In a surprise announcement (“surprise” only in the sense that it came today; this had been brewing for awhile now) the NFL and CBS will be partnering for Thursday Night Football games this fall. Eight games early in the season will be broadcast on CBS and the NFL Network simultaneously; the remaining eight games will be shown exclusively on the NFL Network, but will be produced by CBS Sports and feature CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Those Thursday games had previously been on the NFL Network, with the exception of the NBC-aired season opener; according to this Los Angeles Times report, NBC will still have the season opening game. (That report also mentions that NBC will still air the Thanksgiving night game.)
It’s a bit convoluted, to be sure. Complicating things further, the release notes that “NFL Network hosts and analysts will be featured in the pregame, halftime and postgame shows along with CBS Sports announcers.” Because if there’s one thing that NFL pre- and post-game shows need, it’s more people involved. According to a report from Awful Announcing, Nantz and Simms will still be involved in Sunday games as well; I’d assume they’d do weekends that feature a national doubleheader on CBS, taking the late-game national window. (Awful Announcing thinks something similar.)
The deal also features a return of late-season Saturday games; those had been absent since 2012, as Pro Football Talk notes. There will apparently be a Saturday doubleheader in Week 16 (which falls on December 2oth this season.)
Finally, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio brings up the revenue/salary cap angle of this announcement. According to his report, the winning bid from CBS was likely near $300 million; that is obviously extra revenue that the league will take in, and that revenue will be applied to the salary cap calculations for the 2015 league year. Meaning the cap is going to increase, meaning teams will have more room to spend. (His report estimates an increase of about $7-8 million per team, but that’s obviously a very rough estimate at this point.) Again, that won’t be in effect until 2015 (the cap is calculated based on the prior year’s league revenues) but teams can certainly construct contracts this offseason with that near-future increase in mind.
My main concern with this move is that it further entrenches the Thursday night model; those games were often rough to watch, due to player fatigue and a limited week of preparation. Teams and players hate playing Thursday games, and during the 2013 season there was even a slight swell of support towards ending the practice; that was obviously never going to happen, thanks to the money involved. Hopefully things get better, or it might be time to consider a new scheduling model that gives teams playing on Thursday nights a second bye prior to the game. (That’s just one possible solution; I’m certainly open to more.)