Commentary

Player safety high on owners' agenda

Originally Published: March 19, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

With labor storm clouds swirling, the NFL will hold its annual owners meetings Sunday through Wednesday in Orlando, Fla. As always, when owners meet, plenty of news can happen. Keep an eye on these topics:

1. Change in overtime rule? The headline discussion will be the possibility of changing the overtime rule in the playoffs. The competition committee recommends owners vote for a rule that would allow a team that loses the coin toss to get a possession if the coin toss-winning team scores a field goal on the opening drive of overtime. The game, however, would end if the coin toss-winning team scores a touchdown. Under the proposal, if the score is tied after two field goal possessions, the game goes into sudden death until its conclusion.

Because many traditionalist owners are resistant to change, this proposal might not pass. In recent years, the most support for any form of two possessions in overtime was 18 votes. In the NFL, 24 votes are needed to pass a change.

The competition committee argues that since kickoffs were moved from the 35- to the 30-yard line, place-kickers have gotten stronger and more accurate. For the sixth consecutive year, field goal kickers made at least 80 percent of their attempts. In 1993, the average drive started at the 24-yard line. Since 1994, the average drive has started at the 29, leaving good quarterbacks perhaps three or four first downs from setting up a winning field goal. Those factors have allowed teams that won the coin toss to win in overtime 59.8 percent of the time compared with 46.8 percent from 1974 to 1993. Even worse, the team that won the coin toss won the game on an opening-drive field goal 26.2 percent of the time since 1994 compared with 17.9 percent from 1974 to 1993. (For further discussion of this topic, check out my debate with NFC West blogger Mike Sando.)

2. Labor news: Commissioner Roger Goodell will update owners on the bogged-down labor talks with the NFL Players Association. Neither side is close to an extension, and the possibility of a lockout exists for the 2011 season. For the first time in almost two decades, the NFL -- an $8 billion business -- is operating without a salary cap. But payrolls aren't rising because players with less than six years of experience don't qualify for unrestricted free agency. Expect Goodell to make a big show that the 32 owners, who want major concessions from the union, are unified.

3. Player safety: Safety for players remains a major focus. One proposed rule change further protects receivers who are defenseless after making a reception. The change would give a 15-yard unnecessary roughing penalty to a defender who launches himself at a receiver who hasn't been given time to protect his body after making a catch. Another proposal would mirror the college rule that calls for a dead-ball whistle if a runner loses his helmet during a play. A minor rule change that should pass would expand the opportunity for players to have different numbers in 3-4 defenses because of the confusion of having players who play both linebacker (a number usually in the 50s) and defensive end (a number often in the 90s). Also, inside the last minute of a game or half, the committee has proposed having a 10-second runoff if a replay call is reversed on a play in which there should have been a running clock.

4. Market for players: Plenty of activity will take place in and around the Ritz-Carlton hotel, the meeting site. Player agents will be nearby and prepared to meet with general managers to discuss contracts. Despite the lack of quality free agents, the free-agent market has been busy. Through Friday at 2 p.m ET, 80 free agents signed with new teams or re-signed with their own teams, the most in the past five years. The trade market also has been active, with 12 trades since March 5.

Potential draft-day deals also will be discussed. The Browns will talk with teams in the top three to see if they can move up from the No. 7 pick to draft Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen. The Broncos will check to see if they can get teams besides the Seahawks interested in trading for Brandon Marshall.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer