League, union discuss 18-game season
UPDATED (10:22 p.m.)...
Representatives of the NFL's franchise owners made a presentation to the players' union Wednesday about the possibility of extending the regular season to 18 games per team.
The presentation by members of the owners' bargaining committee was made during a meeting in New York as the two sides resumed their labor negotiations.
The change, if approved by the union, could take effect as soon as the 2012 season, according to Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy.
"We made a presentation," Murphy, a member of the owners' bargaining committee, said during a conference call with reporters. "That was really it.... We haven't officially voted on it [but] there's a lot of momentum [among the owners] in meetings I've been in."
The union declined to comment through a spokesman. But a source on the players' side said the union has concerns about the prospective 18-game season on issues including players vesting for benefits, post-career health care, offseason workout rules and the schedule.
Players also have cited injury risks that would accompany additional regular season games.
"Don't get me wrong, I love the game of football," Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said in a written statement posted Wednesday afternoon on the union's Web site. "If fans want to show their love, they should let everyone know that we are not machines. I've been blessed to play this game for so long, but it's time to start thinking about what legacy and impact changes like this will leave for the players of tomorrow and us after we retire.
"I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don't like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games--when players already play hurt--comes at a huge cost for the player and the team. I know our Union is on top of it and players need to stay in touch with the Union and our Executive Director to stay informed."
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said in a written statement on the union's Web site: "I've taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games. The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care. Our Union has done a great job of raising the awareness on these issues and will make the right decision for us players, the game and the fans."
Those concerns apparently were raised by the union during Wednesday's meeting.
"The length of the season was an issue the players did raise," said Murphy, a former safety for the Washington Redskins. "They have concerns about safety."
The union's Web site referred to the owners' presentation about an 18-game season as a "proposal." The league did not call its presentation a formal proposal to the players for an 18-game season.
The owners appear to favor expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team while reducing the preseason from four to two games per club, although they have not voted to officially approve the measure.
"I think this is an idea that is really gaining momentum, particularly within the owners," Murphy said. "It's something we've talked a lot about in the last year."
Murphy said he has received "a lot of complaints" from fans about the quality of preseason games, adding that the average starting player participates in about five to six of the 16 quarters in the four preseason games.
"There really isn't the same value there," Murphy said. "... I think there's a real issue we need to address.... I think it's very clear to many of us the players and teams don't need four [preseason] games to get ready for the regular season."
The owners do not intend to put a longer regular season into effect without an agreement with the players on the issue, Murphy said.
"Anything we can do to grow and improve the game, the players will see the benefits of that," Murphy said. "... This is something we want to reach agreement with the players on.... We have an issue with the preseason. There's not a lot of fan interest. They don't like the preseason. We're not providing value. But we also have concerns about the safety."
Murphy said it's possible that the NFL could establish a developmental league for players in conjunction with the potential move to a longer regular season. That would be an attempt to address any concerns by coaches about having fewer chances to evaluate younger players, given the possible reduction in preseason games.
There also could be rule changes such as increased roster sizes and alterations to the injured reserve procedures to enable a player to return to play in a season after being placed on the IR list.
Currently, each NFL team can have 53 players on its roster, of which 45 can be on the active list on game days. A player placed on the IR list is ineligible to play for that team for the remainder of the season, under current rules.
The current collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players enabled the owners to increase the number of regular season games if they chose to do so. Under the terms of the existing labor deal, the two sides would have had to negotiate compensation for the players for the additional regular season games if the owners had made that move.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners chose not to exercise that provision in the current labor deal, however. Instead, Goodell has said that discussions with the union about a longer regular season would come only in the context of bargaining for the next labor deal.
The current labor agreement expires after the upcoming season. DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and players have said they expect the owners to lock out the players in 2011. The upcoming season is to be played without a salary cap, which expired after last season.
Wednesday's meeting was the first formal bargaining session between the owners and players since February, according to both sides.
Earlier in their deliberations about lengthening the regular season, there also was some talk among the owners about the possibility of a move to three preseason games and 17 regular season games per team.
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