The current NFL collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2020 season, but negotiations on a new one between the league and the NFL Players Association are ongoing. Along with guidelines for compensation, player safety, and other notable issues, the NFL is working on changes to its schedule, including unexpected tweaks to the current postseason format.
Under the current proposal, which owners are “pushing for,” the playoff field would be expanded to seven teams from each conference, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. In addition to that, only one team from each conference would receive a first-round bye.
The league is also expected to switch to a 17-game regular season, while eliminating one of the preseason games, something that has been talked about for a few years now.
We’ll run through what the changes mean and when they might be enacted.
So what would the new playoff format look like?
With the new format, 14 teams — or nearly half the league — will be in the postseason. That adds a third game to Wild Card Weekend, which either means three games apiece on Saturday and Sunday or one game on that Monday, as noted by Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
That third game would be between each conference’s second seed and the new seventh seed.
Using this past season as an example, the 49ers and Ravens would’ve still earned byes as the top seeds. The No. 2 seeds, the Packers and eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs, would’ve faced the No. 7 seeds, which would’ve been the Rams and Steelers, who didn’t make the postseason in 2019.
Here’s a look at the other teams from recent years that would have made the postseason under the new format.
What could have been…— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) February 20, 2020
Under the reported new format for the @NFL Playoffs, these teams would have been the extra #7 seed:
2019: Steelers, Rams
2018: Steelers, Vikings
2017: Ravens, Lions
2016: Titans, Buccaneers
2015: Jets, Falcons
So getting a No. 1 seed is pretty important, huh?
Only one bye week means the rich get richer.
It’s glaringly obvious that the first-round bye is a huge deal. Seven consecutive Super Bowls have been contested by teams that had first-round byes in the postseason. Four of those pitted two No. 1 seeds against each other.
It was already an advantage, and it’s hard to see how only giving one bye week per conference is a positive change competitively.
There is one win for the players, though. Players on teams that earn a first-round bye will now receive postseason pay for that weekend. Under the current CBA, players on a bye week don’t get any extra compensation.
What was wrong with the old playoff format?
These changes don’t seem to be in response to any widespread complaints about the way the playoffs currently work.
Most criticisms of the NFL playoffs have centered around the fact some wild card teams with better records wind up playing road games against lesser division winners. That issue isn’t addressed in this new report.
In other words, these proposed playoff changes are a bit of a surprise, as there is no real evidence anybody was asking for them. For the NFL’s part, more playoffs equals more revenue, so it’s easy to see why it would be a win for the league.
Is 17 games really going to happen?
The playoff changes were not a serious point of contention in negotiations, per ESPN. However, adding another regular season game is more of an issue for the players. A 16-game season is already tough on the body, and the league will have to do a lot to incentivize the players to agree to such an extension.
Part of that includes changing the revenue split between the owners and players. It is currently at a 47 percent share for the players, while the new deal would increase it 48 percent, then a further change to 48.5 percent if the league moves to 17 games after 2020, per Schefter. Those are small percentages, but since we’re talking about billions of dollars, it’s still a sizable amount of money.
What about the preseason?
As part of extending the regular season, the league would drop one of the preseason games, down from four to three.
The fourth preseason game has often been the least exciting for fans and the least important for coaches. There should still be enough time in three games to make roster decisions while, hopefully, limiting pointless injuries.
When will these scheduling changes take effect?
If a new agreement comes together quickly, changes to the playoffs would take place immediately, in the 2020 season. Moving to a 17-game regular season wouldn’t happen as soon, “likely between the 2021 and 2023 seasons,” per Maske.
When will we know more?
With a lockout accompanying the last CBA negotiations, it was easy to think we could be in for a long process this time around. That’s still a possibility, but it’s not likely. There’s a chance a new agreement could be reached as soon as the NFL Combine, which will take place in the final week of February.
The NFL released a statement confirming that the league and owners have voted on the current proposal.
NFL statement on approval of terms for a new CBA pic.twitter.com/XJ67agXpFb— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 20, 2020
That means it goes to the NFLPA, where two-thirds of the player reps must vote to affirm it before it goes to a majority vote by all players in the league. The union has already distributed information on the proposal to the players, though it will not vote until combine week.
The league also announced that, if the NFLPA rejects this proposal, it is prepared to move forward in 2020 under the current CBA. Not all owners voted for the proposal, according to Schefter, though we don’t know the specifics or how the vote was split.
The current CBA expires after the 2020 season. The new league year begins on March 18.