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Matt Calkins: NFL’s latest 18-game/16-week proposal an interesting idea, but not realistic

UPDATED: Wed., July 17, 2019, 6:35 p.m.

Seattle Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett  celebrates with a fan after he scored a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on  Dec. 23, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Seattle Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett celebrates with a fan after he scored a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 23, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – If you don’t have a team, or particularly care about any teams, the NFL may have just come up with its best idea of the 21st century.

It’s a proposal in which the season expands to 18 games but allows players to participate in only 16 – therefore eliminating two preseason games without increasing health risks.

It’s bold, creative and would inject unprecedented strategy (and laughter) into America’s most popular sport.

But if you do have a team, this idea is climb-K2 crazy.

For those who just like the NFL but have no allegiance to a particular franchise, the entertainment options behind this proposal are vast. For starters, you don’t have to slog through a month of preseason football, and you get two more Sundays of Red Zone or Romo, or whatever your vice may be. But that’s just the beginning. Imagine the impact this would have not just on game days, but on free agency and the draft.

First, a backup quarterback’s value may quadruple based on the two games he’d have to play. The NFL has more parity than any major American professional sport, and postseason berths often come down to the final game of the season. Would general managers neglect other needs and shell out big bucks for one of the game’s better backups? Do you pass up a cornerback in the second round to get a QB who can get you an extra win?

What about special teams? Do you make sure your kicker can punt and punter can kick? Would every team carry two of each? If they can’t, would going for it on every fourth down become the norm when one of them is out? How long before Bill Belichick breaks his clipboard over his knee in disgust?

Surely there would be various strategies coaches employ to comply with the 16-game player limit. Maybe some would just play their best players until they get hurt, knowing injury is inevitable for most of them. But others might target a bad team such as the Dolphins and say, “I’ll take my chances against these guys with my backups.”

Imagine if this 18-game/16-game format were in play two years ago. The 0-16 Browns might have sneaked into the playoffs just by beating on scrubs all season.

The appeal here is quality football for most of the season, mixed with a hint of chaos. The NFL would essentially be a NASCAR race, where fans are half-watching for the wrecks. That’s a good time. Unless you have a team you actually care about. Then it would be madness.

How do you think a die-hard would take it if the difference between his or her team making the playoffs and missing them came down to a 35-yard field-goal attempt hooked by the punter? How would a 12 react if a healthy Russell Wilson watched his backup throw a pick-six to surrender the division title?

Casual fans probably would barrel over as the Benny Hill theme played in their heads. Hardcore fans would be hoping their security deposits covered the hole they punched through a wall.

Ultimately, the installment of this format will come down to whether players want it. And for that to happen, NFL owners likely would have to offer significantly more money when the next CBA comes around.

Would that be convincing? Perhaps. Most players don’t like playing Thursday night games, but the extra cash they put in their pockets was enough to get them to agree to it.

This one’s a little different, though. Creative as it may be, it would be a virtual middle finger to competitive integrity. To have all the work teams put in potentially come down to the backups wouldn’t sit well with anybody who has a real investment in the outcome. So don’t count on it happening.

But do count on the NFL to keep trying.

Anyone who thought this league was fizzling out learned otherwise when TV ratings shot back up last season. As long as there is more money to be made, team owners will try to capitalize.

The 18-game/16-game proposal is too ridiculous to implement in real time, but perfect for offseason banter. And fear not: with this league, the ridiculous will keep coming.

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