Tim Benz: The potential issues that make NFL’s 18-game plan terrible
In recent days. there has been increased discussion over the prospect of an 18-16 split for the NFL regular season.
In other words, every team would play 18 games. But individual players would be forced to sit out two of them.
The hope is that the league could increase revenue without exposing the players to increased injury.
This is a stupid idea. S-t-o-o-p-i-d. Stoopid.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though.
The NFL has blindly pushed forward ill-conceived ideas in the recent past. Just look at what they did this offseason with the pass-interference challenge decisions.
Let’s leave the NFL’s concern for player safety — phony or real — off the table for the purposes of this column.
Instead, let’s assume the NFL tries to move forward with this plan. Here are some very specific problems the league may not have a way to correct.
“Unintended consequences,” as is often said.
1. Offensive linemen: Some of the discussion that I have seen suggests that quarterbacks, kickers, punters and long snappers should be exempt from the mandatory rest criterion.
Good. The specialists don’t need the rest. And the quarterbacks are too crucial to sit.
But what about offensive linemen? Physically, they take as much abuse as anyone. But shouldn’t they be exempt, too?
Consider this scenario. Matt LaFleur is coaching Green Bay in Game 11. It’s nip-and-tuck if the Packers are going to make the playoffs. Which remaining game does he choose to rest healthy All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari?
Which game does LaFleur say, “Yup. This is the day I voluntarily expose Aaron Rodgers to playing behind the third-best offensive tackle on my team.”
And, let’s say, on the first snap of the game, that backup tackle gets hurt. Now you’ve got a fourth option pass-protecting for a $32 million quarterback late in the season, thus opening up Rodgers to a greater risk of serious injury.
Is that a good idea? I don’t think so.
Look at it from the other end of the spectrum, too.
Now let’s say you are Mike Tomlin. You are fortunate enough that your offensive line has stayed incredibly healthy all year. B.J. Finney has barely been exposed to any reps in-game all season. So you sit in him in Week 15 for his second mandatory rest game. Then David DeCastro is knocked out of the game on the first drive.
Now your top backup — who has hardly played this season — isn’t available because a body that doesn’t need rest is being forced to rest.
If this bad plan becomes a reality, this will happen a lot with offensive linemen across the league. Some sort of sliding scale needs to go in place for limited snap-count players, and gameday rosters need to expand.
Especially for offensive linemen.
2. Interconference games: They will stink. They’ll be glorified preseason games.
I get it. Math is math. You can only rest so many healthy starters and still be able to fill out a roster.
But coaches will load up on sitting important players in their out-of-conference affairs because if you lose an out-of-conference game, you aren’t exposing yourself to seeing that club in a head-to-head tie-breaking scenario at the end of the season.
Especially if quarterbacks don’t end up exempt. I guarantee you, the hope would be for the Steelers to have Ben Roethlisberger sit against two NFC foes per year. The same would be hoped for Tom Brady, Pat Mahomes and Andrew Luck, too.
3. The injury report: Get rid of it, right? What’s the point of having it?
That may not be a bad thing.
If this new 18-16 schedule goes on the books, why bother tracking the chance for someone to play if part of the equation means he might play in Week 17 but be forced to sit in Week 18?
Come to think of it, when does a team need to announce their healthy players are sitting? Do they get to “allow the week of practice to be their guide,” as Tomlin would say?
If the Steelers are playing the Rams, do they spend all week prepping for Todd Gurley only to find out he’s a healthy scratch on Sunday morning? Or do the Rams have to inform the league of that by Friday? Or Wednesday?
To that end, what if the Raiders say “Antonio Brown is out this weekend” on Wednesday. Then two other receivers get hurt in practice. Are they allowed to change their minds?
The dismissive response is to say, “Eh, all this stuff will work itself out. Players get hurt all the time. The forced benchings won’t be that big of a problem.”
Really? Well, the Steelers had 27 players — 30 counting the specialists — dress for at least 15 games last year. So that’s at least 27 guys who would have been forced to sit, while healthy enough to play, at least once, if not twice, a season ago.
Most of those players were starters last year. Think that may impact the outcome of some games? I sure do.
If the NFL is hellbent on an 18-game schedule — which it shouldn’t be in the first place — it needs to run with the idea fully committed.
The 18-16 plan is completely insane.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected]eb.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.