not including the truckloads of other local and regional contracts. Some folks are under the impression that college ball is played by amateurs. Or something. Not sure exactly what . . . .
        A few years ago somebody figured out all the hours for spring ball, regular season games, bowls, practices, weight room, film study, travel–added up to a little over minimum wage for the players.
        “But they’re amateurs and they should feel thankful for . . . .”

  • Husky73

    I am reminded of the final words of “The Bridge on the River Kwai”….Madness! Madness!

  • jafabian

    Just cut the exhibition season in half. But that would be too easy.

    • art thiel

      That costs owners and players revenues, so that’s not much of a solution.

    • Husky73

      Why would they do that when the pre season makes huge dollars?

  • Kirkland

    The Canadian Football League has played 18-game seasons for ages. However, their preseason is only two games long, the game is less physical than the NFL (one-yard neutral zone, bigger field), and they’ve banned tacking in practice. For the player’s perspective, those two extra games get balanced out by those safety measures.

    On the business side, I’d like to see a three-game NFL preseason proposed. One home game, one away game, and one neutral-site game with split revenues between teams. You keep the 16-game regular season while doing away with the useless fourth preseason game. (Heck, I remember 14-game seasons with 6-game preseasons.)