The Bears — and the NFL’s other 31 teams — would have improved odds of reaching a playoff field expanded to include a seventh club in each conference beginning next season and play a 17th regular season game as early as the 2021 campaign under the new proposed collective bargaining agreement, which reports now suggest could be completed prior to the final year of the current CBA beginning on Mar. 18.
The owners are set to meet and potentially vote to ratify the agreement Thursday, while the players — whose originally scheduled Thursday meeting was canceled because of travel conflicts — will participate in a conference call Friday, potentially voting on the deal, whose approval is needed by 75 percent of ownership and two-thirds of NFLPA reps to advance to the next stage of majority-required voting by the entirety of the league’s players.
The expanded regular season and playoffs are the two most radical changes proposed by the owners. A 17th regular season game would replace one preseason game, and wild-card weekend would include three games on Saturday and Sunday, with only the top seed in each conference earning a bye.
The players reportedly remain split on the idea of an additional regular season game, and a source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano Wednesday evening that negotiations were on “a knife’s edge.”
The NFLPA, led by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, was locked out for four-plus months and ultimately squashed by the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell in the previous CBA negotiations in 2011. But the new proposal reportedly would increase the players’ revenue share by 1.5 percent, from 47 under the current deal to 48.5 under the new proposed 17-game slate — an additional $5 billion — per ESPN.
Additional concessions the players reportedly would require from the owners before accepting an extra regular-season game — long opposed by the NFLPA because of health and safety concerns — include a 25 percent increase to the league minimum salary and loosened offseason and training camp workout rules, according to ESPN.
More so than the addition of a 17th regular season game — the part of the proposal owners almost certainly won’t concede — the report on playoff expansion has been met at best with mixed reviews. The current postseason format has been in place since 2002, when the NFL realigned to eight conferences and welcomed the Houston Texans. There’s been a 12-team playoff field since 1990.
Although it would’ve been the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) and Los Angeles Rams (9-7) visiting the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and NFC North-winning Green Bay Packers, respectively, wild-card weekend last month, the Bears would’ve had two more postseason berths over the past decade under the new proposal. That means Lovie Smith’s final two teams — the 8-8 group in 2011 and 10-6 club that lost the division to the rival Packers in Week 17 one year later — would have visited the San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card rounds both years, rather than watching at home, with Smith fired following the ’12 campaign.
Also worth noting: The 2010 team that went 11-5 and won the division but lost to the Packers at Soldier Field in the conference title game would’ve hosted the New York Giants (10-6) wild-card weekend rather than earning the bye. It’s wild to think about how different the Bears legacies of Jay Cutler and Smith, among others, might be today under this proposed playoff format.
Would Cutler’s Bears even have played in the 2010 NFC Championship Game in which he was undeservedly scorned for failing to finish with a serious knee injury? Would Smith — and we can debate whether it was deserved — have been fired following the ’12 season despite going 10-6 if his Bears made a playoff run? It would’ve been three years in a row in the playoffs, after all.
It’s also fascinating to consider how this potential change might impact aggressive GM Ryan Pace’s 2020 offseason plan of attack, but let’s first wait and see whether the deal is ratified.