NFL moving forward with 18-game season

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“With 16 games, every game is important and therefore the fans are very into it, the stadiums are packed because they know if their team loses, it pushes them further and further away from making the playoffs,” Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I think if you go to 18, each game kind of loses a little bit of its significance.”

The players clearly expect to be receive a bigger chunk of the multi-billion-dollar NFL pie if they’re going to be putting their bodies on the line in two more games that count.

“Obviously the players want to be compensated for two more games,” San Francisco 49ers linebacker Matt Wilhelm said. “That’s the one thing the players have to get met.”

They are also concerned about an increased risk of injuries and fret that it could shorten their careers or increase the number of health problems they endure after retirement.

“I would vote to eliminate two preseason games and then keep it at a 16-game season because the longer you’re out there playing, the more your body breaks down,” Chicago Bears tight end Desmond Clark said. “When you get into December, you’re like walking zombies. You can’t feel your joints.”

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said the timing of the proposal is odd, considering the owners want the players to accept a smaller share of the revenue in the next labor agreement.

“They are asking you to play more games and put yourself at more risk, and they are also asking us to take a pay cut,” he said. “That’s a lot to ask. All those things don’t make a whole lot of sense. We need to sit down and talk through it all and find out what it is they’re really trying to do and see if it makes sense or not.”

But Kraft said the expanded season is the most obvious step to bring in more money while the economy is struggling.

“I really think going to an 18-game season is critical to us getting a labor deal,” he said. “There’s not a lot ways in this economic environment we can generate incremental revenues. That’s the best way.

“The other thing,” he added, “our fans have said pretty loud and clear they’d like us to have fewer preseason games.”

Several players and coaches have pointed out that having only two preseason games would likely make it more difficult for fringe players to get enough of a look to make the team.

Already, teams have been experimenting with joint workouts in training camp, believing those sessions could help replace the shorter preseason. This year, for instance, the Atlanta Falcons worked out with both New England and Jacksonville.

“If it was a two-game preseason, then the starters are going to see most of that time because they’ve got to get ready for the season, so if you’re third string, good luck,” said Indianapolis linebacker Gary Brackett, the Colts’ defensive captain. “When I was a rookie, I needed every bit of those four games.”

But some figure it’s a foregone conclusion that the owners will get their way.

“Personally, I don’t see how it helps the game, or the quality of the game,” said Barry Cofield, a defensive tackle for the New York Giants. “But if they demand it, they will probably get it.”

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