There is a growing sentiment among some players and their representatives that given the likelihood of an 18-game NFL season as soon as 2012, the nature of the league calendar must change to compensate and allow more time for rest and recovery.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has previously talked about curtailing the amount and intensity of organized team activities and offseason work. And one idea that's gaining traction among players includes not starting the offseason work until mid-May.
Currently, players generally are asked to report for voluntary lifting and offseason work in March, in many cases just six weeks or so after the end of the season. Then, players usually have a month or so off (from mid-June to July) before training camps open.
It has always seemed odd to me to begin work so soon, then have such a long break before camp. It's more natural to slowly ramp up and build momentum into camp, rather than stop and start.
Football's offseason and preseason is different from baseball, basketball and hockey in that regard, and maintaining a somewhat constant and demanding schedule as NFL players currently do also could contribute to fatigue and injuries.
Opening in May would allow more down time and more of a true offseason, and offseason lifting programs could then lead to a shorter OTA-minicamp period in June. Teams could give players a week or so off around the Fourth of July, then camps would open. With the expected change to two preseason games, camps themselves could be shorter, which also would reduce wear and tear on players.
Under the 18-game format, there would be a "bye week" between the second preseason game and Week 1, and then off you go.
Starting offseason programs later in the spring also could dovetail with the concept of a developmental league in March and April, as a replacement for what used to be NFL Europe. The developmental players then would be able to rejoin their NFL teams for offseason work in May.
Currently, many rookies can't join their teams until after their graduation date, which in many cases is late May or early June. Starting offseason programs later would allow them to miss fewer meetings and installation sessions.
One thing on which all sides agree is that fewer preseason games make sense, particularly if a developmental league for practice-squad-level players is in place. Many of the injuries caused during the preseason are "friendly fire," with overzealous, inexperienced players out of position and making reckless decisions that can lead to veterans suffering season-ending injuries in meaningless games. Fewer preseason games limits that risk.
Goodell has seemed open to new ideas and proposals on how to better structure the work year for players, and this structure would allay at least some fears they have about an 18-game season and be part of a compromise.
Another tradeoff the NFL Players Association would seek in regards to an 18-game season would be more money earmarked for better long-term care and coverage as players age. Concerns about the ramifications of concussions and possible ties to ALS have been a hot-button issue within the union, and if the season is going to expand, there undoubtedly will be discussions about post-career care, payments and insurance coverage.