NFL rumors: The NFL and its owners have sought to expand to a 17-game schedule for years. Thanks to the new collective-bargaining agreement, an expanded season could be on the verge of arrival in 2021.
As the league seeks new ways to increase its revenue, putting more games on the schedule remains the go-to move. Months after it expanded the NFL Playoffs to 14 teams, which directly led to more television profits, even more expansion is coming for the 2021 NFL season.
NFL rumors: League expected to implement 17-game schedule in 2021
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport, the NFL plans to expand to 17 regular-season games for the 2021 season. While an announcement isn’t expected to come until the spring, league sources told the NFL Network it is expected to happen this offseason.
When the NFL Players Association agreed to a new CBA, it granted owners with the authority to increase the regular season to a 17-game schedule as early as the 2021 NFL season. After waiting a year to make it happen, the historic change is now just months away.
In a year where the NFL has lost billions of dollars in stadium revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, owners are seeking new ways to increase their profits. While increasing the size of the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams helped accomplish that, an expanded regular season will generate even more revenue for the league.
Since 1976, every NFL team has played a 16-game schedule with four preseason games and one bye week. Under the looming change for the 2021 season, the preseason schedule will be reduced and one regular-season contest will be added in its place. Notably, teams will still have just one bye week.
For the move to become official, the NFL must first sign new television contracts with major networks. Negotiations are reportedly nearing the final stages, with deals that will net the league more than $100 billion over the life of the 10-year CBA agreement.
During the owners’ meetings in December, the league discussed the length of the preseason schedule moving forward. After eliminating it this year, due to the pandemic, preseason games will return in 2021. However, there is still ongoing debate regarding the length of the schedule.
While players have come out strongly against a 17-game schedule in the past, given it puts their safety at increased risk, it is viewed as a justifiable cost for the league. Plus, with the 2021 NFL salary cap expected to drop, an additional source of revenue will help lessen the blow of dropping from $198.2 million in 2020 to $175 million next season.
When the new 17-game schedule for the 2021 NFL season is announced, it’s expected the added game will be an interconference matchup based on division standings.