MAKING THE NFL BETTER
Peter King polls 25 “smart people” around the NFL and solicits ideas to improve the league. Here they are, somewhat edited down:
Ron Wolf: Cut Down On Flags
Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager
I spent 38 active years in professional football. I came in not knowing anything at all about pass interference, and guess what? After those 38 years, I left without knowing what pass interference is. I think that the officials have responsibility in too many areas nowadays. The rule that drives me batty is “players in a defenseless posture.” The thing I fail to understand is throughout the ages when hasn’t a receiver been in a defenseless position? Interestingly, football has always been a game of blocking, tackling and kicking. It is supposed to be a spartan game and necessary roughness was a huge part of its attraction and still is. It’s my firm belief that the game should go back to the coaches and players to determine the outcome of a contest. There are way too many flags flying in today’s game. It takes away from the spectacular aspect of the sport. People love the toughness, the dedication, the overall athletic skill of the performers on the field, and they should be the ones that determine the final outcome of any contest—not the officials.
Rick Gosselin: Help Defenses By Extending The Bump Zone
Covered NFL in Kansas City and Dallas for 47 years, Pro Football Hall of Fame voter
The NFL has stacked the rules against the defense for years and it’s no longer a fair fight. It’s time to level the playing field. I’d extend the NFL bump rule from five yards to 10. Make the receivers work a little harder for space in their routes and also their catches. The 10-yard cushion would also give NFL defenders a physical counter to all the “rub” routes that have become staples in NFL offenses. The NCAA doesn’t have a five-yard rule. Neither do high schools. At those two levels, defenders are allowed to contact receivers until the ball is in the air. The NFL needs to follow suit.
Dean Blandino: Make Every Play Replay-Reviewable
FOX officiating analyst, former NFL vice president of officiating
• I have come full circle on this since I worked in the league, but I now think coaches should be able to challenge anything they want. Don’t increase the number of challenges. Put the onus on the coach to save his challenges. This would simplify the rule because you wouldn’t have to wonder what’s reviewable and what isn’t. Now that the leaguer has added pass-interference to reviewable calls, we’re going to see the creep begin. Next year, they’ll add something else. By not opening it up to all things being reviewable, all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.
• The league needs to put real resources behind officiating. Nothing the league does impacts the game more than officiating, and I believe it’s probably the area least valued by the league. I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes, because the NFL treated me great. But officiating in the NFL is treated almost as a necessary evil. You see on-field officials, good ones, moving to network jobs before the end of their careers. The NFL needs to be competitive and compensate the officials better, and also give them better resources in training.
Brandon Carr: Take Away Some Protection of the Quarterbacks
11-year veteran cornerback, Baltimore Ravens
I was playing for Kansas City in 2008, in the game when Bernard Pollard blitzed and injured Tom Brady. [Brady tore his left MCL and ACL in the first game of 2008 when Pollard hit him around the knee. The NFL created a rule to outlaw hits by defensive players to the knee or lower leg of a quarterback in the pocket in 2009.] I appreciate the Competition Committee trying to make the game as safe as possible for the players. I love the fact that the last CBA outlawed two-a-day practices in training camp—that’s going to allow me to extend my career. But the rules protecting the quarterbacks are pretty tough for defensive backs. Think about it: a 185-pound nickel back blitzes and can’t hit the quarterback low because of the Brady rule, and he has to be careful about hitting him high to avoid hitting him in helmet. Think of that 185-pound DB trying to bring down Ben Roethlisberger, or 245-pound Cam Newton. He’ll hit him around the waist and might just bounce off. This game’s hard enough for the DBs. I think a DB should be able to tackle a quarterback [in the pocket] by the legs.
Scott Hanson: Make the Onside Kick a Real Play Again I
Host, NFL RedZone channel
Let’s morph the onside kick into a fourth-and-15 offensive play. After a field goal or touchdown, the scoring team—if trailing in the fourth quarter—can elect to forgo a kickoff and run a fourth-and-15 offensive play from its own 35 to try and retain possession. Due to the (appropriate, in my opinion) “no running start on kickoffs” rule implemented in 2018, successful onside kick attempts have become overly difficult. Last year, there were only four successful onside kicks in 52 attempts (7.7 percent). In the nine seasons prior, 16.3% of onside kicks were successful.
As for fourth-and-15, teams going for it on fourth-and-15 (exactly) had a 21.7% success rate over the past five years. While I realize the yardage might need to be tweaked (maybe 20 yards instead of 15) based on statistical analysis, I think it’s worth trying to inject more drama and hope into the late moments of NFL games. Or, as we call it on NFL RedZone, “The Witching Hour.”
Hat-tip and thank you to Greg Schiano, who, to my knowledge, was the first to go public with the concept years ago. Great idea.
Booger McFarland: Make the Onside Kick a Real Play Again II
ESPN Monday Night Football analyst
What I would do is allow a trailing team to try to get into the end zone on one play from the 10-yard line, only in the fourth quarter. If they are successful, they retain possession on their own 30-yard line. If they fail, the opposing team takes over at the 50-yard line. Onside kicks would still be allowed, if teams choose, but I think you would find a success rate somewhere around 20 to 25 percent trying to convert from the 10-yard line, which is where I think the NFL wants that play to land—as opposed to the less than 10 percent that we’re at now with onside kicks.
Pete Carroll: Kill Instant Replay
Head coach, Seattle Seahawks
Get rid of—or at least decrease the use of—instant replay. I get all the reasons why we have instant replay, and technology has opened up a new world for us to get to this point. But I miss the human element of trusting the officials to make the calls in the moment and then the rest of us having to live with what they called. It was both fun and frustrating, but I really liked the game better when the officials were just as much a part of the game as the players.
Mark Leibovich: Put Bad Ownership Up For a Public Vote
Chief national correspondent, New York Times Magazine. Author, “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times”
If I could change one rule in the NFL—and I realize this would never happen in the real world but what the hell—I would put in a rule that owners need to stand for re-election every five years. Anyone who lived in the jurisdiction where the team plays, or who purchased a ticket to a home game in the last calendar year, would be eligible to vote, either “approve” or “disapprove,” on the owners’ performance. If an owner receives less than 35-percent approval, he or she would be forced to sell the franchise within 90 days, and that new owner would be forbidden from moving the team.
See you on Election Day, Mr. Snyder.
Hunter Henry: Ensure That Each Team Gets a Possession in Overtime
Tight end, Los Angeles Chargers
I think both teams should have a chance to touch the ball in overtime, especially in the playoffs. The league should allow both sides of the ball to have a chance to be successful.
Lindsay Jones: Be More Progressive About Players Using Marijuana
National NFL writer, The Athletic
It’s beyond time for the NFL to completely overhaul its drug policy, especially with the way it punishes players for using marijuana, so that’s where I would start. (I swear I am not writing this just because I live in Colorado, home to the most progressive marijuana laws in the country.) The league’s drug policy, collectively bargained with the NFLPA, is growing increasingly out of date with norms across the country, and the fact that many players live in states where possession and use of marijuana is legal for adults but still considered a major offense by the league is problematic.
Chris Nowinski: Eliminate Tackle Football Until High School
Co-founder and CEO, Concussion Legacy Foundation
Football is in a precarious position. The more successful a player is, and the longer he plays, the more likely he is to develop CTE. It’s called a dose-response relationship: The more years of tackle football you play (the dose), the higher your risk of CTE (the response). The NFL can reduce CTE risk for players by lowering the dose, but changing the NFL game further wouldn’t be expected to make a big difference. The biggest gains would be made by changing the way children play the game.
Richard Deitsch: Give Fans a Beckham Cam
Staff writer (and media columnist), The Athletic. Radio host, Sportsnet 590 in Toronto
Kill all kickoffs. This would be one of my immediate mandates if given the power to improve the NFL. But I have been asked by my former SI colleague and editor of The MMQB to focus on a media-centric angle regarding improving the game—or in this case, the viewing of the game. The NFL, now, as a television product is very good (Red Zone, high-speed cameras, Tony Romo) and technology will take us to even better places. I personally love the idea of watching the game from a specific positional perspective. Imagine having a Beckham Cam, where viewers at home can experience what it is like from Odell Beckham Jr’s perspective for an entire game, including the vantage point the receiver watches the game from the sideline. The wearable camera technology already exists and you’d also be able to add all the advanced data such as how far Beckham ran during a game, how much energy he expended.
But if you want an outside-the-box idea, and one that would open up a whole new broadcasting genre, well, here you go: I’d love to see a second-screen option for NFL games. Each team designates one practice-squad player (or someone not playing that day) to sit on the bench during the game and offer real-time commentary regarding what viewers are seeing. It would be an incredible education into the game (along with great reps for those who want a post-playing career in broadcasting), the first of its kind in major sports. (As a second-screen option, you could also always go back to the main broadcast if you wanted.)
Sam Farmer: Adios, Chain Gangs
NFL writer, Los Angeles Times
Do away with chain gangs. Use a laser to mark off 10 yards. I know there are far more important issues—concussions and off-the-field behavior among them—but this imprecise, anachronistic system of measuring first downs is silly. You’re only as precise as your most imprecise measurement, so the fact that officials guesstimate on first, second and third down, then suddenly get ultra-precise on fourth down is just wrong.
Eric Winston: Seed the Playoffs By Record, Not Division Title
President, NFL Players Association, and former NFL tackle
Ever since you were a small kid and you played games and they kept score, the team with the best record at the end of the season, before the playoffs, got the advantage in the playoffs. Then I get to the NFL, and it’s not that way at all. You get a massive advantage by being one of the top four seeds in each conference. You get at least one home game.
(Examples: In 2011, Pittsburgh was 12-4 and finished second in the AFC North. The Steelers, seeded fifth, had to play a wild-card game at 8-8 Denver … In 2013, the Niners were 12-4 and finished second in the NFC West. Seeded fifth, San Francisco had to play on the road at fourth-seeded Green Bay, 8-7-1.)
I say you can’t control how good the other teams in your division are. Let’s say the division winner is 13-3, and you’re 12-4. This league is supposed to be about excellence, being the best. The best should get the spoils at the end of the day. And a 12-4 team being seeded below teams that might be 9-7 or whatever … it’s just not right. It’s a matter of fairness, which is what the NFL should be about. We have a landscape where it’s not fair right now, and it should be fixed.
Amy Trask: Increase Roster Size
Former CEO, Oakland Raiders. Current CBS NFL analyst
I would increase roster size by a significant number. League economics support an increase and concerns about player health and safety should dictate it. As for league economics: To counter an argument that more players per team means less money per player, increase the salary cap by an amount roughly equal to the cost of additional players at the bottom of the roster. For example, if you increase the roster by a dozen, take an average of the various minimums and multiply that by a dozen and add that to the cap. That’s a marginal amount relative to club revenues. (Trust me on that.) I would also strongly consider doing away with “inactives.” If you’re on the roster, you’re active.
Calais Campbell: Make Every Healthy Player Active on Game Day
Defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars
One rule change I’d like to propose is eliminating inactives on game day. If teams can dress and play all 53 guys on Sundays, it would help decrease injuries incurred during competition because it would allow more rest and substitutions. If players are aware that there are more guys on the team that can substitute in for a play or two, guys will be less inclined to remain in the game with an injury that could worsen with more time on the field. Overall, more players on the active roster would lead to better health for all players.
Sal Paolantonio: Send Replay Review Into Our Living Rooms
National correspondent, ESPN
I think the NFL should televise the instant replay review. That’s right: Make it part of the network broadcast. The payoff would be immediate and lucrative. One, it would turn an annoying stoppage of play into must-see TV. The audience would see and hear the on-field referee, the instant replay ref in the booth and league officiating guru Al Riveron in New York, dissecting the play. Ratings go up. Two, sponsor this segment. Cha-ching! That’ll get the networks’ attention. Three, a televised review would be the holy-grail of prop bets. The league’s new casino partners would love that action.
Les Snead: Reinvent the Preseason
General manager, Los Angeles Rams
My long-term thought is to reduce the preseason from four to two games, one home and one away. But don’t waste the rest of August. I would add a scrimmage with another team at a neutral site that loves football—and slot that scrimmage the same week that now would be used for the first full preseason weekend, the week after the Hall of Fame Game. We could take the NFL on the road to towns in America that support the NFL on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays by watching us. Play those scrimmages in great high school stadiums, college stadiums or minor-league baseball stadiums. It’s a chance to give back and invest in our dedicated fans who support us even though they might be in a place that’s not close to an NFL franchise city. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Carson Wentz and the Eagles scrimmage the Vikings somewhere in North Dakota? Or the Seahawks and Texans scrimmaging in Madison, Wis., where Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt played? Good work for the teams, and very beneficial for the fans. And wouldn’t Carson Wentz always remember the time his professional team played in the state he grew up?
Rich Eisen: Give the Ball Back to the Offense on Fumbles Through the End Zone
Anchor, NFL Network, and host of “The Rich Eisen Show”
If I could wave a wand for NFL change, I’d get rid of the antiquated rule that makes a fumble into and through the end zone a touchback and a change of possession. I know the end zone is hallowed ground, but why should a ball fumbled out of bounds at the one-inch line remain with the offense while a fumble that occurs two inches further down the field, one inch into and through the end zone, goes to the defense? Under the current rule, the defense that likely performed poorly on the drive gets bailed out by a lucky bounce of the ball. I say: Any fumble into and through the endzone should be a reverse touchback.
Terez Paylor: The NFL Must Loosen Its Vise-Grip on Highlights
Senior NFL writer, Yahoo Sports
There is no shortage of things that can be done to improve the NFL, but I’ll use this space to advocate for one underrated thing that I believe could help everyone, from reporters to fans to the NFL itself: loosening up the league’s restrictions on the utilization of highlights and GIFs. I wrote about this here, but the NBA promotes its players and teams by letting news outlets break down X’s and O’s using league footage—unlike the NFL, which aggressively targets organizations that are not rights holders. You can’t even embed the NFL’s videos from its YouTube channel on web sites because the league won’t get a direct click. Allowing more news groups to use the footage to create smarter fans will only improve fans’ understanding of what teams are doing on the field, and help keep the focus on how amazing these athletes are and how special the game of professional football really is.
Neil Hornsby: Shorten the Game
Founder, Pro Football Focus
I would propose that the clock run on incomplete passes till the last four minutes of each half. Then the clock would stop on incompletions. I love the NFL, obviously, but the games are too long, and there are many dead periods in games. There is no reason a football game cannot be played in two hours and 35 minutes, or 2:40. The NCAA is far worse; it’s ridiculous to stop the game on every first down. Who wants a four-hour football game? One of the things I loved about watching the Alliance of American Football games this year was the speed of the game. It just makes the game more enjoyable when you’re not sitting around, sitting around, sitting around waiting for the next play.
Harry Carson: Bring Pre-1993 Retirees’ Pensions In Line With Other Sports …
Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker. Executive director, Fritz Pollard Alliance
As a 13-year veteran of the game and now a retiree myself, I understand first-hand the price many players paid to help build the National Football League into what it is today. The price paid for almost all were physical injuries (knees, hips, etc.) while many others suffered neurological impairment. The NFL should respond to the voices of older (pre-1993) former players and their spouses by bringing pensions and benefits in line with professional basketball and baseball.
Joe Horrigan: … And Do The Same For Pre-1993 Player Benefits
Executive director, Pro Football Hall of Fame (retiring June 1)
It seems almost trivial to say, but the most important element of pro football’s success has always been its players, men who spend countless hours training and preparing for the greatest and most physically demanding sport played. While the financial rewards for today’s players are more reflective of the game’s success than ever, it’s important to remember that the average pro football career is relatively short, yet long-term post-career physical ailments might last a lifetime. The NFL should be applauded for its continuing efforts to address and improve health, safety and quality of life issues for its players. But, if I could do one thing to improve the game off the field it would be to provide former players, particularly those from the pre-1993 era, the same post-career health benefits as their present-day brethren.
Bart Scott: Liberalize Rules to Bring Back the Excitement of the Kickoff
Former NFL linebacker. Current sports-talk host, WFAN in New York
Bring back the old kickoff rules. In fact, move the kickoff back to the 20-yard-line to encourage kick returns. It’s the most exciting play in the game.
Mike Florio: Adopt the XFL’s OT Rule
Founder, Pro Football Talk
The NFL’s overtime problem never will fully be resolved by tweaking the current rule to guarantee a possession for both teams because the possibility remains that someone will parlay the first sudden-death possession into a walk-off field goal. So why not implement a truly fair solution? The XFL, inspired by soccer and hockey using penalty kicks and shots to break ties, will try a two-point conversion shootout, with both offenses and both defenses on the field at the same time, alternating attempts to score from either end of the field. It’s a simple solution that will resonate with younger fans, reduce (ideally) the number of snaps taken to resolve a game, and most importantly change overtime into something that is truly equitable. The chances to score will be the same. And the outcome will be determined by far more players than, as in soccer and hockey, goalie vs. rotation of players trying to beat the goalie. An added benefit would emerge from this approach. With teams spending more time practicing two-point offense, maybe more teams would attempt two-point conversions during regulation. Which actually could promote fewer tie scores at the end of the fourth quarter.