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What a 17-game schedule will mean for NFL teams

Now that 17 games will be the norm, let’s see how that affects a season’s timeline.

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL finally got what it has wanted for a while now, another regular-season game has been added to the schedule. Teams will now play 17 regular-season games as opposed to the previous 16. More games equals more revenue. In case you didn’t know, that extra game in 2021 for the Cowboys will be a trip to play the Patriots.

So just how will this extra game change the season in terms of the timeline we have all become used to? ESPN has laid out the major points in this article, but well summarize them here.

The first major change that will occur is that teams will now only play three preseason games. The Cowboys were scheduled to play the Hall of Fame game this season, and that would usually give the participants in that game an extra preseason game to total five, but now it would give the Cowboys four in 2021 (their opponent, Pittsburgh, would be in the same boat.) Teams can only play 20 games total per the CBA (17 regular season, three preseason), but there is an exception for the Hall of Fame game.

Instead of teams normally playing a preseason game on Thursday before the cutdown weekend, they will play their final game the week before, leaving a longer gap between the final preseason game and the 53-man roster cutdown. This longer gap will probably lead to teams releasing players throughout that week.

The season will start at the same time it always does. This year that will be Thursday, September 9th, with the following Sunday being the the first weekend slate of games. Because of the bye week, there will actually now be 18 weeks on the NFL schedule, with the final weekend expected to be January 9th, 2022. The Super Bowl is expected to be moved to February 13th.

As for the money, the players will get a higher salary cap based on the extra game through a formula based on how much revenues rise with the recent media deals. There are also some individual contracts that will be affected. ESPN explains it this way.

The CBA specifies that any player whose base salary is higher than the minimum number for a player of his service time will be eligible to receive an extra game check as long as (A) his contract was executed prior to Feb. 26, 2020, (B) his was not renegotiated or restructured in any way that added to subtracted value to it, and (C) he’s on the active roster, inactive list or injured reserve for the 17th game.

“Extra game check” is defined as 1/17 of the player’s base salary, and it’s to be paid as a lump sum at the end of the year. Some guys will make out pretty well on this. For example, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a base salary of $23.8 million in 2021, which means he’ll get an additional $1.4 million — as long as he’s on the roster for the 17th game. (Garoppolo’s is the highest such number we’ve been able to find that we’re sure fits the formula.)

As for the uneven home and road games, there is a proposed formula for that, too. Under the 16-game schedule, teams had an even number of home and road games - eight. Now it will likely alternate. For instance, in 2021, AFC teams will have the extra home game, and in 2022 NFC teams will get the extra home game. Also, the Jason Garrett Special, an 8-8 season, will be a thing of the past.

And if you’re wondering about an 18-game season, which is something the NFL has wanted all along, that may be a ways off. Unless there is a renegotiation, the 17-game schedule is locked in as long as the current CBA runs, and that is through 2030. One thought is that if legal gambling on NFL games continues to explode, their could be a renegotiation if the NFL is willing to offer the players a lot of that new money for an 18th game. But that is all speculation for now.

There is another part of this deal which is that teams will now have to play some international games, with South America and Germany being additional possible destinations to places like Canada, Mexico and England. That won’t start this year, but in 2022 four teams a year will be required to play a home game at an international location.

Finally, there is the sacred record keeping. An extra game will lead to more records being broken. When the league went from 14 to 16 games, for the first few years there was debate about records being broken because of the extra two games. Some of that will inevitably occur now, but it’s something the league has dealt with before. Other things, like 1,000 yard seasons being the benchmark for success, will become watered down even more.