PHOENIX -- How do you change what some believe is the perfect game? As the NFL convenes for the next few days here at its Annual Meeting, a series of proposals will be considered that range from reviewing every penalty called to expanding jersey numbers for linebackers (currently 50-59 and 90-99, with a proposal to use numbers in the 40s, too) to taking a Pro Bowl innovation – PATs to be moved from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line – and implementing it in the regular season.
In all, there are 13 proposals involving an amendment to the way instant replay is currently used along with a handful of other actions to consider – should both teams have a possession in overtime, regardless of whether one team scores a touchdown on the first possession? – as the league's Competition Committee flexes its considerable muscles in Phoenix.
It is this kind of open-minded thinking that allows the NFL to remain ahead of the curve and to thrive as the No. 1 game in the land. Through the years the game has tweaked its rules, emphasized and introduced others, improving the competitive nature of the NFL, addressing the safety concern of its players and, all the while, keeping the fan experience top of mind.
One of the conversations to be had concerns the idea of expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14 teams – one in each conference – that would also eliminate one of the two byes in the current scenario for each conference. Thus, if the league expands the postseason field from 12 to 14 teams, only one team in each conference would earn a bye week, which could alter the dynamics of the final regular season week – do you rest the starters or not? – quite a bit. Expanding the playoff field could be tabled as the league looks to enhance its Thursday night television package.
This is an important session for the NFL's decision makers, who will also consider several player safety rules, particularly for defenseless receivers, and to also eliminate chop blocks by running backs outside the tackle box, to prohibit pushing ahead rushers when a team is punting, and to penalize any peel-back blocks.
From an Eagles standpoint, Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and head coach Chip Kelly lead the contingent as the league discusses its state of the game, which has never been healthier on the field. Super Bowl 49 garnered the highest television ratings ever, the Pro Bowl dipped but still won its time slot with strong numbers and the recent free-agency period and the trading frenzy that occurred captured the sporting world – and then some in Philadelphia – for a full week.
The NFL is a year-round front-burner league that continually looks for inventive ways to make the game better and increase exposure and deepen fan engagement. And so the who's who in the NFL are here to make the greatest game on Earth even better.
Suggestions? Sure, we all have a few. There are rules that are difficult to understand – what is a catch and what isn't remains a sticking point – and there are nuances of the game that are tough to explain to the novice.
For three days, the league works at making the game better in a series of meetings at an Arizona resort. And if anyone asks me along the way, I will gladly provide my two cents ...
- A rule that I do not comprehend and have not for years is the one that requires teams to reduce the roster on gamedays. As the rules currently stand, active rosters in the NFL consist of 53 players who are eligible to play in games. However, 90 minutes before every game the teams must declare seven players inactive for the game. Therefore the list of players that can actually play consists of just 46 players. Why? The league cites "competitive balance," that if one team has all 53 players healthy and the opponent has 48 players healthy, the most-healthy team has an advantage. So? Isn't that part of the game? Let all 53 players suit up. Maybe some of those players take special teams reps and save a starter or two from running down the field on kickoff coverage. Isn't that part of the safety program for players?
- The other initiative that the league needs to address, and soon, is the development of the quarterback position. How many teams in the league are in what some might call a "desperate" situation at quarterback? The Eagles just traded a quarterback (Nick Foles) who was in the Pro Bowl two seasons ago along with a second-round draft pick in 2016 for a quarterback (Sam Bradford) who has played in seven games the last two seasons and is coming off his second torn ACL on the same knee. The Eagles believe that Bradford is recovering well and that they can help keep him healthy, but there are no guarantees. They also have a really good backup quarterback in Mark Sanchez who won four of eight starts last season and who will be ready to go if Bradford suffers any setbacks long the way in his rehabilitation.
What about teams like Cleveland and Houston and the Jets and Buffalo and so many others who don't have anything close to a "reliable" quarterback on the roster? Where are all of the quarterbacks?
The league needs to develop a "farm system" for quarterbacks. Whether that's a seven-on-seven "minor league" or a roster addition that every team can use exclusively for the development of a quarterback, the NFL must bring along some young arms. What is out there in college for the next 3-4 years? Anything? Any "can't-miss" prospects? Anything even close to that?
Those are my two points. I'm sure you have some suggestions. But, alas, nobody is asking us, so the beat goes on and the meetings answer some of the questions and the NFL rolls into a new season that is already off to a superlative start, with the best yet to come.