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Here’s how to make ‘Thursday Night Football’ a little better

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz has some ideas for how to make the league’s least-palatable product slightly better.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for another Thursday Night Football contest, which means within the next 12 hours we’ll be flooded with comments from players about the downfalls of these games. Their comments are valid and have purpose, though I understand not all players feel this way. Let me lay out some possible solutions to the Thursday Night Football issue

Playing Thursday night games is taxing on the body, there’s no getting around it. We are creatures of habits. We have routines to get our bodies back in time to play on Sunday.

I know as the season went on, my body didn’t start to feel ready to play until Friday afternoon. Part of that is our practices on Wednesday and Thursday are the toughest, so on Friday, things calm down. Thursday night games don’t allow our bodies to recover, which could lead to more soft-tissue injuries. That’s a legitimate concern about these contests.

Preparing on a short week isn’t a concern. The coaches can plan ahead and actually practicing on a short week isn’t bad at all. It’s less practice, more walk throughs, base concepts, and packages. The Thursday games used to mostly feature division opponents to help with the preparation for the week.

There are some reasonable steps to address the issue.

No more Thursday games, except the Thanksgiving

Removing games is a nonstarter. As much as the players complain about these games, especially as the season gets longer, there’s too much money involved to let this package go.

In 2016, CBS and NBC each agreed to pay roughly $450 million a year for the Thursday package. That works out to $45 million per game and a total of $900 million over the life of the two-year deal. Unless players and owners are prepared to have smaller paychecks, these games aren’t likely to go away.

I’ve heard people ask why players don’t complain about Thanksgiving games? For starters, Thanksgiving games are part of the fabric and culture of the NFL. The games have been a showcase for the NFL in front of a national TV audience.

For the teams, it was viewed as a mini bye week and an advantage for the home team, which is why former Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm fought for the Cowboys to join the Lions in being the featured team on Thanksgiving starting in 1966.

We can all look back to childhood memories of Turkey Day football in the yard while the bird is cooking, then coming inside to grub on turkey and watch some football. It’s synonymous with Thanksgiving. That is why players enjoy playing on Thanksgiving. It’s not looked upon as a regular Thursday night game.

However, eliminating the last game of the day would be just fine.

Eliminate half of the games, move them, and be more selective

Take away half of the games, move them all to Weeks 2 through 7, and only feature marquee matchups.

I don’t think every team should get a Thursday night game. Playing on national television should be earned. If you’re not any good, you haven’t earned that right. If the games are marquee matchups, the fans will be fired up and so will the players.

One pitfall to this is the select teams to play on these Thursdays get that extra built in bye week, which I’d consider an advantage for those matchups. Also, again, the players won’t make as much money, which I think we’d never agree to.

Extend the season, add a bye week

Making the season 18 weeks, instead of 17, and adding a bye before the Thursday games seems to make the most sense.

For the current bye week schedule now, players get a mandatory four days off. Those can be Thursday-Sunday or Friday-Monday. However, most coaching staffs give Tuesday-Sunday off, then a light workout on Monday, followed by the customary off day, and then into the work week on Wednesday.

If you have a bye before the Thursday game, you’d have to make sure to give the players off Tuesday-Thursday at least. Friday before the Thursday is basically like a Monday in the work week and then you can start preparing for the game.

I believe when people think of the bye week before a Thursday game, they think we will get off Tuesday-Sunday, and then come in and prepare on Monday for a Thursday game. That’s not happening when coaches have the chance to practice, so you’d have to mandate days off, like you do for a regular bye week.

I never minded the Thursday game. We luckily played most of them at the beginning of the season. We had an easy week of practice and both teams felt like crap during the game. However, I understand why players dislike these games, and in the next round of CBA negotiations, I hope there can be some compromise.