Before the 2020 NFL season, the NFL eliminated its entire preseason schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic might be over by the time the 2021 season rolls around, the NFL reason may never be the same.
For years, the NFL and NFL Players Association have battled over the length of the regular season. Since 1978, the league has used a four-game preseason schedule, with two teams playing in five contests thanks to the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
Now, as NFL team owners begin discussing plans for the 2021 season, the preseason could undergo another significant change.
NFL rumors: Preseason likely to be shortened in 2021
When the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a new collective-bargaining agreement, the players’ union allowed the league flexibility with the preseason schedule moving forward. We could see changes immediately, beginning with the 2021 NFL season.
The NFL originally shortened its 2020 preseason schedule to two games, following a late start to training camp. When players started reporting in July and the league’s COVID-19 protocols began, the entire preseason was soon wiped out.
It came at a staggering cost for the NFL. In a year where the league anticipates losing billions of dollars in revenue, which will drop the 2021 NFL salary cap, wiping out the preseason cost the league tens of millions of dollars.
The NFL preseason will return in 2021, but it will look different. According to ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, the league is currently discussing two alternatives for a new preseason schedule.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell favors shortening the preseason to two games, a move that the players’ union would likely support. While additional preseason games provide opportunities to young players and those competing for roster spots or a shot on the practice squad, veterans aren’t fond of preseason action.
While Goodell and the players might be in favor of a two-game preseason, some owners want more. Specifically, per ESPN, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II are determined to have each team play three preseason games.
As of now, no vote has been cast to make changes to the 2021 preseason schedule. However, given the dip in revenue this year, owners will insist on a three-game preseason schedule for every club. Of course, that also comes with their desire to expand the regular season to 17 games and beyond.