CBA extension, NFL in L.A. on agenda at NFL meetings
An extension to the CBA and the NFL in Los Angeles are on the agenda at the owners' meetings in Maui.
The older NFL owners used to balk at having to take long flights to have owners' meetings in Hawaii.
Too much time in the air was their complaint. It's a long way to go for a meeting when it's a lot easier to meet at a resort in the continental United States. But enough new owners have entered the fray that this spring's meeting which officially starts Monday is in Maui.
In many ways, this tropical paradise is the perfect setting for this particular gathering. For one, there are plenty of important issues to reflect upon and getting far away is good for trying to map out a long-term plan and take the league into the next era.
Things in the NFL couldn't be better. The television packages for the Sunday afternoon games have been resolved and only the night packages have to be settled. The staggering rights fee increases from Fox and CBS set a high premium on the price of Sunday night and Monday night games. There is a good chance the NFL will put in a Thursday night-Saturday night plan, further enhancing the league's riches.
A lot of tired front office executives will be making their way to Maui. There has been very little break since the Super Bowl. From the college all-star games to the combine to free agency to pro day workouts for draft prospects, general managers, scouts and coaches are worn out. The island sun and ocean breezes will offer a chance to recharge the batteries before the draft and the second wave of free agency.
There are several important issues to keep an eye on during this tropical owners meeting:
1. Collective Bargaining Extension: The NFL and the NFL Players Association have concerned looks on their faces over a collective bargaining extension. This is the toughest negotiation since the antitrust suit in the late 1980s that resulted in the current free agency system. The problem is two-fold. First, commissioner Paul Tagliabue has to convince the owners with the highest revenues to accept a tax on their profits. That's not easy. Tagliabue agrees with the NFLPA's stance that the league should adopt a total revenue formula instead of the designated gross revenue concept. New stadium deals have allowed the richest teams to pay a smaller percentages of their total revenues in player salaries. At this meeting, Tagliabue is going to have to twist some arms to get enough votes to move the process ahead. The second problem is the players and getting them to agree to the right percentage of revenues to be paid out in player salaries. Time is becoming urgent. The CBA expires in 2008. If no deal is reached by 2006, there is an uncapped year in 2007. A deal for an extension is becoming one of the most important issues in the league. Ask the NHL about the importance of labor peace.
2. Instant replay: Now that replay is locked in for five years this is officially year two of the five-year commitment it's time to improve the system. The Competition Committee wants to eliminate the buzzer system between the head coaches and the referee. Too many times, the buzzer goes off and the ref has to stop the game and see if the coach has "buzzed" him. So, the committee wants to junk the sideline buzzer and stick with the red flags thrown by coaches. Makes sense. The buzzer is more of a distraction than an asset. That should pass simply. The trickier talk is whether to expand the types of reviewable plays. Coaches have been frustrated by the inadvertent whistles by officials for years. What the committee wants owners to consider is expanding replay to include "down by contact" plays. As the rule stands now, any time an official rules a player down by contact the play is dead, and can't be reviewed, even if it was an obvious fumble. By reviewing the down-by-contact plays, referees can make sure the right team ends up with the ball in case of fumbles. Advancement of the ball after a down-by-contact play won't be allowed, but an adjustment such as this would be an upgrade.
3. Getting a stadium in Los Angeles: Four current sites are in negotiation with the NFL, and it's getting to the point that solid presentations will be made as early as the May meeting. Although it still seems unlikely to happen until 2009 or thereafter, the Los Angeles area is working successfully toward being able to get an NFL team The Rose Bowl, Carson, the Los Angeles Coliseum and Anaheim are on the verge of submitting designs. Hope is on the way for Southern California football fans. Those hopes will be discussed at this owners meeting.
4. Keeping the illegal contact rule as is: The Chiefs want to roll back the illegal contact rules that were put into place last season. First, they want illegal contact penalties not to give an offense an automatic first down. Second, they want to make pass interference to be like the college rules, placing the ball 15 yards from the line of scrimmage instead of at the point of infraction. The Chiefs will lobby, but don't expect any change. The Competition Committee and the league love how stricter enforcement of illegal contact after five yards made for more offense and more exciting games.
5. Super Bowls of the future: The owners will pass or reject a proposal to give Super Bowl XLIV to New York City if the city can pass a stadium plan for the West Side of Manhattan. The Chiefs want a Super Bowl if Lamar Hunt can get a new stadium. The Chiefs' proposal is for a Super Bowl between 2012 and 2022. Hunt's idea is for a new retractable roof stadium.
6. Player safety: After a couple years of reflection, the Competition Committee looked back at the blindside hit Warren Sapp made on Packers left tackle Chad Clifton on a return and has determined it was a personal foul. The biggest discussion is how to limit the cut and chop blocks offensive linemen make on defensive linemen inside the offensive tackle box at the line of scrimmage. The committee won't eliminate those types of blocks, but it has to come up with the right language to help with player safety. The idea is to make sure the victim of the hit has a chance to see that he is about to have his legs taken out. Finding the right language to protect the blocker is the toughest part and may require another meeting to get it done. The league is also looking at a way to limit those horse-collar tackles in which a runner is grabbed around the neck or on the back of the shoulder pads.
7. Injuries: Though nothing may be decided, the committee is trying to determine whether injuries are becoming a problem. Injuries were up last season. At midseason, the committee determined that the increase wasn't a problem, but as the season went on, it became a concern. Is it a trend or just a one-year spike? There will be discussions at this meeting to get an idea how to answer that question.
8. The future of the Vikings: Don't expect anything on Reggie Fowler's bid to buy the Vikings. Though the numbers look decent now, Fowler will have to wait until May or later to get approval. Fowler isn't on the agenda and isn't required to be at this meeting.
9. Super Bowl ticket distribution: Nothing is expected to happen on the investigation of claims Vikings coach Mike Tice scalped Super Bowl tickets. Though it will be a topic brought up by reporters at the meeting, there is nothing on the agenda to have discussions about Super Bowl tickets and those who might sell them for profit. The league's investigation of Tice, who will be at the meeting, is on-going, but Tice is expected to keep his job. The league has to determine if there is going to be a fine against Tice if he's found guilty. But nothing will happen at this meeting.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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