Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy yesterday discussed the prospect of an enhanced season, including the transition of the 20-game schedule from the current format of 16 regular-season games and four preseason games to 18 regular-season games and two preseason games, and changes in offseason training.
“There is a lot of momentum in the meetings that I have been a part of,” said Murphy, who played for the Washington Redskins from 1977-84. “Talking to other owners, I think people really look at it and say that it addresses a real problem we have in the league, and that’s the quality of the preseason. A lot of us look at it and say this might be a way that we can reach a deal with the players, allowing us to work with the players, grow the game and grow revenue.”
“When I was a rookie we had six preseason games and I felt like I had been through a whole college season by the time we got through,” Murphy added. “But players and teams needed six games then to get ready. Now with the offseason training that the players do, they don’t need four games to get ready for the regular season.”
Below are complete transcripts of Mark Murphy’s discussion of the enhanced season with media and with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen.
GREEN BAY PACKERS PRESIDENT MARK MURPHY
MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL – ENHANCED SEASON
June 16, 2010
Mark Murphy: This (enhanced season concept) is an idea that is really gaining momentum, particularly with the owners. It is something that we have talked a lot about over the last year. In our first bargaining session last year, about a year ago, it was a topic that we talked about with the players and then, obviously, again here today.
I think the real roots of it are that as you look across the NFL and everything that we offer, we really try to provide top-quality value to our fans, whether it’s the regular season, postseason, the draft or the combine. To me, the one that stands out as being different is the preseason. There just isn’t the same value there. I know from my position with the Packers, I get a lot of complaints (about the preseason). We actually just had focus groups with a number of our season- ticket holders and club-seat holders and had a lot of complaints about the preseason games. It just isn’t the same value there that you have in the regular season. I think there is a real issue there that we need to address.
The other thing that I say having played in the league – I played and then worked for the Players Association and then I was away from the NFL for about 20 years. Coming back, one of the real eye-opening changes was the preseason. It has completely changed over the 20 years that I was away. Preseason games are treated much differently now. I think it is very clear to a lot of us that the players and the teams don’t need four games to get ready for the regular season.
That’s been the impetus for looking at some of the potential changes that we could make. That’s the background. The major issues are injury-related, safety issues. What we talked about today was how we can address those concerns and what kind of things can we do. We’ve done and taken a number of steps in terms of some of the things that we’ve done already in terms of playing rules and taking a look at equipment.
But are there things that we can do in terms of looking at the overall offseason? How do the players train throughout the offseason? Are there some changes that we can make to make the whole experience for the players safe? We’ve looked at how to use a bye week or weeks or things of that nature. Also, we’re looking at squad size. That could impact player safety as well as the injured-reserve rules.
On NFLPA’s reaction to discussing an enhanced season:
Murphy: You’ll really have to talk to the players and their representatives about that.
(Today) was our first official bargaining session since late February so I think it was good to get back together. Still, we were discussing a concept and looking at ideas.
In the current system, the players really are partners. If we can grow revenue and improve the game, they’re going to benefit. I think in that context, anything that we can do to improve and grow the game, players will see the benefits of that.
On owners’ thoughts on potentially increasing the maximum roster size:
First, we’re still working within the 20-game framework. Obviously, you’re not increasing the total number of games that we’re asking players to play, although the reality is starters right now in our preseason don’t play as much. That’s one of the changes. Going back 10, 15 or 20 years ago, the starters played a good portion of the four preseason games.
Now, with our offseason training, the players are in shape and they come into camp in shape and don’t need four games to get ready for the season. In fact, it came up today. The average starter probably plays anywhere from five to six quarters out of the four preseason games.
The other issue is that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement anticipates the situation. Actually, it contemplates us being able to increase from 20 to 22 total games. We could go, if we wanted under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, to 18 regular season and four preseason games. What we’re really looking at, though, is to focus on the current 20 and how we might be able to enhance the current breakdown of four and 16.
On player compensation changes with an enhanced season:
Under the relationship that we have with the players, they get close to 60 percent of the revenue. If we grow the revenue, they are going to get more. They are currently playing 20 games, and we’re not increasing that. That would be the way that we would approach it. This is an opportunity for us to work together to grow revenue and improve the game.
Part of it is really providing more value to our fans. The quality of our preseason has really deteriorated over time.
On increasing to 17 regular-season games rather than 18:
The real focus is on 18 (regular-season games) and two (preseason games). With 17 and three, it was discussed. Over the course of the past year, there were some scheduling issues with it that made 18 and two a little cleaner.
On timing of the first enhanced season:
2012 would be the earliest.
On increasing the maximum roster size and offseason calendar changes:
Those are issues that we’ve talked about, but we really want input from the players to get their thoughts on what the offseason looks like to them. Also in terms of the roster, we have a practice squad now. Do you increase that as well as the active roster size? That would all be part of the negotiation with the players.
On adding players to the active roster:
That would all have to be negotiated. One of the things that we also have talked about, and it came up today, was the possibility of a developmental league. One of the concerns if you go from four preseason down to two preseason games, is that your younger players – particularly quarterbacks and maybe offensive linemen who really need game experience to develop – would be losing some of that experience. A lot of people had a really positive experience with NFL Europe. It helped us develop younger players so one of the thoughts is the possibility of a developmental league to maybe have some games in the spring as well as some games in the fall with a real focus on developing younger players. I think that would be a positive for us as a league. You talk to coaches and they want to be able to develop young players. Also, it would be a way to develop coaches and officials. I think there would be some real positives with a developmental league.
If you look across most professional sports, we’re the only league without some type of minor league or developmental system to develop players.
On prorated player salaries based on the two-game increase:
Still with the partnership that we have with the players, they’re going to get X-percent of whatever revenue comes in. I think that’s how we would view it.
On injury risks of an enhanced season:
We studied it. The studies showed that 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—that’s again where you have to be thoughtful about this. We’re going to want the input of not only the players but also the coaches and the Competition Committee to look at the overall offseason and the whole season. What do we do with players in the offseason? How many OTAs do teams have? And training camp?
One of the thoughts is that you’re trading out two preseason games for two regular-season games so in effect you’re trading out possibly two-a-day practices for regular-season practices. Just from my own experience, the wear and tear on your body is much greater in the preseason than in the regular season.
The length of the season was an issue that they did raise, and they have concerns about safety. We need to do everything that we can to try to minimize the injury risk.
On changing the injured-reserve policy:
That is something that we would be open to. We actually talked about it today going back to what it used to be when you could be—I think it was a six-week minimum before being taken off of IR. You could be put on injured reserve during the season and then brought back.
On the timing of the season in terms of the calendar:
We haven’t finalized that. We need to talk through those issues. There are issues on both ends of that. If you start before Labor Day, there are concerns about, obviously, families and people on vacation. Are you going to have a drop off in attendance? There are also weather-related issues in August in some of our southern sites in terms of warm-weather games. At the end of the season, if you push back a couple weeks, then you’ve got more cold-weather games. We’re trying to balance that. Those are some of the issues that we’re looking at.
On owners endorsing an 18-game season:
We haven’t officially voted on it, but I think there is a lot of momentum just in the meetings that I have been a part of. Talking to other owners, I think people really look at it and say that it addresses a real problem we have in the league, and that’s the quality of the preseason. Quite honestly, I think a lot of us look at it and say this might be a way that we can reach a deal with the players, allowing us to work with the players, grow the game and grow revenue.
On whether the NFL could expand the season without the NFLPA’s approval:
We could go to 22 — to 18 and 4 under the current CBA — subject to financial negotiation with the players.
On whether the NFL has the ability to unilaterally change the schedule if no agreement is reached:
No. We would not do it. This is something we want to reach agreement on with the players.
On the concerns the owners have about expanding the schedule:
I would say it is the same as the players. We have an issue with the preseason. There’s not a lot of fan interest. The number of no-shows we have across the league is very high. They don’t like the preseason. We’re not providing good value. But we have concerns about the safety. But we also see some positives. From the players’ perspective, it’s a chance to grow revenue, create more jobs, and to further develop players with the possibility of some of the things we want to do in the offseason, including potentially a developmental league.
On injury rates in an enhanced season:
As the season goes on, you do not see an increase in the rate of injuries players report. Player safety and player injuries are an issue if we play 16 regular-season games or 18. I think this is going to be a real positive for the league and the players to really study this. I’ve seen dramatic changes over the years I’ve been involved in the league. Practices 15, 20, 30 years ago were quite a bit different than they are now. Coaches learn.
When I was a rookie—I’m showing my age—we had six preseason games and I felt like I had been through a whole college season by the time we got through. But players and teams needed six games then to get ready. Now I think with the offseason training that the players do, they don’t need four games to get ready for the regular season.
On whether there will be football in 2011:
We’ve still got a lot of time between now and the expiration of the contract. What I said before: focusing on issues like this where we can grow the game, grow interest in the game, and develop the additional revenues where the players can benefit, I think that is going to be helpful for us as we move toward trying to reach an agreement.
On players’ being properly compensated for the additional regular season games:
I think they may well raise that issue, but at the end of the day you’ve got a pot of money and the players get nearly 60 percent of that. We compared the NFL to other professional sports leagues. Right now we’re significantly shorter than the NBA, Major League Baseball by about eight weeks. Obviously, the injury rate in the NFL is higher than those other sports.
The other thing we looked at is the CFL, which right now is at two preseason and 18 regular-season games. Right now we have one bye during the regular season. We’ve talked a little bit about whether we can work in another bye. One of the thoughts would be to have one bye during the regular season—like we do now—and also maybe play two preseason games and then give everyone a bye. So you’d have a chance to get your players rested up and ready for the start of the regular season. Right now what I’ve seen is that a lot of the coaches and a lot of the teams build in a bye by treating the fourth preseason game almost as a bye. Either they don’t play the starters or play them just one series so they’re building in a time period for players to rest up and get healthy for the start of the regular season.
# # #
Rich Eisen Interview with Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access
June 16, 2010
Rich Eisen: Mark, we appreciate you taking some time to explain to us and the fans watching this show the ramifications of what would be a monumental shift in the way the National Football League games are played in the regular season. 2012 is the first order of business for you guys if you can get this thing through?
Mark Murphy: “Yes, 2012 would be the earliest. It’s really something we’ve talked about for well over a year as owners. If you look across the whole spectrum of everything the NFL does, everything is of great value. We do first-quality work. If you look at our regular season games, postseason, the Draft, the Combine; one thing that really stands out as being different is the preseason. Fans don’t like the games. There really isn’t a lot of value in the games and I think a lot of us look at it and say, ‘Our players and our teams don’t need four games to get ready for the regular season.’ So what we’re really looking at is how we might be able to change it. We’ve looked at three (preseason) and 17 (regular season) games and I think the real focus now, and I think that it’s gained quite a bit of momentum among the owners, is to move to two (preseason) and 18 (regular season) games. And quite honestly, I think we see it as possibly a way to reach an agreement with the players.
We’re working together with (the players) to grow the game and find ways to generate additional revenue.”
Let’s sink our teeth into what this would look like. I’m sure when coaches hear two extra games, they’re thinking extra players, they need extra players. How would that be addressed?
“We’ve talked to the union about it, that we’re willing to look at the whole offseason, what we do with the players, what we ask of them and also looking at things such as the number of players on the practice squad and players on the active roster. We would also look at the injured-reserve rules. It used to be that a player could go on IR, then come back after a set period of time; I think it was six weeks. So maybe reinstituting a rule such as that would give teams a little more flexibility because they’re going to need that.
We want to work with the players to identify what things we can do to make the game as safe as possible.”
That brings up the issue of player safety. With the Green Bay Packers, 31 players in the last three seasons have gone on injured-reserved. Last year, two major players for you, Al Harris and Aaron Kampman, went on IR in weeks 12 and 13 (respectively) late in the season. A lot of fans and players are thinking the weeks 17 and 18 with games is too long. How does that jive with the Commissioner’s drive to make sure that player safety is at the top of the list?
“This is an area where we have the same interests as the players. We want to do everything we can to make the game as safe as possible. The reality in football is that you’re going to have injuries, but you want to try to minimize it. You mentioned two of our players (Aaron Kampman and Al Harris). Those were two non-contact injuries. They both blew out their knees and neither one of them was hit on the play. So you wonder if it’s not only just the wear and tear of the season, but over the whole offseason, are we asking too much of our players throughout the offseason? What can we do to make sure that they’re staying healthy throughout the entire season?
On the other side of it, coaches look at it and say, ‘We need to develop young players. We need to get young players in a position to where they can develop as players and become solid NFL talent. One of the things we talked about today and have discussed in the past is the possibility of a developmental league. I think a lot of us looked at NFL Europe and a real benefit of that league is that we found that it was a great way to develop young players. I think a real concern is particularly young quarterbacks. They really need the game experience. So I think quarterbacks and offensive linemen, as well as all players, are the focus. So if we could have a developmental league to develop younger players and quite honestly, also to develop coaches and officials, it would really be positive for the league with the possibility of having a developmental league with games not only in the spring, but in the fall.”
You’ve mentioned a couple times in our interview what the league and management is asking from the players in the offseason. Do you mean fewer OTAs or do you mean also addressing the culture that seems to prevail now that even though something is quote-unquote “voluntary,” it really is in the eyes of management and the coaching staff mandatory that a player be there?
“I think we need to look at both of those things. We do ask a lot of the players in the offseason and I worry not only about wear and tear on their bodies, but what the players are doing on their own. They’re working out and training and we need to really do a good job of looking at everything they do.
From a longer-term perspective, I want to make sure that the players have enough time in the offseason to finish their degree, get their degree, start getting experience in another job, doing some things to get themselves ready to make the transition into life after football. I think that would be very beneficial for all of our players to start to think about things other than football to help them make that transition.”
What about the money aspect of it? So many players I’ve spoken to have said it’s more than just taking what they’re already earning and slicing it up between an 18-game check as opposed to a 16-game check. They want to see more money. How have you addressed the compensation issue on this front with the enhanced season?
“This is something that we’ll address at the bargaining table and we have a system in place with our players now. We’re partners with them. We share revenue and we think there is a pretty substantial amount of additional revenue in a move from our current setup from four and 16 to two and 18. Players will share in that additional revenue and that’s really the concept. Right now we’re playing 20 games. We’re just packaging them differently. We’re enhancing it with two and 18 and that allows us to generate additional revenue and the players will get a percentage of that.”
You’re talking about a potential D-League, changes to IR rules and an expansion of the roster, not only practice, but also active. How has the Players Association received all this from your estimation?
“You’ll have to talk to them. I don’t want to speak for De(Maurice Smith) and the others, but as I’ve said before, they have a lot of the same concerns that we do. What’s the impact on player safety and injuries and that’s where we want to work with them to minimize the impact this change may have on injuries.”
Where are we with you and DeMaurice Smith and the union. You were at a conference at St. Norbert College in late May and you were quoted by the McClatchy-Tribune Regional News Service saying, ‘I see no chance of a strike. If there is a work-stoppage, it would not be a strike.’ What did you mean by that?
“First of all, we still have nine months until the end of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and I’m hopeful that we can reach an agreement. I really think the more we can focus on issues like this where we’re working together, trying to grow the game, grow the interest in the game, we’re going to have a better chance to reach an agreement.
I don’t think there’s any discussion on the players’ side about a strike. From our side, our first priority is to get a deal done with the players and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we get that done by the expiration of the contract.”
From a personal aspect, do you ever sit there on the side of the Management Council and look across at the players’ union that you used to be a part of and think, ‘I can’t believe I’ve been on both sides of this table?’
“It’s made for some interesting sessions. There was one session last summer in Washington, D.C. We were in the Ed Garvey conference room and before we started we had a little bit of free time, so I was looking around and they had pictures up and they were of the NFLPA through the decades. There was a picture of a bargaining session in 1982 and it was a picture of me sitting right there on the side of the players and it did strike me a little bit. But at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want what’s best for the league and for the players and the owners. I think we all know that the NFL is a phenomenal sports league and we want it to continue to be. I think having someone such as myself who has played and has worked with the Players Association in the role that I’m in now is beneficial. I do think that I can see things from the perspective of a player and hopefully that will be helpful to us as we move towards the expiration of the contract and we’re able to reach an agreement before the contract expires.”