NFL players express skepticism as league appears close to adding 17th game to schedule

The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, which could be ratified before the start of the new league year next month, is reportedly going to expand the regular season schedule to add a 17th game.

A 17th game could also mean a pay bump for players, the NFL Network reported Thursday. Under the proposed deal by NFL owners, the players’ share in league revenue would reportedly increase from 47 to 48.5 percent if the extra regular-season game is approved.

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The players could see a $5 billion shift over a 10-year deal if the extra game is approved. The league wouldn’t shift to a 17-game schedule until the 2021 season, according to the NFL Network.

Some players have already come out and expressed their displeasure with the reported proposal. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who actually ended up playing in 17 games last season after he was traded from the Denver Broncos to the San Francisco 49ers, is one of the players who is opposed.

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Emmanuel Sanders #17 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on prior to taking on the Seattle Seahawks during their game at CenturyLink Field on December 29, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. 

Emmanuel Sanders #17 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on prior to taking on the Seattle Seahawks during their game at CenturyLink Field on December 29, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.  (Getty)

Sanders came out against an schedule expansion in January, according to Pro Football Talk.

“It was definitely tough,” he said of playing without a bye week. “If the NFL wants to change the season to 17 games they should ask me, and I say no. Because my body was hurting and I needed that break.”

Sanders’ 49ers teammate Richard Sherman also wasn’t pleased about a possible 17-game schedule. He made his comments before the Super Bowl.

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“I think it’s the owners using the media in the way owners use media to try to control the rhetoric,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s something that players are interested in, honestly, and if that’s the point they’re negotiating on I think these negotiations are going to go on a lot longer than anticipated. Because it’s odd to me, and it’s always odd, when you hear player safety is their biggest concern . . . but it seems like player safety has a price tag.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman gestures as he speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman gestures as he speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs.  (AP)

“Player safety, up to the point of, ‘Hey, 17 games makes us this much money, so we really don’t care how safe they are, if you’re gonna pay us this much money to play another game.’ And so that’s the part that’s really concerning for us as a union and us as players because they think that players have a price tag on their health and I don’t think we’re in the same ballpark in that regard.”

Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung, who suffered a pulmonary embolism before the start of last season, told ESPN late last month that health and safety were more of a priority for players than an extra game.

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“Health and safety is a priority to us,” Okung said. “We need to protect the future of our league.”

Russell Okung is one of the top members of the NFLPA.

Russell Okung is one of the top members of the NFLPA. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson weighed in on the issue back in September, according to LionMaven.

“All that is long to me. Season is long now, season is going to be long then,” Johnson said. “A couple more games here and there, one taken out. Fall camp is going to start the same. I am still going to be tired. It is going to be all the same. It's football. We may not like it at all but if there is a football game to be played, we are going to go play it regardless.”

While 17 games may be a controversial subject during negotiations, a player rep expressed optimism to The Athletic saying they believed the extra game will get done.

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NFL owners are expected to meet with the NFL Players’ Association to discuss the negotiations in New York, according to the NFL Network.

Additionally, the league is considering adding extra playoff teams for the 2020 season and beyond. The owners are proposing a 14-team playoff, up from 12 teams.