N.F.L. Labor Talks Likely to Hinge on 18-Game Proposal

After a relatively quiet off-season, N.F.L. players and coaches are back in training camp.

The league’s owners and players union, though, have been at work for most of the summer, holding several rounds of talks about renewing their 10-year labor agreement, which is due to expire in March 2021. The N.F.L., though, wants to forge a new agreement sooner so it can focus on negotiations with television networks and technology companies for the rights to broadcast games.

The two sides will return to the bargaining table this week in Chicago at what is likely to be a pivotal moment in the negotiations. The handful of meetings thus far have largely been an exchange of ideas as each side tried to determine the other’s priorities. Those include issues like off-season practices and medical care for retired players.

This week, the owners and union are expected to start discussing the single biggest issue of any potential labor deal: how to share the league’s roughly $14 billion in annual revenue.

In the current collective bargaining agreement, players get roughly 47 percent of the league’s revenue. It is widely expected that the percentage could rise to as much as 50 percent in a new deal, which would put football players closer in line with their brethren in the N.B.A..

“The big pie-splitting is already done,” said one owner, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as did others involved in the negotiations because the owner was not authorized to publicly discuss the bargaining. “The goal is how to grow the pie.”

For the owners, the easiest solution to pay for giving the players an extra three percentage points of revenue is to expand the regular season. A longer season would help the N.F.L. charge more for media rights and sponsorships, and sell more tickets, hot dogs and beer. A chunk of that money would be shared with players.

Currently, teams play four games in the preseason and 16 in the regular season. One or two preseason games, which are not popular with players or fans, might be dropped so the regular season could expand to as many as 18 games. A second bye week would be added, and the playoffs could grow to include two more teams. The Super Bowl would be pushed to later in February.

The players rejected a similar proposal for a longer regular season during the lead-up to the current agreement. The owners have yet to make a formal proposal this time, but the players remain adamantly opposed, saying that extending the season will lead to more injuries and shorter careers.

“I don’t see an 18-game schedule — under any circumstance — being in the best interest of our players,” DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the N.F.L. Players Association, told ESPN this month. “If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we’ll look at it. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think it would be good for the players.”

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