Roger Goodell clarifies his comments on NFL expanding to 18-game schedule — and whether a change is imminent

NFL

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Just three seasons into the NFL’s 17-game regular season, conversation around further league expansions continues to simmer.

Commissioner Roger Goodell stirred interest during draft week when he floated a hypothetical 18th regular-season game in exchange for reducing NFL teams’ preseason slates from three games to two.

“I think we’re good at 17 now,” Goodell told ESPN. “But listen, we’re looking at how we continue. I’m not a fan of the preseason. I don’t think we need three [preseason games]. I’d rather replace a preseason game with a regular-season game any day. That’s just picking quality, right?

“If we got to 18 and two, that’s not an unreasonable thing.”

Tuesday at league meetings in Nashville, Goodell clarified that his proposal wasn’t on the cusp of ratifying. He was instead considering routes to a later Super Bowl during Sunday night of Presidents Day weekend, as well as shifting game schedules to further emphasize contests that count toward postseason contention.

“I wasn’t floating something that we’re actively thinking about now,” Goodell said. “It is something that we think about in the long-range context.”

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Health and safety concerns dictate the loudest criticism toward an 18-game schedule, particularly if the expansion does not accompany another bye. The league must collectively bargain schedule-length changes with the players union. In other growth areas, such as the league’s growing international slate, financial concerns appear to routinely trump health and safety considerations.

The NFL voted last December to expand the international slate from effectively five games (four plus the Jacksonville Jaguars’ standing match at London’s Wembley Stadium) to nine. The league will play its first game in South America in Week 1, a Friday night game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers in São Paulo.

The Friday game further reflects the NFL creeping across each day of the week. Four teams are scheduled to play Wednesday this year on Christmas.

Goodell seemed aware of that criticism speaking at league meetings.

“The key thing for us is looking at making sure we continue to do the things that make our game safer, so we want to make sure that that hits the first boundary,” Goodell said.

He cited hip-drop tackle and kickoff rule changes as examples of the league’s latest safety measures, noting the NFLPA’s opinion and analysis of the quality of play in an 18-game season would also influence decisions.

Opinions of fans could, too.

“Making sure that we’re doing everything possible to bring our fans what they want,” Goodell said. “They want, obviously, more football.

“But I’m not sure they want more preseason football.”

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