This Is What We’ve Learned

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: April 5, 2008

NFLPHILADELPHIA — 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 MLB (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

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 arrested 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.