TORONTO Proposals to extend the National Football League (NFL) season by two games have not been thought through and could lead to more injuries and curtailed careers, say players.
"What type of effect does two more games have on your body, your career and on your long-term health?" New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in a recent interview with Reuters.
"Every guy in every locker room on every team right now has some kind of injury that they are nursing, so when you add two games does that increase the risk of serious injury?"
NFL owners support the idea of adding two extra regular-season games and axing two of the four pre-season ones -- when competition is less intense and starters do not generally play full games. Players say they will suffer the consequences.
"Swapping two pre-season games for two end-of-season games, when players already play hurt, comes at a huge cost for the player and the team," said Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis earlier this year.
"If fans want to show their love, they should let everyone know that we are not machines."
Already this season dangerous hits have left many players with concussion and in one brutal mid-October weekend several players suffered head injuries.
A helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison left Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi lying on the turf for several minutes, while Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap was floored by a similar clash with New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather.
Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson needed to be helped off the field after a head-on collision. Jackson suffered concussion and Robinson a head injury.
By week 10 of the schedule, the number of players placed on injury reserve was up 34 percent from last year, putting the league on pace for its most injury-plagued season.
The league quickly decided to use hefty fines and threaten suspensions to cut down on dangerous hits, a response that sparked a spirited national debate on safety issues.
Harrison received the stiffest penalty this season when he was fined $75,000 for unnecessarily striking his defenceless opponent on the head and neck while Meriweather and Robinson were each fined $50,000.
"It's hits on defenceless players that we are all trying to cut back on or at least see those minimized as much as possible," said Brees, the MVP of last season's Super Bowl.
"This is a tough, physical, violent game and it involves big, strong, fast men so at times you're going to have those types of injuries. But as much as you can keep that to a minimum the better."
An expanded schedule is one of the key topics in talks on a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires in March and owners are expected to lock out players if both sides cannot reach a deal, jeopardizing the 2011 season.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross recently said he felt an 18-game regular-season schedule would make little difference to players.
"We're still playing 20 games, we're eliminating two preseason games and adding two regular-season games, which is really what helps with the revenues and makes the fans a lot happier and those games will be a lot more meaningful," Ross said. "But in terms of the players, they're still playing 20 games."
While a longer season undoubtedly means greater ticket revenue for the 32 teams, the league could suffer if injuries meant more games were played without top players.
Brees, who is involved in a campaign run by cold-remedy makers Vicks to find the NFL's most dedicated fan, said more research was needed on the idea.
"It's not just as easy as pro-rating two game cheques and that is going to be the difference. There haven't been studies to let you know the impact (of more games)...but it's more than just: 'Hey let's just add two more games'."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)