An Expanded Schedule Would Change Draft Strategies

Commissioner Roger Goodell beat the drum for an expanded game schedule this week at the annual NFL owners’ meetings. Goodell has hopes of playing 17 or 18 games as soon as 2011. Of course, a new CBA must be signed and sealed before anything can happen, but let the speculation begin.

Several issues – including location of games played, number of bye weeks, adjusted playoff and Super Bowl dates, and elimination of preseason matchups – need to be resolved for this idea to fly. Once the nuts and bolts are in place, there is the matter of how a heftier schedule would affect the franchises themselves.

Let’s say an 18 game season is approved. That’s two preseason contests, 18 regular season games and potentially four additional contests for the eventual Super Bowl Champions, equaling a total of 24 games played. That’s two college seasons combined, which means a lot of football for rookies and vets alike, who are accustomed to a shorter schedule.

Most teams now utilize a rotation system at certain positions in order to keep bodies fresh not only for single games, but more importantly for long grueling seasons. Defensive lineman and running backs, in particular, take quite a beating. The extra games accumulated over a period of years would likely cause careers to be shortened. The current life expectancy of a franchise feature back is roughly 7 to 8 seasons, which makes true #1 backs a dying breed.

In 2008, the Giants, Panthers, Ravens, Patriots, Titans and Raiders all finished among the Top 10 in rushing offense and each employed a two or three back system. Fewer and fewer teams depend on one runner to carry the load. An expanded schedule would make it imperative to draft as much depth as possible at positions like running back to ensure enough healthy bodies are available over a period of years. Relying on one back or three defensive tackles could prove disastrous for teams attempting a Super Bowl run. Even more perilous would be failing to secure a legitimate backup quarterback capable of filling in for a few games if necessary.

Players like LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson are becoming an exception to the rule. Counting on franchise backs to perform at a high level for more than 5 seasons in an expanded schedule era would constitute a major roll of the dice.

The cumulative effect of extra games could result in players at all positions breaking down earlier than in previous decades. A quarterback’s arm strength, an offensive lineman’s back and knees, a wide receiver’s foot speed and a linebacker’s lateral quickness will likely diminish at an exponentially faster rate. NFL General Managers’ would be forced to draft replacements much sooner in anticipation of the onset of wear and tear.

Dumping preseason matchups and adding more meaningful games will benefit owners and fans. However, for all the good it would do, it may come at the expense of the players. It will also put extra pressure on talent evaluators to hit more than they miss. One bad draft could bring a franchise to its knees.

Change can be good, but it’s just as often bad. Food for thought for Roger Goodell.

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