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NFL’s expansion to 17 games a boon for fans, but not for players

The Bears will play the Raiders in Las Vegas in their 17th game. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell brushed off concerns about injury risk: “We’re following the data, following the science.”

The Bears will likely get an extra road game against the Raiders this year under the NFL’s new 17-game season.
The Bears will likely get an extra road game against the Raiders this year under the NFL’s new 17-game season.
Tim Ireland/AP

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell started off with a bad argument when asked his response to the notion that “more games” — a 17th regular-season game that was approved by NFL owners Tuesday — would increase the injury risk for players.

“Well, I have to start by saying it’s not more games,” Goodell said. “We’re still within the 20-game format. That was something that was important to the NFLPA. And that was part of our structure of the CBA.”

Please. It’s technically true that by cutting the preseason to three games and expanding the regular season to 17 games, the NFL still is within the maximum 20 total games per league season allowed by the collective bargaining agreement that was approved last March. But it’s absolute folly to argue that that is an even trade. It’s ridiculous to argue that it doesn’t expose starting players to more wear-and-tear and greater risk of injury.

Just do the math. Starting players in the NFL play fewer snaps in the preseason than ever before. In 2019, Bears regulars all but sat out the entire preseason. Fourteen players didn’t play at all. Coach Matt Nagy coasted his regulars in the preseason — because he didn’t want to get anyone hurt.

So they’re trading token snaps in a preseason game for 60-70 or more snaps at game speed in the regular season. That’s why NFL players are wearing out the face-palm emoji in response to this. They know what this means.

Goodell insisted the “data” shows that the highest rate of injuries occurs in preseason games. “What we’re actually doing is following the data, following the science,” he said.

That sounds good, but the eye test says that we need fewer football games before we need more of them. The NFL is feeding its addiction when it should be taking the bottle away. Football has become so injury-prone and so dangerous, it’s often wiser to not play. College players sit out bowl games so they don’t get hurt and impact their draft status. Coaches sit out starters or key players in the preseason and in “meaningless” Week 17 games because they fear the injury risk.

And even on the field, while rules on contact have helped make the game safer, limitations on contact with the quarterback are making the game unrecognizable to players from previous NFL generations.

While players such as former Bears safety Adrian Amos and Eagles cornerback Darius Slay have expressed their dismay on Twitter, former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz said it best: “No surprise. More football. As a fan, love it. As a player . . . good luck with the extra week.”

Indeed, the extra game is a boon for football fans. The Bears will play the Raiders in Las Vegas for their 17th game. But the cost is unknown. Some teams will play nine home games, others nine road games. With no extra bye week, teams will play 17 games over 18 weeks. That could push teams toward an unintended consequence — load management. Could Khalil Mack sit out against the Lions to be fresh for the Packers? It could happen.

And any protest notwithstanding, even if the worse-case scenario ensues, the NFL will thrive. It has survived the pandemic like no other sport. A 17th game might hurt the players, but it won’t touch The Shield.