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NFL will add a 17th game to the schedule in 2021

Why?

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The NFL has been gunning for an expanded regular season for a long time now. The point of a 17 game season is not to appease fans, who have never asked for it, or players, who almost certainly do not want it. It’s to pump more money into team coffers and by extension the pockets of owners, and that’s become especially urgent after limited-to-no attendance helped ensure teams took a big financial hit in 2020.

Naked money grabs are nothing new for this league or any other, and the NFL can push this along under the premise of giving the fans more football. In time, of course, we’ll learn to like or at least tolerate more football even if it ends up meaning a weaker product, because the NFL has learned fans will put up with a lot and one additional game is not as frustrating an addition as, say, a poorly thought out pass interference rule.

How is the league planning to pull this off? Per the report above from Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, preseason will be trimmed back to 2 or 3 games to allow for an 18 week season. Incredibly, the league is still only planning on one bye week per team, with the extra week being an AFC vs. NFC matchup. The 17th game addition would likely lead to larger roster sizes—or perhaps just the huge practice squads with gameday flexes we’ve seen this year—and is expected to include some kind of increase in the size of the salary cap for 2021, which teams will welcome. If this is light on details at the moment, that’s because nothing is expected to be official until the spring, and the league has time to decide how it’s going to address what are likely to be significant player concerns about another game when injuries and fatigue already are major factors late in the year.

Much remains to be decided, in other words, but don’t doubt for a second that we’ll see a 17 game schedule. What that means for NFL teams, the NFL record books, and player health is an open question that we likely won’t see addressed until much later.