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NFL makes presentation on 'enhanced season' concept

NEW YORK -- The NFL made a presentation to the NFL Players Association during a collective bargaining session in New York on Wednesday espousing the merits of moving to an 18-game season. The session took place at the league offices in New York City and included top officials from both sides, with the crux of the roughly two hours devoted to the concept of the "enhanced season," as the NFL is calling it.

Mark Murphy, president of the Green Bay Packers and a member of the league's negotiating team, briefed some national media on the proposal after the meeting, saying that it would not be adapted until 2012 at the earliest and suggesting the NFL would consider reducing the preseason from four games to two, adjusting roster size and injured reserve rules, and adding a bye week at the start of the regular season as part of the initiative. Murphy also said the NFL is studying the concept of adding its own developmental league -- likely in the spring -- within the United States to replace the league's past efforts in Europe.

"I think this is an idea that is really gaining momentum particularly within the owners," Murphy said of the enhanced season. "It's something we've talked a lot about over the last year."

NFL owners have yet to vote on moving to an 18-game regular season, but Commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken out strongly in favor of it on many occasions. Murphy said the league would not act unilaterally to impose this plan on players, with it being in his mind part of the solution to the gulf that currently exists between the sides as they try to hash out a new labor agreement before the current one expires in the spring.

  -- Mark Murphy, 
 Packers president 

"This is all subject to our bargaining process with the players," said Murphy, a former NFL player and former vice president of the NFLPA, after the first negotiation between the NFL and NFLPA since February.

George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFLPA, said the union would not have a formal response to the proposal other than to point out three primary concerns with it. He said the NFLPA had "concerns" about the reliability of the data the league provided regarding the impact of an 18-game regular season and injury risks, and how the league would provide "post-career health care." And, as well, how players would be paid, with Atallah suggesting there would have to be "enhanced compensation," to the players since the number of meaningful games is expanding.

"Those are the three real key things for us," Atallah said.

Two All-Pros -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis -- also expressed concern about the long-term impact of playing more regular-season games each season.

"I've taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games," Brady said. "The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care. Our Union has done a great job of raising the awareness on these issues and will make the right decision for us players, the game and the fans."

Added Lewis: "I've been blessed to play this game for so long, but it's time to start thinking about what legacy and impact changes like this will leave for the players of tomorrow and us after we retire. I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don't like all of them, but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games -- when players already play hurt -- comes at a huge cost for the player and the team."

Murphy was asked about whether salaries would have to escalate under this plan, and the league's contention is that the longer regular season would enhance revenues for all parties, which would increase the amount of money that goes to players, and thus salaries will be higher. Preseason revenues are included in that total pot -- the league points out that the average NFL starter plays just five to six total quarters over those four games -- and, from a league standpoint, whether the players get that compensation over 16 game checks or 18 game checks is somewhat arbitrary.

Under the current CBA "players get close to 60 percent of revenue," Murphy said, "and if we grow revenue then they're going to get it. That would be the way we would approach it. It's an opportunity to work together and grow the game and part of it is providing more value to our fans. The quality of our preseasons has really deteriorated over time."

That notion of playing two more full games for no additional compensation does not sit well with many players and agents, according to sources, and when asked about the union's reaction to Wednesday's proposal, Murphy deferred to union officials and players. The NFLPA was represented Wednesday by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, Cornelius Bennett (a union official among retired players) and its legal team. Murphy was the only person from Wednesday's session formally made available to the media.

Injuries are the other issue where there is the greatest potential for disagreement. Murphy would not get into the specifics of the league's injury study on the impact of an 18-game season, but said:

"The study shows the injury rate does not increase over the course of the season. I think the concern is the cumulative effect if you're playing more, and that's again where I think we really have to be thoughtful about this, and we're going to want the input of players and coaches and the Competition Committee."

The league would look at the length of training camps and offseason programs, the number of two-a-days, and also continue researching the best possible equipment innovations to reduce the safety concerns, Murphy said, as well as continue to study possible changes to the rules to ensure greater safety.

An 18-game season also would likely come with a one-week break for all teams after the second and final preseason game, larger practice squads and overall roster size, and possibly a return to the old system of injured reserve. Now if a player is put on IR to clear a roster spot, he is out for the season, but in the past he would have to miss at least six weeks.

A developmental league is also an idea gaining traction among owners, and could add to the revenue streams as well. NFL Europe went out of existence in 2007, as the game never captured most audiences abroad, but the need to cultivate young talent on and off the field remains. Some very initial proposals have included possibly all teams located in Florida, but regardless the league would be based in the U.S., Murphy said. The project also would serve to develop coaches and officials, Murphy said.

"It would be a real positive for us as a league," Murphy said.

In general, the league believes that players and teams do not require four weeks of preseason to be prepared, and the declining interest in exhibition football does not sit well with league officials. Adding games to the regular season also increases the ability to play more abroad as well, as the NFL continues its efforts to capture more of the global market.

Given the success Goodell has had getting his initiatives passed thus far in his tenure, it would not be surprising to see the enhanced season being a part of the next CBA, with the sides needing to clear several impediments between now and then.

"As you look across the NFL and everything we offer," Murphy said, "we really try to provide top quality value to our fans, whether it's the regular season or postseason, the draft and the combine. To me one thing that stands out as being different is the preseason."

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