Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league’s owners have agreed on a scheduling formula for a 17-game season, but a formal vote on implementation is on hold until early 2021. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

NFL owners have delayed a decision on implementing a 17-game regular season for 2021.

During a teleconference call Wednesday that replaced the usual December gathering of owners in Dallas, they opted to push back any move on the expanded season until early in 2021. The NFL and the players’ union agreed during collective bargaining talks earlier this year to adding one regular-season game to the schedule, but not before next season.

“We had a lengthy discussion on this, obviously it’s an important decision for us,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We did not take any votes with respect to committing to do it. In the collective bargaining agreement, we have that right to do it.”

A scheduling formula for a 17th game was approved unanimously: an interconference matchup, based on divisional standings from the preceding season, and on a rotating divisional basis. The idea is to maintain facilitating competitive fairness; creating additional value through quality matchups; and preserving the objectivity of the scheduling process, the league said.

“It obviously comes into play with respect with our future media arrangements that we obviously are contemplating,” he added. “We expect a decision will be made on that in the next several weeks.”

The length of the preseason would be reduced, as well, if a 17th game is added.

Goodell said the league plans to invite vaccinated health care workers to the Super Bowl as guests. No set number of invitees has been determined for the Feb. 7 game in Tampa.

In a letter to Rob Higgins, president of the host committee for Super Bowl 55, that was obtained by The Associated Press, Goodell wrote that he wanted to “honor and thank health care workers for their extraordinary service during pandemic” as well as promote the importance of vaccinations and the wearing of masks in public.

Goodell added in the letter: “We all know that over the past year, these frontline workers have put their own lives at risk to the benefit of society and we owe them our ongoing gratitude. We also know that they will remain essential for months to come to treat those who are ill and administer vaccines. We hope that in some small way, this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes as we look forward to a better and healthier year.”

The NFL plans for fans to attend the game.

“We have not landed on a specific capacity yet, and we will work on that with the medical community in the weeks ahead,” said Peter O’Reilly, who oversees major event planning for the league. “Public health officials will drive every decision we make around this subject.”

SAINTS: Quarterback Drew Brees has been designated to return from the club’s injured reserve list.

Brees’ change in status means he could be placed on the active roster and eligible to play as soon Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Sean Payton has not indicated when he intends to play Brees, who was diagnosed with fractured ribs and a punctured lung after his last game on Nov. 15.

RAIDERS: Las Vegas will be without four more defensive starters for its first game under new coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Coach Jon Gruden said defensive end Clelin Ferrell will miss Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers because of a shoulder injury, and linebacker Nicholas Morrow, cornerback Damon Arnette and safety Johnathan Abram all will be out because of concussions. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins is already on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury.

CHARGERS: Los Angeles will be without offensive right tackle Bryan Bulaga for Thursday’s game against the Raiders.

Bulaga suffered a concussion during the first quarter Sunday against Atlanta and remains in concussion protocol.

GIANTS: Quarterback Daniel Jones is dealing with two injuries, and his status for Sunday night’s game against Cleveland is uncertain.

Coach Joe Judge disclosed that the second-year quarterback has an injury to his lower left leg injury in addition to a hamstring problem from a game against Cincinnati on Nov. 29.

RAVENS: Baltimore placed receivers Marquise Brown, Mile Boykin and James Proche on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The status of the three players for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville is uncertain.

WASHINGTON: Alex Smith’s strained right calf prevented him from practicing Wednesday, so Dwayne Haskins took snaps at quarterback with the first-team offense. Coach Ron Rivera said he would be OK with waiting until just before Sunday’s game against Seattle to know who will start.

SEAHAWKS: Seattle received an unexpected surprise as veteran tight end Greg Olsen returned to the practice field far sooner than most expected.

Olsen practiced less than a month after he landed on injured reserve because of a torn fascia in his left foot. While it would seem unlikely that Olsen will play this week against Washington, it’s not entirely out of the question.

49ERS: Coach Kyle Shanahan is sticking with Nick Mullens at quarterback for now despite a pair of costly turnovers that led to defensive touchdowns in last week’s loss to Washington.

Shanahan said he would evaluate the position following the 23-15 loss but ultimately decided to stick with Mullens over C.J. Beathard for this week’s game at Dallas. Starter Jimmy Garoppolo remains out because of an ankle injury.

LIONS: Center Frank Ragnow told teammates he couldn’t talk Sunday because of an injury, but he continued playing against the Green Bay Packers.

Lions quarterback Chase Daniel, who entered the game after starter Matthew Stafford left because of a rib injury, says Ragnow played with a fractured throat. Daniel says the team didn’t miss a beat even though Ragnow could not make calls on the line in a 31-24 loss to Green Bay.

Ragnow did not practice Wednesday because of a throat injury, according to the team’s practice report.

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