Goodell determined to clean up game
While the player conduct policy should headline the league meetings, the free-agent market won't be entirely relegated to back-burner status.
PHOENIX -- Ever since the NFL implemented free agency a decade and a half ago, league observers have been waiting for the annual spring owners' meeting to flourish into the kind of flesh market that Major League Baseball's yearly get-together has become.
You know, agents and general managers huddled in corners, making the kind of small talk that inevitably turns into big deals. Trades and signings at a dizzying pace. Players switching teams and the balance of power ebbing and flowing in a marketplace where all of the power brokers are brought together under one roof and in a combustible environment.
Well, for the NFL, it hasn't happened yet. And when owners convene here for the start of their annual meeting Monday morning, it's not apt to occur this year, either. Most of the meaningful deals in free agency, after all, have already been struck.
Still, given the number of high-profile quarterbacks available via trade or free agency, some of the agents for those players have said they plan to come here now in an effort to make deals for their clients. This place is, essentially, the center of the NFL's universe for the next few days, and while the official order of business is heavy on the off-field prerogatives, agents and players might find an opportunity to push their own agendas.
"Where else," the representative for one free-agent quarterback said as he booked travel to come here, "can I do this kind of one-stop shopping? Every general manager or head coach of any team that might be interested in my [client] is going to be in one place. I've got a captive audience. So I might as well go to Phoenix and try to do a little business."
And so, in a climate where owners and league officials are poised to deliberate matters of big business -- with elements such as improved revenue sharing, an alteration of the overtime rules and a more stringent player conduct policy that commissioner Roger Goodell figured to unveil Tuesday -- there might actually be the potential here for some football deals to be completed. Or, at least, for the laying of groundwork that might eventually lead to some more movement and perhaps a further shake-up of quarterback depth charts around the league.
In most springs, teams take a weeklong hiatus from personnel matters to concentrate on the league meetings, and that likely will be the case this year as well. But that doesn't mean that a trade or free-agent signing won't take place between scheduled meeting sessions. Or that a general manager won't consider a player move as he's mulling his choice of irons on one of the meticulously groomed golf courses in the area.
Let's face it, roster-building never really takes a vacation.
That said, while the fortunes of some franchises in 2007 might be determined by a move or two consummated here in the desert, the annual league meetings figure to be defined by the much tougher player conduct policy Goodell plans to enact.
After less than a year on the job, Goodell has made the pursuit of a policy with more teeth his biggest priority. And now, armed with the support of the NFL Players Association and also prodded by individual players disturbed by the indiscretions of some of their peers, Goodell is ready to get tougher. The new policy, tentatively scheduled to be released Tuesday, is all but certain to be the biggest headline item of these meetings.
"It's clearly an area about which [Goodell] has a strong conviction, and he wants to put his imprint on it," said St. Louis Rams president John Shaw.
Some of the other significant items on the agenda for the week:
• Owners will attempt to agree on the so-called "qualifiers" that are a key to the expanded revenue-sharing plan that was adopted as part of the extension to the collective bargaining agreement. There remains an ever-widening disparity in the local revenues of big- and small-market franchises that needs to be addressed. It's been a year since the CBA extension and there is still no accord on the revenue-sharing element of it.
• Concerned by the number of overtime games won by the team that won the coin toss, the powerful competition committee has proposed moving the kickoff in the extra period from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. The rationale is that the 5-yard swing not only will make it more difficult for the receiving team to score on its first overtime possession, but will impact field position in general. Since the 1998 season, 62 percent of the overtime games were won by the team that won the coin toss.
• The competition committee also will propose that instant replay be made a permanent part of the playing rules. The replay provision has been reapproved several times, but the current one lapses after the 2008 campaign, and the committee feels it is time to end the temporary element to it and enact it permanently. As part of the proposal, the league would update all its replay equipment and move to high-definition technology.
• It appears the league will alter the manner in which teams report injuries during the week. The standard designations with which everyone has become familiar -- "out," "questionable" or "doubtful" -- would be used only on Friday, not beginning on Wednesday each week. Until Friday, teams would identify if a player practiced during the week and to what extent.
• Owners will consider a proposal that would allow one defensive player designated by the team to have a radio communication device inside his helmet. The device would permit the defensive coordinator to communicate with a key player in his huddle in much the same manner coaches now communicate with the quarterback.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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