NFL Replay Up for Review
When referees go under the hood for challenges next season, they might get to consult officiating czar Dean Blandino in the league office ... plus, more agenda items for next week’s league meetings (playoff expansion by 2015!) and how free agency has transformed the NFL’s middle class
Time to take a breath. We’ll eventually get to the rise of the NFL’s middle class in the league’s 22nd year of free agency, spurred by $665 million guaranteed to players in the first six days of the open market, and the $1.52 billion in paper contracts for 128 players.
But you’ve been pounded over the head with that for a week. So let’s take a quick detour and look at the hot-button issues the Competition Committee has pored over in advance of the annual league meetings. There are four issues that will draw significant attention when owners, club executives and coaches begin meeting six days from now in Orlando:
The point-after. No change for this year, and I doubt anything will change for several years, because there’s no momentum to make a change despite the fact that just one PAT is missed every 43 games. During one preseason weekend, however, the owners may consider moving the PAT line of scrimmage to the 25-yard line, or employing what I’d call the Goodell Proposal: eliminating the PAT and giving seven points for a touchdown, while allowing teams to go for two but getting only six points if the conversion fails.
Playoff expansion. I’m hearing it’s probably a matter of when, not if. More likely than not, the league will add two playoff teams in time for the 2015 season, meaning 14 playoff teams (instead of the current 12) out of 32. I’m also hearing the league would be inclined toward one team in each conference getting a first-week bye in the postseason. That would mean matchups of two versus seven seeds, three versus six, and four versus five in the wild-card round. This, of course, would mean six wild-card games instead of four, with at least one of them likely moving to Monday night.
Unfair to have teams play Monday night? I don’t see it, though I’m not a fan of playoff expansion because I think it devalues the 17 weeks of the regular season. Currently, the four teams playing on the Saturday of wild-card weekend have a short week going into the game. Often, teams that play on wild-card Sunday have to play on the following Saturday. I’m certain the NFL would arrange the schedule so that a Monday winner wouldn’t play its divisional game until the following Sunday.
Officiating changes. No movement is expected on creating centralized replay at the league’s officiating control center, but I’m hearing that owners will discuss and consider—and that’s the word I keep hearing, consider—allowing league officiating czar Dean Blandino to consult on replays while the referee is determining whether to uphold or overturn the call. This wouldn’t be a cure-all for bad replay decisions, but it would be a safety valve to help prevent horrible calls like the one Jeff Triplette mauled in Cincinnati last season, when he awarded Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis a touchdown even though he appeared to be down shy of the goal line in the replay.
Using the N-word on the field. There won’t be a rule change mandating a flag if an official hears the N-word. But officials will have the right to penalize verbal abuse, whether it be a player using a racist term or directing other foul language at either opponents or officials. There’s a feeling that the league wants to promote more respect on the field, but outlawing one word is too slippery a slope.
Now on to the other news of the week.
The NFL’s new middle class
After three years of a stalled market, free agency finally works. When I see free agency this year, I see it working the way it was meant to work when the league implemented it before the 1993 season. If a player is stuck behind a good player somewhere, he can move and start somewhere else. And if a player thinks he’s undervalued and his contract is up, well, he can move too.
Wesley Woodyard got replaced in Denver at middle linebacker by Danny Trevathan; Tennessee signed Woodyard to start in the middle for four years and $16 million. Geoff Schwartz was a backup tackle and guard in Kansas City; the Giants got him for $4.2 million a year, probably to start at guard. Cincinnati started Anthony Collins at left tackle for eight games last year and he performed well; Tampa Bay signed him for five years and $30 million. Josh McCown would have been only an insurance policy in Chicago, but he has a shot to be the starting quarterback in Tampa—and he’ll make between $5 million and $7.5 million a year, depending how much and how well he plays.
The cap went up $10 million per team this year, and the new CBA mandates that each team must spend at least 89% of its cap between 2013 and 2016, meaning if teams don’t spend close to the max, then the union will spend it for them in penalties come 2017.
“The extra cap money this year is allowing teams like Tampa to spend for players like me and Anthony Collins,’’ McCown told me. “Now, with the minimum spending rules, owners have to spend and it looks like the money is flowing back to the middle class.”
As one club executive told me over the weekend, the real win for the players in the 2011 CBA won’t be the increase in the cap over the next few years—it should expand by at least another $10 million next season—but rather the minimum spending rules. In past years, owners had a salary cap, but many didn’t spend anywhere near it. Now they have to.