49ers TE George Kittle wants two bye weeks in 17-game season
George Kittle doesn't believe one bye week is enough for NFL players in an elongated 17-game season.
The San Francisco 49ers tight end told comedian Kevin Hart on his "Cold As Balls" show this week he wants the NFL to add a second bye week so players could recover better.
"There's a huge physical toll," Kittle said. "And like, 17 games is a lot. It's a lot of games, with one bye, whether it's Week 4 or the bye is Week 11. I'm advocating for two byes."
Kittle's endured his fair share of injuries during his five-year career. He's missed 13 games since 2019 for various injuries, including a broken foot and MCL sprain that forced him to miss eight games in 2020. Kittle also suffered a foot sprain in college that forced him to miss two games and limited his draft preparation in 2017.
Would two bye weeks work?
The idea of two bye weeks in one NFL season isn't inconceivable.
The league gave teams two bye weeks in 1993 to extend the season for its new television deals and also because the league was "sensitive to the possible over-exposure of our sport," then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in 1990. "The open weekends also allow for greater scheduling flexibility, ease the player injury factor and reduce team travel burdens."
However, this experiment failed partly because of how the byes were divided up and partly because of its effect on television schedules. Entire divisions took their bye weeks at the same time in 1993, which completely negated the intrigue of rivalry games. The NFL also didn't separate the bye weeks over the course of the season so some teams would have two bye weeks over a four-week stretch. The league also only had 28 teams at the time.
"The double byes are a double disaster," then-Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King wrote in 1993. "... The bonehead result was that there were as few as 10 games per weekend through the first two months of the season, not 14. Fewer games, fewer chances for good games, obviously. Another by-product of the double bye: With so much time off between games, teams fall out of sync."
TV networks saw their ratings drop as a result of the diluted weekly lineups as well, and the league reverted to the one-week bye system the following year.
Kittle's investment in his body
Hart and Kittle also talked about spending money on maintaining your body over the course of the year. Kittle joked that sitting in an ice bath — which they did for the entirety of the show — certainly helped, but went on to say he spends a "couple hundred thousand" on his body every year.
Though Kittle didn't put an exact dollar amount, that lines up with the spending habits of other NFL stars. Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison revealed in 2017 that he invests around $300,000 a year for various treatments and specialists to work on his body, while NFL free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham told ESPN in 2018 he also spends more than $300,000 on his body.
Effect of a longer NFL season
The NFL officially added the 17th game for the 2021 regular season and trimmed the preseason down to just three games. The league also expanded the playoffs to seven teams per conference in 2021.
Despite the additional games, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said in February the league "did not see a difference" in the total amount of injuries over the course of the season over during the additional 18th week of the regular season.
"And so from a fatigue perspective, or any other causative reasons to be concerned about the last week of the regular season, we didn't see it, and overall, we didn't see any difference as we move season structure, at least this year, from 16 and 4 to 17 and 3," Sills said."
While total injuries didn't reach an all-time high, injuries to the lower extremities — which include hamstrings, quads and abductor muscles — were up this past season, according to Sills. ACL tears also reached a seven-year high of 71, according to NFL data since 2015.