NFL Labor Talks: How to Play 16 Games in an 18-Game Season
The NFL has put the idea of an 18-game schedule on the table as part of the negotiating process. Among fans, this has become the largest point of debate.
While more games is a good thing when you think about it from a certain angle, the idea falls flat on many other levels. As a result, there isn't as much support for an 18-game season as the owners wanted to see.
But one man has a possible solution to this dilemma. It would allow both sides to claim victory in the process—if only it would work.
I'm a Cleveland Browns fan, and while reading through the Cleveland Plain Dealer this past Sunday, I came across this tidbit:
"It seems to me that there's a very simple solution to this whole 18-game schedule mess. The NFL would just have to make a rule that each player can only be active for 16 games. That way the players don't technically play any more games, and they get two weeks off.
Second-stringers will get more playing time and a chance to shine too. Plus, the record books wouldn't be made obsolete. It would be a win-win situation for both the players and owners."—Brad Grzyb, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The full article, plus Tony Grossi's response, can be found here.
This idea sounds great at first pass, but there are problems. Since I like the idea on the surface I'm going to break it down to all of its pros and cons.
It's better to argue an idea if we set some parameters, so here is the "rule" we will argue.
We will assume the owners get their way and get their 18-game season, but as a concession to prevent injuries, players are limited to only being active for 16 games.
A player can legitimately be injured for two games, and it counts toward the two-week rule.
Rosters will be expanded so teams are not left short-handed. The number is irrelevant to this argument.
As with everything, though, there will be exceptions to the rule. This is where the flaws get exposed.
Who Determines Who Sits When?
The onus of deciding which player sits which week will fall to the head coach. The front office definitely will have some input, but the head coach would demand that authority.
The advantage of having starters sit for two weeks would be that the backups get more playing time and experience, but deciding when certain players sit can dramatically affect a game.
Take Troy Polamalu, for example. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense looks completely different when Polamalu isn't playing. The Steelers now would have to strategize which games they think they can win without him.
That's just scratching the surface of the dilemma, but expand out to all 32 teams and you can point to at least one player who isn't a quarterback that you can make the same argument with.
Speaking of quarterbacks...
There's no getting around it—sitting the starting quarterback for two weeks presents a lot of problems. Universal application of the rule sounds good in theory, but it just wouldn't happen.
There will have to be a special rule for quarterbacks, because no owner is going to want to risk ticket sales with the knowledge people will throw a fit knowing they may hold a ticket to a game the star quarterback is not going to be in.
This is one of the biggest flaws of the idea. While having role players and backups sit for two games a year doesn't pose that huge of a challenge from a big-picture standpoint, what do you do with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning?
If you buy a ticket to the Patriots-Cardinals game and Bill Belichick decides he can beat the Cardinals without Brady, you're going to be very upset if you're a Patriots fan in Arizona.
An exception would have to be made for quarterbacks where they can start all 18 games if they wanted, or that they can be inserted into two games without invoking the emergency quarterback penalty. The league would have to create a whole subsection just dealing with quarterbacks and the two-week rule.
Backup quarterbacks would become just that much more important.
There becomes no way the Philadelphia Eagles trade a Kevin Kolb in this scenario. You need two starting quarterbacks under these conditions.
Kickers and Punters
Do punters and kickers really need two weeks off?
The answer is no.
Punters and kickers don't get the wear and tear the rest of the team does, so adding two extra weeks to their workload isn't that big of a deal.
So the flaws of the 16-game limit are huge once you factor in the quarterbacks, punters and kickers. If protecting the record books is a goal of this idea, it fails when it comes to punters and kickers.
Teams have a hard enough time finding one good punter and kicker, and now they'd have to find two.
That being said, since it only is for two weeks, there could be a group of kickers and punters that bounce around the league all season as the go-to backups while the starters take their breaks.
It's the lineman and other skill positions that need the extra rest in a season that long, but the rules are what they are.
Strategizing the Sit-Downs
Going back to the earlier argument of who sits when, that aspect would become a major point of controversy every week, especially when a team loses.
Would the sit-downs be every week? Would they follow a schedule like the bye weeks?
There are no good answers to any question just proposed.
The inactives would have to be announced before game time, but you couldn't demand they be announced too far in advance.
Every coach would have to determine each week which players need to sit and which players he can get away with sitting that week. Being wrong could cost a coach his job.
At the End of the Day, Could This Work?
Could this work? In a word:
It's a great idea, but once you realize you have to start making exceptions for quarterbacks, kickers and punters, the whole base of the idea starts to fall apart.
Trying to determine who sits when would be a weekly nightmare for head coaches and front offices, and the fans would get upset if their team lost and their best players were inactive that week.
Season-ticket holders would rightfully complain about potentially buying tickets to a game that didn't have the best players on the field, which is an argument they already lose when it comes to preseason games.
I applaud Brad Grzyb for coming up with the idea, though. It really is an "outside-the-box" solution to the problems of an 18-game season. The league needs more people and ideas like this to get through the labor negotiations.
Even if the idea doesn't work at the end of the day, it's an honest attempt to solve a problem.
For a look at the 2011 NFL Draft, check out our Draft Coverage Here.