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An NFL All-Star Break could be the right compromise on adding games to the season

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Mark Murphy has relented on his insistence the season shouldn’t be longer, siding with the NFL on adding games. Here’s one way it could actually make sense.

NFL Draft
Roger Goodell and the NFL have proposed an 18-game season in which players would be allowed to play 16. What the hell?
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Set aside for a moment the knuckling under of Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, who has stated publicly for years he doesn’t believe in adding games to the season for player safety reasons. Apparently players are safe enough. The NFL clearly wants more games, and in this case “the NFL” is code for “the owners.” It doesn’t take a Nobel prize in economics to understand why either: more games means more money.

Players could be into the proposal because more money means a bigger pool for the NFLPA to bargain for, meaning the potential for bigger salaries and more high-paying contracts. But Mase was right: more money, more problems. The toll on the body is exponential. It’s not just one more game or two more games, it’s 16 games plus those extra games, with the wear and tear building at a growing rate over time.

Here’s how the NFL can have its proverbial cake and eat it too. They’ve relented on the idea of longer preseason games, understanding fans don’t care and neither do TV partners. There’s a reason there’s no FOX or CBS package of preseason games: no one cares. They’ve come to a rather logical capitalistic epiphany: if these games aren’t making money (i.e. aren’t raking in money from broadcast rights) why bother having them when we could have real games?

So two preseason games are out? Done. Bye. Thank God.

In an interview with The Athletic, Murphy hinted that the league would like to play more internationally, hence the idea of a London franchise has been floated for years. He says they’d like to play more neutral site games and this is actually a cool idea (I know, I was as surprised as you).

Who wouldn’t want to see Saints-Cowboys in Baton Rouge? Take it international with Rams-Patriots in Munich or Paris or Rome. Packers fans would head to Europe in droves if it meant seeing their team play. But not if it means taking away games at Lambeau Field. We can deal with that problem, while adding a game and still giving the NFL the “grow the game” flair it craves.

Have an All-Star Break.

Take the schedule as it exists right now. Green Bay plays eight home games, eight road games. This season, the Packers play the Chiefs in Week 8 with the Chargers in Week 9. Instead, they’d play the Chiefs in Week 8 and an additional neutral site game in place of the Week 9 matchup. The following week, the league has a bye. Everyone. Go enjoy college football, watch some NBA, talk MLB hot stove. It’s not as if the NFL will fall off the sports landscape.

The Packers would come back and resume the schedule with what would have been week 9. It’s basically adding a two week window in the middle of the season for everyone. Teams get two byes with one extra game. Some teams would have a Week 8 bye, so they would go bye, neutral site, bye. That’s fine. Other teams would go neutral site game, bye, bye. That would annoy some teams, but them’s the breaks. Week 4 byes are trash too, but at least the trade-off here is getting another chance to rest your weary players.

Adding the extra bye week also gives teams a break after traveling long distances. It wouldn’t be difficult to have teams rotate who is going overseas so the same teams aren’t doing it every year, simply in the interest of fairness. If the league used the same formula for adding out-of-division games to a team’s schedule based on win-loss record, the equitable distribution of schedule difficulty endures under this new formulation as well.

Imagine if the Packers got to play the Chiefs in prime time on NBC, then played the Browns in Rio, had their bye, and then traveled to LA for the Chargers. Sure that would be a lot of travel, but the extra bye week helps them rest and still create an interesting stretch of games.

Networks would have knife fights over the rights to broadcast these international games, giving the NFL a chance to pit newcomers like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and Google against the big sports media broadcasters. We could bring back the skills competition for the break. Very few big name players would compete, but at least it’s some kind of programming and guess what? It would still do bigger numbers than regular season baseball or basketball.

Hell, add a sponsor. The NFL All-Star Break brought to you by Subway. Eat Fresh.

Attempting to shoehorn extra games into the schedule, especially neutral site games and international contests, would create all sorts of new, problematic issues for the league. No one should trust the NFL powers that be to sort them out in an efficient way that is both player friendly and good for the product on the field, as evidenced in their completely absurd 16/18 game proposal.

Adding this break would allow the NFL to get the extra games it wants, provide a venue for international growth, and still take care of its players with the extra rest. It won’t because the NFL never fails to take a good opportunity and stomp all over it, but if Roger Goodell and the owners want to achieve they goals and do it in a way that actually makes sense for everyone involved, then an NFL All-Star Break is the way to go.