2008 NFL Spring Meetings Recap

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Of course everyone heard the “big news” coming out of the NFL Spring Meetings regarding NFL owners opting out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Rookies learning the history of the game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and most importantly the proposed NFL Hair Policy taking a backseat.

But there was much more news that needs to be decimated to the masses.

Indianapolis awarded 2012 Super Bowl – The biggest winner from the Spring Meetings in Atlanta, GA was the city of Indianapolis.  With the opening of 700 Million Dollar Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts state of the art palace will be on display in February 2012 while hosting Super Bowl XLVI.  The new retractable-roof stadium beat out Houston and Arizona for the game. Indianapolis joins Detroit (1982, 2006) and Minneapolis (1992) as the only cold weather areas to host the Super Bowl extravaganza.  The next four Super Bowls will be 2009 in Tampa, FL – Super Bowl XLIII, 2010 in South Florida – Super Bowl XLIV, 2011 in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX – Super Bowl XLV, and 2012 in Indianapolis, IN – Super Bowl XLVI

The Commish to now make teams responsible for misconduct – We already knew NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cracked down on malcontent players like Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and Michael Vick, but now teams — lookout Bengals – will also be held accountable for player offenses.  The exact particulars need to be worked out, but look for fines and possibly draft picks to come into play.  Goodell said about the new policy, “We want to continue to emphasize personal conduct and personal responsibility”.  He added, “One way to do it is to hold teams responsible for the conduct of their players.  BTW:  Is the misconduct policy even working as there were a reported 26 players being arrested or cited since the Super Bowl this year versus 27 players at the same time last year.

Behave yourselves at games fans – Though poor fan conduct is really an individual team/stadium issue, the NFL will now provide guidelines and a helping hand.  The NFL will work teams to ensure that every fan enjoys games responsibly.  I am sure there will not be a “jail” in each stadium as was the case in Philadelphia’s old Veteran’s Stadium.  But look for a more family friendly environment.  Goodell said of fan conduct, “First of all, it’s very possible, and likely, that people can come to a game and enjoy alcoholic beverages or beer and do it very responsibly. What we don’t want is there to be abusive behavior. That includes foul language; that includes disrupting other people who are there to enjoy the game. We’re just saying, come and enjoy yourself, but don’t ruin it for others”.  BTW: Watch out for Commissioner Goodell at stadiums as he attended a game in Foxborough last year incognito with his 13-year-old niece.

Surprise, Surprise the NFL says enough with Spygate – Commissioner Roger Goodell announced to the media that the league has no plans to conduct an independent investigation of the Patriots’ videotaping procedures at this time (Shocker). The NFL teams and commissioner both believe that the league’s investigation was thorough enough and that no new information was gained from the Matt Walsh interview. Goodell when asked if he had plans to talk with Senator Arlen Specter about spygate, gave the terse answer of “Nope”.  I know opposing teams’ fans will also be glad to hear that the Pats got a pass on scalping Super Bowl tickets and allowing a player to practice while on injured reserve with Goodell saying “No” when asked about any actions for these offenses.

More international players – Even though the defunct NFL Europa was a rousing flop and there have been little internationally trained players in the NFL, there was a move to help get more players from abroad.  The NFL agreed to expand the league’s International Practice Squad Program – did anyone know this program is in its fifth year – to 16 players joining the NFL practice squads.

Could the final week of pre-season games be in jeopardy, oh darn – With fans everywhere screaming about playing full price for players that will be cut the next day, the NFL is considering adding a 17th regular-season game in place of the fourth preseason game.  The move would obviously help the “cash-strapped” owners coffers as regular season revenues (parking, game day promotions, television money, etc) are paramount.  Commissioner Goodell said of the proposition, “We actually are looking at”.  Strangely after meeting with the owners, Goodell came out talking about the “journey” in the NFL offseason and seemed to forget about just getting rid of the meaningless 4th week of pre-season games…. Stay tuned.

NFL looking for ways to recoup signing bonuses – With all eyes on the upcoming appeal to the Michael Vick signing bonus case – the jailed former Falcons quarterback was allowed to keep $16.5 Million dollars of his previously paid $20 Million dollar signing bonus, with the NFL appealing – the league may be looking to make changes in the CBA for this issue.  Goodell said, “It’s probably highlighted in a large part by the Michael Vick issue. There are other cases such as Ashley Lelie and others. In the Michael Vick case, he’s not able to play football and as such he got a significant signing bonus and we are not able to recover that. That’s money that could be going to players who are playing the game right now. So we think that there are some adjustments there that need to be made that are beneficial to the veteran players, frankly”.

 Will there be a team in L.A anytime soon?? – During the meetings the new ownership group of the St. Louis Rams denied a report that the team was going back to Los Angeles.  I am sure the NFL drools as it looks at the large television market just waiting to be filled.  With the Colts getting their new stadium this year, you can cross them off the list leaving the Saints, Vikings, Bills, Rams, and Jaguars as possible target for the West Coast.   Goodell said of the idea of a team in L.A amidst the owners opting out, “Uncertainty is never a great thing. So you have that and it could affect the potential for us to get a team in Los Angeles. It could affect the potential for additional revenue streams through television. It can have that impact. I hope it won’t. I hope that we’ll be able to reach that agreement. But there is that potential”.

NFL to honor a couple special golden anniversaries in 2008 – The 50th anniversary of the ’58 Championship Game (“The Best Game Ever” as some say with the Baltimore Colts producing a 23-17 overtime thrilling win over the New York Giants before a historic national television audience) and the 50th anniversary of the AFL (the innovative rival football league that made the NFL an ‘institution’ with their historic merger in 1969).

Proposal by Competition Committee regarding anti-tampering rule (i.e. free agency head start rule) – Goodell said, “We did discuss that. The Competition Committee has met on that a couple of times. We’ll continue to discuss that. As you know, that’s really not an issue in the next several months. We’ll raise it again by October. We need to do some additional work on that”.

 Playoff Re-Seeding and Expanding Roster were not discussed at the meetings.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer/Analyst for Taking It to the House – NFL Insider Blog, BIGPLAY Football, and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2008 NFL Annual Meeting is Over and This is What We Learned

(Philadelphia, Pa) – As myself and countless other members of the NFL’s traveling show return home from the 2008 NFL Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida.  I wanted to give a recap of what happened, what changes are coming, what was tabled, and other tidbits from the event.  Much like the NFL combine, I cannot help but to marvel at the amount of coverage at this non-playing event on the NFL calendar – there were NFL scribes, owners, fans, agents, coaches, and many other hanger-on types everywhere at the hotel. Even in the midst of NCAA’s “March Madness” leading up to Final Four time (what a snooze as all four top seeds made it) and opening day for Major League baseball (registered a blip as everyone has grown tired of all the ‘roid talk), NFL fans everywhere wanted to know “Did the Hair rule pass??” or “Will they allow defenders to have radios in their helmets??” 

To be honest the entire four days is filled with the NFL community getting reacquainted in a “convention” like setting.  Sure there were presentations and voting.  But don’t be fooled by the icy stares across sidelines on NFL Sundays as you could readily see owners, GM’s, and coaches from opposing teams/division/conferences dining together and talking “shop”.

Remember Economics Are Everything – With everyone talking about Hair or possible rules changes, I believe that Commissioner Roger Goodell in his address wanted everyone to understand that the “Economy” of the NFL should be foremost in their thinking.  The Commish said when talking of the “Economy” of the NFL, “What the (NFL’s economy) does is demonstrate the risks that are in the marketplace right now. When you shrink the margins by increased player costs and other increased costs, at some point in time the economics become untenable”.

The Commish talked about the following financial topics extensively

  • The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – Passed in March of 2006.  The NFL or NFLPA could opt out the deal in the next year and many owners were talking about “how” bad the deal was for them.  Could labor unrest enter the NFL for the first time since 1987 with labor problems looming in 2011?
  • The Salary Cap – $116 million this year with a scheduled “uncapped” year in 2010.  BTW: Payrolls have risen $30 million in the past two years.
  • The NFL’s Debt – It was reported at the meetings that the NFL is 9 Billion dollars in debt.  That figure needs to be looked into at a time when the league’s NFL Network is losing money – while they are still encouraged/funding it, the spending of millions in building the league’s many new stadiums/palaces at low-interest loan prices with little chance for revenues, small market teams like the Buffalo Bills hurting (enough to go to Canada for dollars) and we all know something is brewing at NFL Films.  And can someone give me a straight answer on how all this debt is possible when the NFL is by far the most popular game in the world in terms of attendance, merchandising, ticket sales, and television dollars.

Hair Takes a Back Seat – The issue of whether a player’s hair can cover their name plate — biggest hot-button issue from the Annual meeting — was tabled as everyone saw the unfathomable amount of time needed to debate this issue.  This “can of worms” opened by the Kansas City Chiefs and pushed hard surprisingly by their coach Herman Edwards — you would think the Chiefs would be more interested in improving 4-12 team — will be looked into further at the Spring Meeting held in Atlanta on May 19-21st.  I think even then with the NFLPA, individual long hair players, and even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) speaking up that Commissioner Goodell and owners will choose to step away from this issue.  Trust me I know it hurts the “IBM” crew-cut esque NFL to see uniforms “tarnished” in their opinion by long hair. But it is a fight that will leave the league with a black eye no matter the outcome.  As stated before “I really don’t care how many tattoos a player has or if his hair is down to his waist.  The key matter in player evaluation is whether the guy can bring the “wood” on the field or not.  I like that some guys have the unusual “forget image” attitude that they are willing to express themselves in a sport where uniformity has gotten out of control”. 

Rules Changes That will take effect with the 2008

Good Bye Force Out – NFL receivers will no longer be credited with a catch if they are forced out of bounds. Under the new rule, game officials will not have to determine if a receiver was forced out on a reception. The receiver will have to have both feet inbounds for a legal catch – LV’s take:  I say good riddance to the “force out” rule as too often officials (part-time older guys with some having problems keeping up with the fast pace of the NFL game) miss the call or didn’t apply the “true” interpretation of rule – Remember the bad call in Week 13 by Side judge Joe Larrew where he ruled Browns TE Kellen Winslow’s 37-yard apparent game-winning touchdown catch on the last play of the game was not a “force out” even though Cardinals Oliver Celestin and Antrel Rolle pushed him out before he could get his second foot down.

Defense Gets Their Radio Too – In move that everyone hopes will stop the problem stealing defensive signals, the league approved a communication device for defenses.  Now like quarterbacks the defensive signal caller can have contact with their coach.  Only one player on the field of play for the defense can have the device and the radio helmet is not to be used on special teams.  LV’s Take:  I really like that the NFL finally is giving the same communication advantages to the defense and I will not even go into the whole Spygate thing.

Big Brother can now look at Field Goals and Extra Points – Now officials can use replay to look at whether a field goal or extra point or was good or not.  Thank Goodness in week 11 the officials correctly called Browns Kicker Phil Dawson’s 51-yard game-tying field goal versus the Ravens correctly without replay even though it hit the pole behind the cross bar and went back in the field of play.  LV’s Take:  Short and Simple, I like that the officials can be assisted further since you know “how” confident I am in their abilities.

All Facemask Penalties are Big Ones – The league eliminated the 5-yard penalty for incidental contact with a facemask.  This was another ambiguous call that too often left it up to the referee to judge intent.  LV’s Take: I know defensive guys will not be happy about this rule and I am going to take a wait and see approach.  However I am leery since too often I have seen runners turn their head and a defender’s finger gets caught in an offensive player’s cage not on purpose.  With all face mask calls being 15 yarders look for some controversial calls.  Also please call this on offensive players as well as too often stiff arms turn into grasping the face mask (see old tapes of Emmitt Smith)

The Coin Flip Goes Back to College – The league decided to follow the suit of college football in allowing teams winning the opening coin toss to have the ability to defer their decision until the second half. LV’s Take: I like that now coin-toss can be a more strategic event and I can’t wait to see a rogue coach like Tampa Bay Bucs head man Jon Gruden steely telling his captain “Wait until the second half”.

A Roller from the Center is Now a “Live Ball” – The ball will be ‘live’ any time it is snapped by the center without touching the quarterback instead of the team being assessed a false-start penalty. This rule stems from this year’s Eagles-Bears game where Bears Center Olin Kreutz flubbed a snap to quarterback Brian Griese and the Eagles recovered on an apparent game-changing play.  Unfortunately to the Birds’ fans dismay the ball went back to Bears on a “false start”.  I can still see the bewilderment amongst all of us in the pressbox as the referee explained the play.  LV’s Take: Good as I thought it was ridiculous that a ball could be basically fumbled and given back to the offense.

Hey NFL You Forgot Something – Can someone please tell me how in the world the NFL’s league meetings could not look into my biggest pet peeve from the 2007 season.  I am talking about the bleeping TIMEOUT right as a kicker is about to kick the ball causing the kick to not count.  Here is hoping that the issue is brought in May at the next meetings or a gentleman’s agreement was reached not to do it.  But you know Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan will be waiting with timeouts in hand to annoy us all be calling the timeout at the worst moment.

Off the Field Items that were Discussed

No Playoff Re-Seeding – This item was not even voted on and was removed by the competition committee after everyone knew a fight was going to ensue.  Sure everyone wants teams to play to the end of the season, but I am not sure if deemphasizing Division titles is the way to go.  When it comes to losing home playoff game revenues you know owners will always raise an eyebrow.

Compensatory Picks Announced – 15 teams were awarded compensatory picks in the upcoming 2008 NFL Draft. The Big Winners for losing players were the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals who were awarded four picks.  Washington, Chicago, Indianapolis and Philadelphia each got three selections. Receiving two were Buffalo, Carolina and Miami. Getting one apiece were Atlanta, Green Bay, St. Louis, San Diego, Tennessee and the New York Giants.  For you Eagles fans out there, they got a 4th Rd Pick (131st) and two sixth round (200 and 203 Overall)

Season Opening Games Announced – For the fifth consecutive season the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the champion New York Giants take on the Washington Redskins on Thursday, Sept. 4th at 7 p.m. EDT on NBC. The kickoff was moved forward 90 minutes from its usual start time because the Republican National Convention will be going on at that time.  The Sunday night opener on September 7th will feature the Chicago Bears traveling to play the Indianapolis Colts in the first regular-season game in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.  And Monday Night football on September 8th, ESPN doubleheader will have a doubleheader with Minnesota playing at Green Bay at 7 p.m. EDT and the Denver Broncos playing at Oakland at 10:15 p.m.  Unfortunately for team diehards all team schedules will not come out until around April 15th.

Half of the Dolphins are sold – The league approved the sale of half of the Dolphins for $550 Million to businessman Stephen Ross.  In the deal Ross partial owner of the NHL’s New York Islanders now owns half of the team, Dolphins Stadium, and land near the complex.  Now lets see if Ross can help disgruntled Dolphins’ owner Wayne Huizenga keep VP of Football Operations Bill Parcels in line and keep running back Ricky Williams off the ‘chronic’.

Patriots Apologize for Spygate as Everyone wants NFL Espionage to go away – In a move that showed how close-knit the fraternity of football is.  The Commish made everyone take a “Boy Scout” like pledge regarding the Integrity of the game. Also Patriots owner Robert Kraft apologized for his coaching staff’s role in “Spygate” and head coach Bill Belichick said that he was interviewed by the Commish again with no new developments.  Commissioner Goodell seems to be very annoyed by the current environment where former Patriots employee Matt Walsh is holding the “smoking tape” that could take the Pats down and he wants whatever Walsh has to come forward.  Goodell said of the whole thing, “I think the last time he was a Patriots employee was back in early 2000. So, we’re talking about six or seven years since he’s left the league. He’s certainly made it known publicly that he has something. I would like to see him present that”. LV’s Take: After all of the legal wrangling and rhetoric look for this whole thing to disappear, which we all know the Pats and the NFL will gladly accept.

Disciplinary Problem Players – It seems that currently suspended Tennessee Titans CB Adam “Pacman” Jones will be traded to the Cowboys for a mid-level draft choice in 2008.  Though talks slowed down this week, I still expect Jerry Jones to bring in the troubled and talented cover corner/return man.  The Commissioner also gave no indication on the reinstatement of Bengals LB Odell Thurman and Niners WR Antonio Bryant.  The Commish also better get ready to deal with former Bengals problem receiver Chris Henry, who was arrest again and finally cut by the Bengals.

That is a wrap and I will definitely be back in the hotel lobby next year looking for more tidbits from the NFL’s version of their annual convention.

Are We Talking About Hair ???

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Apparently the upcoming NFL Owners’ Meetings in West Palm, Florida will resemble many American households from the 1960’s as hair length and style take center stage.  The Kansas City Chiefs have put forth before the owners a proposed rule that would require players to wear their hair in a way (“tuck” it) so that it doesn’t obscure the name plate on the backs of their jerseys.

Sure they are saying that it is a safety issue and that they are not telling players to “cut” their hair due to CBA language that forbids such edicts –The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA expressly prohibits the imposition of discipline based on facial hair or hair length… ACLU would be on the phone quicker than lightning. 

But you cannot tell me that the “Father Knows Best -esque” bureaucratic NFL does not want to rein players in that look unsightly in their opinion.  The NFL is running a VERY dangerous course by forcing player appearance, they already dictate everything with uniforms down to towel length and socks not being pulled up so apparently “hair” is the next step.  I will be interested to see what will happen if the rule passes and a respected veteran like Steelers safety Troy Troy Polamalu doesn’t want to “tuck” his hair.

I personally really don’t care how many tattoos a player has or if his hair is down to his waist.  The key matter in player evaluation is whether the guy can bring the “wood” on the field or not.  I like that some guys have the unusual “forget image” attitude that they are willing to express themselves in a sport where uniformity has gotten out of control.  Plus as Dolphins running back Ricky Williams learn if you play with long hair, it is okay for an opponent to use it against you.

It will take 24 positive votes from the 32 franchises for the measure to pass and if it does look for some fun “barber” fireworks come training camp time.