Perry Knotts/Associated Press
The NFL and its team owners are reportedly pushing to finalize plans for a 17-game regular season in 2021.
Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported the one-game increase would likely be accompanied by the removal of a preseason contest, leaving each team’s number of games at 20, not including the playoffs. Talks are ongoing as the league also works on new television contracts with its broadcast partners, which are a factor in the decision.
The NFL Players Association narrowly approved a new collective bargaining agreement last March that gave the owners the option to increase the length of the regular season to 17 beginning in 2021.
In turn, Maske noted the league is using the potential for an extra regular-season game in its negotiations with networks with hope of increasing its revenue to help offset the negative financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused games to be played with limited or no fans in attendance in 2020.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk added it’s “impossible to completely rule out” a potential push from the owners to seek an 18-game regular season and two preseason contests as part of discussions with the union about where to set the salary cap for 2021.
The sides agreed the minimum cap for next season will be $180 million, which would be a sizable decrease from the $198.2 million mark from 2020, but stated the final number isn’t yet decided.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed during his Super Bowl press conference the schedule structure was part of the planned offseason discussions.
“We are looking at the 17-game schedule,” Goodell told reporters Feb. 4. “We’ve already agreed to that in the collective bargaining agreement. There’s still more work to be done on that. Once the game is done, we’ll turn our focus a little bit more to that. Even though we have that option, we’re going to continue to talk.”
An eventual switch to 18 games seems likely since it will allow for a more balanced slate—half the teams will play an extra home game each season under a 17-game format—but for now Florio reported a serious push for two additional regular-season matchups is “largely unexpected” for 2021.
The NFL will likely want everything finalized before March 17, when it opens a new league year and teams begin spending money in free agency.