COSTA MESA, Calif. — With NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirming the league's interest in increasing the regular season to 17 games on Wednesday, those in charge of handling the schedule and managing players drew questions about an expanded schedule. Some, like Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, brushed off any concerns.
"I don't think 17 games would affect our preparation at all," Lynn said at his press conference. "At one point, it was 14 games and it went to 16. I don't think it affected anybody then. Whatever we decide to do, we're going to adjust."
However, the reaction back in the Chargers' locker room sounded decidedly different.
"It's ridiculous," tight end Virgil Green said. "I don't see the need for a 17-game season. That's just me, personally."
Green acknowledged that the league has made some changes in the name of player safety that have prolonged some careers. However, he sees an expanded regular season as a deviation from that path:
"You're talking about a team making the playoffs and they're playing, what, 21 or 22 games at that point on top of preseason? That's a lot of football games. This isn't basketball. This isn't baseball. This is a physical, brutal, violent sport."
Green has plenty of likeminded teammates, many of which feel the season already contains too many games.
"Sixteen is a lot," backup quarterback Easton Stick said. "Seventeen, obviously, would be a lot. I played 15 or 16 every year in college, and that was long. That included our playoffs. So, you can play 16 here and then go to the playoffs, that's a lot of football."
"You know, every time we have a game, that's more wear and tear and opportunity for injury," fullback Derek Watt said. "I'm sure it will help bring more money in, that's for sure. But that's not exactly in the best interest of player safety. That's obviously not my decision to make, but I don't fully think that's in the players' best interest."
In order to convince the players to add an extra regular-season game, the NFL will have to offer some concessions in return. Chargers left guard Michael Schofield would like to see guaranteed contracts, a rarity in the league. Even then, he can't conceive of an expanded regular season unless the NFL reduces other parts of the schedule.
"You'd have to cut two preseason games at least," Schofield said. "We'd have to cut the preseason, I would assume. But I don't think I'd be a fan of it. Sixteen is enough."
Schofield sees other problems with a 17-game schedule as well.
"And then you also have to think about who gets the extra home game each year," he said. "Because some would get nine and some would get less. So, there's a lot to go into that now that I'm thinking about it."
An odd number of games could also create tensions around the league. Under the NFL's current schedule format, each team plays eight home games and eight on the road except for clubs participating in the league's international series. A 17th game would necessarily create a situation where some teams receive more home games or force every team to play once at a neutral site, further complicating the schedule.
Regardless, some players expect the NFL will eventually get its way and add games to the regular season. They just hope the league makes reasonable accommodations to limit the increased risk on their bodies.
"I think if we had two bye weeks that would help," tight end Lance Kendricks said. "I was talking to a friend. I think he's playing in Canada. I know they have multiple bye weeks. So, I think if you add an extra game, we need more rest. So, I think that would be the solution that will make players happy."
In 1993, the NFL used an 18-week, 16-game schedule that gave each team two byes. Adding an additional bye week along with a 17th game would expand the regular season to 19 weeks, something not all players will support. Still, if the league used the extra bye strategically and schedule it ahead of Thursday night games, perhaps an expanded schedule could draw more support.
Still, the NFL already asks its players to battle through a season longer than any in their pre-professional football lives. Green and Schofield played for the Denver Broncos during the team's 2015 Super Bowl run. Both young players at the time, they saw action in the preseason, regular season, and playoffs. Green appeared in every game save for the final preseason contest. Schofield missed the first three weeks of the regular season with an injury. Regardless, each played 20 games or more, a considerable amount in any context.
The NFL still has time to reconsider its push for 17 games. Now that the league has confirmed its interest in an expanded schedule, perhaps the response will change the owners' minds. Issues deemed to negatively affect player safety haven't done well in the court of public opinion, nor have they found a sympathetic audience with the NFLPA.
Still, if the league does indeed put the proposal on the negotiating table, will the union push back?
"If they're listening to the players, yeah," Green said. "Because I'm pretty sure there's not one player that says, 'yeah, let's add another game.' I'd be interested in finding that player and see what his insight is as to why. Because 16 seems like enough."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH