As a man who played four seasons in the league, slightly more than what the NFLPA calculates as the average career length, Marc Lillibridge knows first-hand about all the ramifications of being hit thousands of times a year in practice and in games.
In his football-afterlife career as a player agent, Lillibridge is just as cognizant of those perils, and also doubly aware of his clients' objections to an 18-game season.
And so Lillibridge, who logged time with the Miami Dolphins (1996-97) and New Orleans Saints (1998-99) as a reserve linebacker, has concocted what he feels is a simple solution to the league's desires for an "enhanced" schedule.
Play more games but play less.
"Give them the 18 games they want, but play 12-minute quarters," said Lillibridge last week, during a short break in the mandatory player representative held in conjunction with the player combine in Indianapolis. "It's a win-win. The owners get the two extra games they seem to really want, and the players get less time on the field, fewer snaps."
There are, of course, myriad issues with the Lillibridge model, and with reducing the game from 60 minutes to the high-school time frame of 48 minutes. The strategy of coaches would certainly change in a dramatic shift that cut to the very fabric of the sport. There would be an acclimation period for fans. The league might be forced to live with fewer commercials, although part of Lillibridge's plan would call for the length of halftime to be expanded to accommodate advertisers. Those and a million other factors would significantly affect the game as we know it.
But it might also, Lillibridge emphasized, reduce the frequency of blows to the head.
"You'd be playing about the same number of minutes," said Lillibridge, 39, who works with Harold Lewis and his associates at the National Sports Agency in St. Louis.
In point of fact, you'd be playing fewer minutes.
As the 16-game season is currently structured, there are 960 minutes of action. Under an 18-game slate, that would increase to 1,080 minutes. An 18-game card with 12-minute quarters would total 864 minutes. Or 216 minutes less play.
More football, less time.
What Lillibridge doesn't take into account is that there still will remain an extra two weeks of practice. Preparation for games, during which players are injured as well, will be extended, not reduced. That said, players might avoid some of the collective 250,000 addition hits the NFLPA claimed during the agent meeting they will absorb in an 18-game season.
Lillibridge didn't present the proposal publicly at last Friday's meeting, although Louis did mention it, albeit it not in detail. Executive director DeMaurice Smith was doubtless too busy belittling one player rep who refereed to players as "gladiators" to have paid it much heed anyway. But in meetings with general managers, scouts, and various personnel types, Lillibridge brought it up.
And he said it was well received.
"One guy," suggested Lillibridge, "said he was going to call (commissioner Roger) Goodell with it. "Who knows?"
The likelihood that Goodell ever even heard about the idea is remote. But the clock is ticking toward the deadline for expiration of the CBA. Despite the public relations charade of ongoing mediation talks, there appear to be few fresh ideas aimed at avoiding a work stoppage that could affect the game.
The Lillibridge Plan offers, both sides would probably agree, a problematic but fresh approach. Yeah, it would dramatically overhaul the game. But the game is going to change anyway, so maybe it should at least merit an airing.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.