“Are we playing on Wednesdays now?”
Several years ago, an aging Peyton Manning quipped the above line. He was referring to the NFL’s Thursday night games, which players simultaneously love and hate. Most NFL players love playing in prime time but hate how Thursday night games affect their bodies and work out rituals. Sure, they get ten days rest after playing a Thursday night game but heading into them, they have only four days to prepare, leading to a substantially heightened risk of injury in what is already a dangerous game.
Meanwhile, the NFL, who, let’s be honest, values television ratings and the almighty dollar far more than the health of its players, will likely never pull Thursday night games from their slate. While ratings are slightly down from last year, recent history has shown that the NFL can throw up a game between two horrible teams and it will still be the most watched thing on television by a mile.
While eliminating Thursday games will not be on the table this off-season, I firmly believe that, thanks to COVID, we are about to see some major changes in scheduling in the immediate future.
Here are two pressing issues I’d like to see addressed. Before you scoff, keep in mind the league has the power and the means to do as it pleases. All they need is some friendly, cohesive agreement. But then again, don’t we all.
REMOVAL OF THE FRANCHISE TAG
One day, far down the road, we’ll look back on this thing they call the ‘franchise tag’ and scratch our heads wondering how it ever existed, a laughable time and aspect of the league’s history where teams were could single out one player they didn’t care to commit to so they could lock him up for a single contract year.
Franchise Tag. It almost has a regal ring to it as if it was an honor to receive. Congratulations, sir, you’re franchised! If you didn’t know any better, you’d hear that a player got the franchise tag and think “Wow! He must be important!” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s almost as misleading as the phrase “defunding.”
The good part about the tag, from the player’s standpoint at least, is that he’ll be getting paid as soon as he receives it. The franchise tag means that particular player, who is franchised for that season, will get paid the average of the top five players at his position or 120% of his previous salary, whichever is greater. In the short term, he will be cashing a healthy paycheck. Sounds like a deal, right?
The bad part is that if that player gets injured, he’s all but shit out of luck. The average NFL player looks for the long-term contract because they know on any given play, their career can be over. We’ve seen an inordinate amount of injuries this season. Chalk that up to faulty fields, the game getting more physical, improper preparation, illegal tackling, a lack of pre-season games or whatever else you’d like to list as a reason. Any fantasy football GM will tell you players are dropping like flies. Any real GM will tell you the same, exact thing. GMs have had to do some shrewd roster managing as the sports cliche “next man up” has been used this season to nauseating levels.
The Dak Prescott injury shows just how debilitating the tag can be to a player and potentially his career. This off-season, the Dak and Dallas camps could not agree to a deal, so the Cowboys franchised him. In the blink of an eye in the fifth week of the season, he dislocated his ankle against the Giants to the benefit of absolutely no one.
Prescott is expected to make a full recovery by next season, we hope, but the franchise tag placed on him this off-season leaves both Prescott without a contract and the Cowboys without a quarterback. Assuming Prescott returns 100%, it will be back to the drawing board for both parties, for Dak who is looking to land some career security in the form of a long-term deal and for the Cowboys who must finally decide whether Dak is their man… and whether he’ll ever be able to walk without a limp.
The franchise tag serves no purpose whatsoever other than to reward a team for its indecisiveness. The more we see Prescott-like injuries, the more we’ll realize how potentially damaging this rule is. When it puts players livelihoods at stake, it’s long past time for this rule to say farewell.
EXPAND THE SCHEDULE TO 18 GAMES AND ADD ANOTHER BYE WEEK
The NFL has been wanting to expand its season, and its playoffs, for years. An 18-game schedule has been on the table for quite a while. They just haven’t been able to come to terms on how exactly this would happen, how it would affect the cap, etc. Most think it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a reality.
An 18-game schedule would still allow for two pre-season games to work out the kinks and narrow down rosters spots. The NFL has also discussed expanding the playoffs.
I fully expect these talks to be expedited this off-season. I also expect the league and the players union to add a bye week or at least add this to the discussion. Sure, it would make the season one week longer (is that a problem?) but adding a bye week would benefit both the league and its players. It would benefit the league by giving it more leeway in scheduling and flexing games. If this virus has proven anything, it’s that a tightly packed schedule with only one bye allows for very little wiggle room if games ever need to be rescheduled for things like viruses, natural disasters, etc. In fact, there’s even been discussion about adding a week to this season. Adding a bye week would benefit the players as it would give them an extra week during the season to get rest.
More football is a good thing. So is the health of its players.
The NFL has already taken a huge revenue hit with fans not coming through the turnstiles. Both Los Angeles and Las Vegas have brand new stadiums they’re unable to fill. Ticket sales account for between 15-20% of the league’s revenue which means in addition to everything else that will be on the table, players and owners will once again have to discuss who will bear the brunt of said revenue loss.
Instead of packing things even tighter into a calendar year, it makes sense to just expand the season by a week, especially if they’re still considering playing games overseas and expanding their brand.
No fan has ever complained about too much football. Making the season last a week or two longer while making sure players get to that end point healthy makes perfect sense to me. But when has sense ever had anything to do with anything?