Dec 4, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) walks off the field with an apparent injury in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

An 18-game NFL isn’t here yet, but it’s likely coming sooner than you think.

There’s too much money at stake. There’s also the competitive balance issue since some teams play nine home games while others have eight. Those are all legitimate reasons to expand the schedule in the future. When the NFL went to 17 games in 2021, Peter King and Mike Florio wrote that 18 seems inevitable.

Cash rules everything, and professional football is a business. However, it’s also the entertainment business. The NFL needs its stars on the field performing. One excellent reason not to add more games is player health. The recent rash of quarterback injuries is the best argument not to expand the regular season. 

This week, at least nine teams will probably be forced to start a backup quarterback due to injury. The AFC North alone is ravaged as the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is the lone healthy QB. Joe Burrow (wrist) and Deshaun Watson (shoulder) are both out for the season and Kenny Pickett (ankle) might return for the regular-season finale. And given Jackson’s injury history (limited to 12 starts in each of the past three seasons) you always have to worry about his future availability. Jackson missed practice Thursday due to an undisclosed illness.

Six starting quarterbacks have suffered season-ending injuries. Assuming Trevor Lawrence and Carr don’t play this weekend, only 15 teams in a 32-team league will have seen their starter play every game. The NFL is becoming more about who’s healthy than who’s good.

Today there are so many rules to protect the quarterback. Ever since Tom Brady tore up his knee in Week 1 of the 2008 season, the league has gone out of its way to shield its most impactful and marketable stars. You heard the complaints weekly about how quarterbacks are coddled to the point that defenses must gently sack the quarterback or risk a roughing-the-passer penalty. But even with all the safeguards, the NFL is an extremely violent sport played by increasingly bigger, faster, stronger athletes. All these rules are still not preventing injuries.

The only thing we know for sure is that the more games quarterbacks play, the more likely they are to get hurt. That’s why some don’t even take snaps in preseason games. Increasing the regular season to 17 games has put them at further risk, and increasing it to 18 will add more danger.

The belief is that if/when the 18-game schedule comes, the league will expand the active roster size from its current number of 53. But adding more bodies doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. There are just not enough quality quarterbacks out there. Look at the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets. They have resulted to desperate measures. The Browns are starting the fossilized corpse of Joe Flacco. The Jets just signed nepo baby Brett Rypien to be a backup.

All of this begs the question: Does the NFL care about quality? Or has its popularity grown so much that the owners believe people will tune in regardless of who is wearing those uniforms? America is addicted to football. The ratings and revenue prove it. But at one point do you oversaturate a product with declining quality?

Perhaps the NFL is too big to fail. But mounting quarterback injuries are eventually going to test if that is indeed true.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.