There is something to be said for recognizing when you have enough of a good thing.
NFL owners approved a new proposal Thursday that includes an expanded playoff field and 17-game schedule. Though the NFL Players Association still needs to agree, at first glance, it seems like an unqualified win. More revenue for the players, more profits for the owners and, best of all, more football for everybody!
And yet …
It comes with a price, and I don’t mean the still-inadequate share of revenue that players would get.
With 14 teams in the playoffs, there will be only one bye per conference. While that gives the best teams incentive to keep their feet on the gas so they can claim the No. 1 seed, it creates a significant competitive imbalance.
The No. 1 seeds are already at a considerable advantage. Since 2002, when the NFL went to four divisions in each conference, a No. 1 seed has reached the Super Bowl in all but three seasons. Four of the past seven Super Bowls have been all-No. 1 affairs.
Now consider that no wild-card team has won the Super Bowl since the Green Bay Packers in 2010. No team that played on wild-card weekend has even made the game since the 2012 season, when the Baltimore Ravens won the championship.
By awarding only the No. 1 seeds byes, the NFL might as well hand them spots in the Super Bowl, too.
Granted, I don’t think anyone would have objected to a rematch of that regular-season shootout between Lamar Jackson and the San Francisco 49ers at this month’s Super Bowl. But that’s not the point. The playoffs aren’t supposed to be that predictable.
Since we’re talking about imbalance, how is a 17-game schedule going to work? The Packers won’t even give up a home game to play in London. You really think they’re going to go along with playing eight home games while, say, Washington gets a ninth? No way.
Or is this the NFL’s way of making a London (or Mexico) franchise happen? Every team gets eight games at home, eight on the road and one in a neutral, foreign site.
That, or Richard Sherman was onto something when he said a 17-game schedule was just the gateway to the 18-game slate the owners have long coveted.
Which brings us to the biggest problem with this proposal: Player safety.
Owners will likely argue that a 17-game schedule is a wash, since there will now be three preseason games instead of four. But very few players play all four preseason games. Even fewer play into the fourth quarter of the games they did play.
Heck, there are some teams that don’t play their starters a down in the preseason.
That won’t be the case with that extra regular-season game. Andy Reid isn’t going to rest Patrick Mahomes in Week 3. Or only play him the first quarter. Reid won’t be able to afford to do that – especially when securing the No. 1 seed has taken on such added importance.
Which means players are going to be putting their bodies and minds at even greater risk – now and in the future.
“(The NFL is) really standing up for player safety, player safety, player safety. But it seems like player safety has a price tag. Player safety, up to the point of, ‘Hey, 17 games makes us this much money, so we really don’t care how safe they are, if you’re going to pay us this much money to play another game,’” Sherman, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, said during Super Bowl week.
“They’re really just saying 17 so that they can get to 18,” Sherman added. “And so that’s two more opportunities for players to risk their bodies, to put their bodies on the line.”
Players are believed to be demanding a further reduction in contact during training camp and practice, but that only does so much.
In the past few seasons, we’ve seen several marquee players retire while still in their prime because of injuries or concern over their health later in life. There’ll be more of that the more games they’re asked to play.
The NFL is, far and away, the country’s most popular – and bankable – sport. But the temptation to tinker with what works might just wind up ruining it.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.