By Sally Fahey

Don’t look now but the NFL is on the verge of an 18-game regular season!

The owners want an expanded playoff field in a new labor deal, Mark Maske of the Washington Post reports. In return, many owners are willing to offer players concessions to the commissioner’s disciplinary authority and to the marijuana policy.

Maske quoted a high-ranking official with one NFL team saying “some owners . . . would like to expand the season” to 18 games but added it’s not clear “if there is much support from the players on that.”

Players have adamantly opposed an expanded schedule, and Giants co-owner John Mara reiterated the NFLPA’s strong stance on that issue as recently as September. Packers CEO Mark Murphy repeatedly has stated his concerns about the impact of more games on the health and safety of players.

The league, though, wants 18 games, especially with legalized gambling on the way, and it now has something to give up in order to create even more revenue.

The NFL and NFLPA announced last week a joint committee will study the use of marijuana by players as a pain-management tool.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2020 season, and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith recently sent an email to all agents warning them to prepare for a full-season work stoppage in 2021.

Both sides, though, appear hopeful that a better working relationship than in 2011 could lead to a labor deal before it comes to that.

“I do hope it’s sooner rather than later,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at last week’s owners’ meeting, via Maske. “I think there’s great value to all parties, and most importantly our fans, that we get this issue resolved and move forward. But there are important issues to be addressed, and we’re doing that.”

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