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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Why eliminating some NFL preseason games and adding a wild-card game can make sense

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold #14 calls the signals

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold #14 calls the signals while offensive guard Kelechi Osemele #70 and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum #68 look over the defense during the first quarter of a preseason game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford NJ on Aug. 8, 2019. Credit: Daniel De Mato

Tired of meaningless NFL preseason games? Take a number.

Worried about key starters getting hurt when the games don’t even count? (That’s exactly what happened to Jets linebacker Avery Williamson, who’s done for the year with a knee injury.) Join the crowd.

The arguments against four meaningless preseason games — five for the two teams that play in the Hall of Fame game — continue to resonate among players, coaches and fans, and even many league executives and owners. Now the push for an 18-game regular season, a central focus of ongoing negotiations between the league and players on a new collective-bargaining agreement, could result in a significant reduction in preseason games.

Even if the two sides don’t reach an agreement to expand the regular season by two games, there could be fewer preseason games in the next CBA. More on that in a minute.

For now, the players seem dead set against an 18-game season.

“Sixteen games are more than enough,” said Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum, the team’s alternate representative for the NFL Players Association. “If the owners want to provide more money, we can put that into consideration, but I don’t think that’s good for our game right now. I don’t think there’s a player in the National Football League right now that wants to play 18 games.”

But if there is a way to get to 18 games, the preseason is almost certain to be reduced to two games per team. And there is a push among many owners to do just that. Recently, an idea even was floated to have an 18-game season in which players are required to play a maximum of only 16 games. Expanded rosters would allow teams to alternate players where necessary.

That’s a silly idea that should never see the light of day; after all, when the heck would you keep players out of the lineup if they’ve reached the maximum number of games? But that concept is one that has appealed to at least some owners, even if the implementation is problematic.

The bottom line: If owners are going to do away with half the preseason games currently on the schedule — and half the money currently generated by those games — they’ll need to find revenue somewhere else to offset the loss.

That revenue would be more than made up with the addition of two regular-season games.

“I’m not a proponent of the 18-game season, but I know a lot of the players would love the two extra paychecks,” said former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, now a CBS commentator and host of WFAN’s morning radio show. “But those paychecks would have to be significantly more than the per-game checks they’re making now. That’s the only way I can see it happening.”

Esiason believes there is momentum for an 18-game season.

“I have a feeling it’s coming,” he said.

Former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, now the lead NFL analyst for CBS, sees positives and negatives to an 18-game season.

“I wouldn’t necessarily love having two teams that are 4-12 playing in Weeks 17 and 18,” he said. “However, I would argue you could add a playoff team in each conference. You would keep teams in it longer that are 7-9. Those types of things could play out a little differently. There are many other arguments to be made for the players, starting with injuries. When you’re adding more games, you’re adding more of a chance for injury. You add it somewhere, you need to take away hits somewhere else.”

One potential solution that could keep the current 16-game format and still reduce the preseason by two games would be adding an additional wild-card game in each conference.

It’s a sensible alternative that wouldn’t add the wear and tear of two more regular-season games but would cut the preseason schedule in half. There have been proposals to add playoff teams in each conference, and while there is an argument to be made that it would water down the playoffs, it’s a compromise that certainly could work.

Besides, what’s wrong with giving teams more incentive to get to the postseason by adding playoff slots? The answer: Nothing.

Beachum is right. The 16-game format has worked well since 1978, and there’s no reason to change it. A tweak of the playoff format and the elimination of two preseason games seems like a reasonable idea.

Here’s hoping that’s the landing spot the two sides can agree on.

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