The Daily Briefing Thursday, September 21, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Sports Illustrated is reporting that the NFL is turning to Plan B for its Super Bowl 52 halftime show after being spurned by first choice – Jay-Z.
– – –
The NFL’s now-annual game in Mexico City may have been imperiled by the recent earthquake. According to the Washington Post, the stadium is in good shape:
The NFL said Wednesday it is assessing whether its November game in Mexico City can be played as scheduled following Tuesday’s destructive earthquake there.
The New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders are scheduled to play Nov. 19 at Estadio Azteca.
Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president overseeing international play, said in a conference call with reporters that a more complete assessment of damage to the stadium would be taken Wednesday but initial indications were that there was no major damage.
“The initial information from that review is the stadium is remarkably in good shape, and that’s a testament to the construction and the safety devices that were put in place when that stadium was built 50 years ago,” Waller said, noting that the stadium was built with gaps that allow the structure to move in an earthquake.
– – –
Not to worry fans of Roger Goodell. Jerry Jones couldn’t stop him from getting his $$$$ and will be providing NFL Justice for years to come. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:
The issues NFL ownership have had regarding commissioner Roger Goodell’s extension have been resolved and the deal is “getting papered right now,” a source familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.
It could take days or maybe weeks to finalize, but the contract is “getting done,” according to the source.
The source confirmed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had raised issues about the deal and wanted to open up the search during the process. ESPN previously reported that Jones had argued persistently for months to the committee that other owners believe Goodell makes “way too much money” and demand a pay-cut and a radical change in the formula that compensates the commissioner, as well as other employees of the league office.
“That’s what he tried to do,” the source said, “but he got shot down.”
A conference call on Wednesday of the compensation committee helped seal the deal. The committee consists of six owners: chairman Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons); Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs); Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); John Mara (New York Giants); Bob McNair (Houston Texans); and Art Rooney II (Pittsburgh Steelers). The Cowboys’ Jones had become an unofficial seventh member of the committee and was on the conference call Wednesday, sources say.
“It’s done from ownership perspective,” the source said, adding that the committee “wouldn’t approve something that Roger wouldn’t agree to.”
Goodell’s current deal as commissioner expires in 2019. He received $34.1 million in compensation during the 2014 calendar year and $32 million in 2015. That included base salary and bonuses, as well as pension and other deferred payments.
The 2015 filing was the last the league had to disclose, because it has relinquished its tax-exempt status. In the 10 years in which his commissioner salary was disclosed, Goodell averaged more than $21 million per year and made a total of $212.5 million. He became NFL commissioner in 2006.
At a time of shaky TV ratings, a group of NFL players are demanding that the NFL corporately support their brand of “social activism.” Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com:
Current and former NFL players campaigning for racial equality and criminal justice reform wrote a lengthy memo to league commissioner Roger Goodell officially seeking overt league support in their effort, including an endorsement for an activism awareness month, Yahoo Sports has learned.
The 10-page memo, obtained by Yahoo Sports, was sent to Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent in August, requesting wide-ranging involvement in their movement from the NFL. The memo seeks an investment of time and education, political involvement, finances and other commitments from the league. It also sought to have the NFL endorse the month of November as an activism awareness month, similar to the periods of league calendar dedicated to breast cancer awareness and military recognition.
It was endorsed by four players: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, former Buffalo Bills wideout Anquan Boldin and Eagles wideout Torrey Smith.
A league spokesperson declined to comment on the memo or Goodell’s communication with specific NFL players. The four players who co-authored the letter either didn’t return requests for comment or declined to speak about it, citing an agreement to keep direct communications with Goodell private.
While Bennett and Jenkins have each taken part in national anthem protests before NFL games, all four players have had strong voices in a growing platform of players speaking out on a variety of social issues. According to two league sources familiar with the letter, the communication came on the heels of Goodell talking directly with several players in August – including some who have protested on game day – in an effort to move player activism into a progressive direction. The source said Bennett, Jenkins, Boldin and Smith replied to that call with their co-authored memo to Goodell, aimed at requesting direct support from the NFL in their efforts.
“To be clear, we are asking for your support,” a portion of the memo reads. “We appreciate your acknowledgement on the call regarding the clear distinction between support and permission. For us, support means: bear all or part of the weight of; hold up; give assistance to, especially financially; enable to function or act. We need support, collaboration and partnerships to achieve our goal of strengthening the community. There are a variety of ways for you to get involved. Similar to the model we have in place for players to get involved, there are three tiers of engagement based on your comfort level. To start, we appreciate your agreement on making this an immediate priority. In your words, from Protest to Progress, we need action.”
The memo was divided into three major parts: an overview of current player activism; a call for specific efforts and resources from the NFL to aid that activism; and a request for a league-wide initiative dedicating the month of November to activism awareness – similar to the league’s support of National Breast Cancer Awareness month. The memo also included a potential timeline for the execution of wider-ranging NFL support, starting in late August 2018 and punctuated by a Sept. 9 “Announcement of Owners/Players Support goinagentg into opening day.” It finished with several pages of an addendum detailing specific aspects of criminal justice reform the players believe are necessary, including police accountability and transparency, bail reform, the criminalization of poverty and other areas.
While it is unknown how Goodell responded, the commissioner and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie recently attended a “listen and learn” tour in Philadelphia on Sept. 12, organized by Jenkins, Boldin, Smith and attended by teammates Chris Long and Rodney McLeod. The focus of the meeting, which was recently posted on the Eagles’ Facebook page, was to talk with Goodell and Lurie about work the players have been doing in the Philadelphia community to revamp criminal justice reform in the city.
So the NFL has now neatly trapped itself between a media-supported smidgen of its players and much of its fan base. Here is a recent (unscientific) poll of what ails the NFL and why some fans are tuning out the NFL in the early going (sponsored by Clay Travis):
Why Are You Watching NFL less?
Cord Cutting/Other Shows 10%
Boring Games 37%
Game I Want Isn’t On 21%
We do note that “Not Enough Social Justice Activism” was not offered as a choice, so maybe it would get 32% also.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com notes the heavy usage of RB TY MONTGOMERY in the first two games:
Packers running back Ty Montgomery has played 139 offensive snaps this season, by far the most of any running back in the NFL. It may be time for that to change.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that the Packers have been cautious about not overworking players in the past, and may ease off on Montgomery’s playing time as well.
Realistically, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t: Montgomery has played 88 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps. That puts him on pace to play a higher percentage of his team’s snaps than any running back in football since Matt Forte played 92 percent of the Bears’ snaps in 2014.
For his part, Montgomery isn’t complaining about all that playing time.
“I feel good,” Montgomery said. “My body feels good. And obviously I’m thankful and blessed to have a role in this offense.”
It may soon be a reduced role.
Will there be a battle of number one overall QBs on Sunday when JAMEIS WINSTON leads the Buccaneers into U.S. Bank? Too early to tell says Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
Will the Minnesota Vikings go another week without Sam Bradford under center?
Coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged Wednesday that his starting quarterback for Sunday’s tilt with the Buccaneers could wind up as a game-time decision, per the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Bradford threw at practice Wednesday and said he is feeling better.
Bradford sat out the Vikings’ Week 2 loss to the Steelers with a sore knee, but Zimmer told reporters the veteran “felt better [Monday], so we’ll just see how he’s doing as we move forward day to day,” per the Tampa Bay Times. Bradford said he’s done a lot of work to get swelling out/controlled, NFL Network’s Tom Peliserro reported.
When asked what he’s evaluating to decide if can play Sunday, Bradford said if he can’t perform in practice, he likely won’t play. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, according to the team’s injury report. “You’ve got to be able to play quarterback,” the quarterback said.
Bradford added: “A lot of it just depends on how my knee responds when we go out there and practice this week.”
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with some thoughts on and from rising star DE CHRIS JONES:
Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones has become one of the most disruptive forces in the NFL. Though he had only two sacks in 2016, he racked up three of them on Sunday against the Eagles.
Those three sacks came against Carson Wentz. Last year, the players Jones sacked were Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. So Jones can drag down mobile quarterbacks; why isn’t he sacking pocket passers?
“Man, that’s what I’m asking myself,” Jones said on PFT Live. “Like what is really going on? I’m asking myself what is going on? I’m sacking the guys that everybody knows they’re hard to bring down. Like Cam Newton and Andrew Luck and Carson Wentz, but I can’t touch a guy like Tom Brady who just sits in the pocket in one spot.”
With Wentz, Jones showed not only an ability to corral the quarterback, but also a knack for tackling the football — a technique that Rodney Harrison always preaches when it comes to chasing down Ben Roethlisberger. It wasn’t an accident or a coincidence.
“I’ve got to give props to my defensive line coach, Britt Reid,” Jones said. “He gave us this drill, a simulation drill, where we’ve got to tackle the guy into a standup bag that has a taped on ball to it. So you’ve got to tackle the guy, secure the tackle, and also get the ball out and the other guy’s got to come and scoop it. We just do that all week to simulate tackling the guy, securing the tackle, and getting the ball out because we knew he was the type of guy. His arm strength is ridiculous.
– – –
“One thing about our coach, Britt Reid, he wants everybody playing at one hundred [percent],” Jones said. “If you feel like you get tired, it’s just like charging yourself up. Charge yourself up so you can go back out there and give another hundred. It’s all about keeping everybody fresh for four quarters so we can give maximum effort throughout the whole game and play relentless.”
It’s working, for Jones and the rest of the defensive line. Which means it’s working for the Chiefs, who are 2-0 and on their way to what should be some great games this year against the likes of the Raiders twice, the Broncos twice, the Cowboys, and the Steelers.
RB ISAIAH CROWELL is as frustrated with his limited workload so far, just like his Fantasy GMs. Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Running back Isaiah Crowell only questions the Browns’ playcalling some of the time. But as for thinking about getting paid?
“During the game, after the game, before the game, right now, all the time,” he said.
Crowell, who’s in his contract year, is also wondering why the Browns aren’t running the ball more. In a 24-10 loss to the Ravens on Sunday, he rushed only 10 times for 37 yards with a long gain of 17. Overall, the Browns ran it 21 times for 93 yards, including nine times in the second half.
“I wouldn’t say upset (with the playcalling), but sometimes I question it,” he said. “Everybody has their own opinions. I have my own opinions. You might have your own opinions. Hue Jackson has his own opinions. I’m just a player. I don’t cross those boundaries. I just control what I can control.”
Browns’ Isaiah Crowell wants the ball to get paid
Crowell said he and Jackson talked about his workload after the game.
“He said he wants to get me the ball and stuff like that,” said Crowell. “But we didn’t really go into depth about it. I just told him I feel like I’m a big-time player and I can make plays for the team, and I just kept it at that.”
Jackson, when asked about Crow wanting the ball more, said, “I’m sure he does. I don’t blame him. We’ll run the football and he’ll be a huge part. We’ve played two games and there are some things we can do better and we will do better. Again, it’s the first time in two games that line has played together, so there’s jelling that’s starting to happen.”
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com advises you continue to play WR MARTAVIUS BRYANT on your Fantasy Football team:
Consider the rust officially knocked off. Bryant spent most of the preseason getting his football legs back, and he was running past defensive backs with no problem in Sunday’s 91-yard performance. On two deep-ball targets, Bryant converted one for a big gain and drew pass interference on the other. The Steelers will look to Bryant downfield if the safeties move up an inch.
Dan Hanzus of NFL.com notes the QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER has now gone 8 straight games without a 300-yard passing performance, his longest such drought since 2008. Of course, the Steelers are 8-0 in those games and they lost the last time he did throw for 300 (actually 408 against Dallas last November 13).
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has high praise for DE J.J. WATT – and why not? Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Patriots coach Bill Belichick coached one of the best defensive players in NFL history, in Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
And when he watches Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, he sees a lot of similarities in their games.
Via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Belichick said most of the comparisons between the only three-time defensive players of the year were intangible, however.
“Motor, effort, strength, quickness, instincts [and] the ability to make game-changing plays at critical times in the game,” Belichick said. “Knowing when the big play – critical third-down or fourth-quarter play or red-area play – knowing those critical plays in the game. As good as Taylor would play all game, that was the time when he would play at his best.”
That doesn’t mean Belichick isn’t awed by Watt’s physical gifts.
“Everything with him is kind of at the top of the chart – powerful, strong, very instinctive. He’s a smart player, he’s got great quickness for his size (and) a lot of people miss him trying to block him. He wins with his quickness in the pass rush, He’s long, hard to throw over, hard to block in the running game because of his length, strength and technique.
“With all that being said, probably the most important, impressive thing is his motor – plays hard every snap. There’s never a play off with him. He makes plays in pursuit, down the field, screen passes, ball thrown to receivers – he’s hustling making plays 15, 20 yards down field. You just don’t see those plays from hardly anybody, but especially guys that are his size and that play as much as he does. He plays everywhere across the board – plays outside, plays inside. He’s effective everywhere. He’s a tough matchup on everybody.”
And Belichick would know about matchup problems, having worked with one of the most difficult ones for 11 years when he was with the Giants as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator.
– – –
Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com says the Texans are getting a tight end back this week.
Griffin should be cleared from the concussion protocol on Wednesday after missing the Week 2 win in Cincinnati. The Texans are without starting tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who is on injured reserve after sustaining a concussion in Week 1, so the targets should go Griffin’s way. Griffin had only one target in Week 1, but that number should go up with Fiedorowicz and possibly tight end Stephen Anderson (concussion protocol) out.
Have you ever heard of TE JACK DOYLE? Mike Wells of ESPN.com says you should learn the name:
Doyle caught all eight passes thrown to him by Jacoby Brissett in Week 2 against Arizona. Doyle will continue to be Brissett’s safety blanket as he continues to learn the offense after being named the starting quarterback just two weeks after being acquired from New England. Doyle has reliable hands, as he has caught 80 percent (69 of 86) of the passes thrown to him over the past two seasons.
Mike Reiss of ESPN.com tries to discern the health of TE ROB GRONKOWSKI:
Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s injured groin could limit his availability, or even take him out of the mix entirely for Sunday’s home game against the Texans. Though Gronkowski said it’s “nothing serious,” and he was present at the start of practice Wednesday, the Patriots probably will be cautious this early in the season because they often operate with the big picture in mind. Dwayne Allen and undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister are next on the depth chart. –
More definitive news for two other Patriots as LB DON’T’A HIGHTOWER and WR DANNY AMENDOLA have returned to practice (although limited on Wednesday).
NEW YORK JETS
Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Jets ownership is maintaining that the current version of the team was designed to win now? Darryl Slater of NJ.com introduces us to acting owner Christopher Johnson:
In his first public comments Wednesday, Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson offered a firm and direct response to the idea that the organization is tanking in 2017.
“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “I want to win every game. Every player in that locker room wants to win. What you’re seeing, I think, are growing pains. These are young guys. There are some older guys on the team. Some of them, they’re doing an extraordinary job. But I think you’re going to see this team get better and better and better. That’s what I’m looking for. And we are definitely not tanking.”
The Jets tore down their roster this offseason, as they attempt to rebuild through the draft, with younger players. They are 0-2 this season, coming off a 45-20 loss at the Raiders. It appears the Jets will struggle all year and have a high draft pick in 2018.
With that pick, they could select one of several well-regarded quarterbacks, like Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, because Christian Hackenberg hasn’t panned out since the Jets drafted him in Round 2 last year. Thus, the notion that the Jets are tanking for a 2018 quarterback pick.
But for what it’s worth, Johnson publicly brushed off that notion. Which is what you’d expect him to say, though he was more direct with his comments than Jets brass typically is. Ultimately, it matters far less than Johnson spoke with conviction than if this rebuild will actually work. Not dodging questions is nice, sure, but fans care more about results than words.
Johnson made it clear Wednesday that he has complete control of the Jets while his older brother, Woody Johnson, serves as the United States’ ambassador to the United Kingdom. That transition took place this offseason, among all the other turnover the Jets experienced.
Christopher is optimistic about Jets fans embracing this rebuilding process. But you can’t blame some folks for walking way, considering the state of the franchise.
“I hope that the fans will buy into our plan,” Christopher said. “I think that they’re going to see this team grow before their eyes. I think that that’s exciting. I can’t say whether [the fans] are going to stay home, but I hope they don’t. I think it’s going to be an exciting season.”
Christopher declined to put a timetable on when he wants to see the Jets be a playoff contender again, but he essentially said he doesn’t want to wait around forever.
“I’m not a patient man,” he said. “I’m like any fan. I’ve been a fan of this team all my life. Yeah, you can look long-term, but I want to see this team progressing every game.”
Christopher’s biggest challenge in this job?
“Earn the trust of the fans,” he said. “To have them know that I care about this team deeply, and I’m going to do everything I can to make it a great team again.”
Christopher said Woody, who bought the Jets in 2000, won’t have any say in football decisions while he is ambassador, but will run the team again once he is finished in London.
Christopher also said he will not evaluate coach Todd Bowles this season simply based on wins and losses, but rather, on steady improvement — something Woody mentioned earlier this offseason, too.
THIS AND THAT
“LAZINESS BRED FROM PROSPERITY”
Spencer Hall of SBNation thinks he knows what ails the NFL:
This is a very boring, simple explanation as to why the NFL’s ratings are declining. It is not an opportunity for you to shoehorn in your feelings about Colin Kaepernick protesting the game. No one really cares about your feelings about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, because if you are the kind of person who gets really offended by Colin Kaepernick’s protest, then your feelings in 2017 are the most boring and predictable thing about you, and telling on you in a deeply unflattering light.
The simpler and also boring systemic problem with the NFL that might actually explain something is its success, and how that success made the ownership class in the NFL fat, lazy, and locked into a business model they have no real reason or incentive to change, even with falling TV ratings.
The absence of real risk of failure is a start. Stakeholders in the NFL cannot lose—at least not under the league’s current structure. Owners split money from the league’s massive TV deals and other media revenue streams. That stream is so dependable, so huge, and so guaranteed that it’s done what large, intractable pools of cash have done since the invention of markets. It has altered and distorted the very thing that created it, and broken the basic exchange between consumer and seller that made the NFL successful in the first place.
It’s a form of laziness, and a special kind different from the standard laziness in the NFL. Laziness bred from prosperity isn’t a new problem for NFL ownership and management. For every old-school Rooney or Mara or Hunt family intent on making at least an honest show of competing, producing a good product, and paying at least paltry attention to the demands of the consumer, there has been a Culverhouse or a Smith, owners who ran their franchises with the least possible effort and expenditure. The slumlords of the NFL took their rent, often without providing anything close to a finished building.
Note: This may be literally true of the 1970s and 1980s Buccaneers, whose stadium sort of looked like concrete that never set exactly right, so they just went with it and said, “yeah, it’s supposed to be shaped like a melted frisbee.” What you call a mistake, the 1970s called architecture.
That approach towards maximizing your dollar with the bare minimum of effort became more sophisticated over time. As the league’s revenues boomed, they became something less like points of civic pride run as passion projects by the locally wealthy, and something more like attractive investment properties with a promising rate of return for billionaires — particularly those billionaires who entered the NFL as strangers to the league, but as intimate familiars of a corporate culture dependent on squeezing every profitable dollar, and trimming every wasteful one from the budget.
For instance: The legend of Dan Snyder tells a story of someone who was “passionate” about the Washington franchise on a personal level. It sometimes leaves out his ruthless economizing of the franchise, a focus on the bottom line interrupted periodically by splashing free agent signings to keep fans semi-interested in the team. That he keeps them in the worst stadium in the league, charges for everything short of oxygen, and rolls out a consistently mediocre product doesn’t matter: His great gift as an NFL owner, after nearly 20 years, has turned out to be a deep understanding of knowing exactly how little actual quality he could slip into the product without breaking the customer’s dependence completely.*
That level of sophisticated coasting in the name of profitability became a laudable thing for owners. Jerry Jones, in particular, emphasized profitability and value for the league, leaning hard on new television contracts, stadium deals, corporate tie-ins, and whatever else he could grab in order to boost the value of the Cowboys to its limit. The momentum for moving the Raiders — one of the league’s oldest recognizable brands, with one of its most insanely loyal fanbases — from Oakland to Las Vegas came largely from Jones, and mostly for the holy grail of profitability. Jones is the crowning example of the NFL’s gargantuan gains in the financial weight room: Since buying the Cowboys for $140 million in 1989, Jones has grown the value of the franchise to $4.2 billion. The team makes a publicly declared $227 million a year.
The NFL was able to do this because, at a certain point, wealth outstrips the power of the assets that created it. In 2017, the league split over $7.8 billion between teams. The money and the success the league enjoyed became so huge that they attained their own gravity, and became separate from the main product that built the league in the first place: professional football.
That separation of the product from the wealth it creates should be familiar to any American consumer. A large company takes control of an entire economy, becomes so large it cannot fail, and thus has no real incentive to do anything but seek rent on that endless, belching pipeline of cash. The product produced generally does not improve, and often without the pressure of competition doesn’t have to improve at all. It might even get worse, or at least watch things like customer service and satisfaction take nosedives.
It’s not exactly a monopoly, but it’s also not-not exactly a monopoly, either.
The value in that kind of behavior doesn’t come from the product. That flatlined in terms of utility a long, long time ago. (The Patriots remain unusual for not only trying, but trying intelligently to produce a good product.) An NFL owner no longer needs that to continue to boost the value of the franchise using anything that happens on the field. Value comes from getting a new stadium someone else paid for, moving the franchise to a more valuable piece of real estate and doubling the value of the franchise overnight. Value comes from leveraging and re-leveraging your existing assets, not by creating anything new.
If you see an NFL franchise as just another asset to be maximized and squeezed for every dime, being good at football — i.e. producing a good product — doesn’t matter. It’s not even rational to put effort towards anything but “value creation,” i.e. shuffling around pieces of the franchise until they sit in the most profitable positions. The Rams doubled their value overnight by leaving St. Louis and moving to L.A. They are a miserable football team run by a despised owner playing in an empty stadium, but the Rams could care less. The fourth most valuable team in the NFL sucks by design, and shines bright enough on the balance sheet to eliminate any real concerns about how bad the product is on the field.
The Rams, the 49ers, and the Washington team are all in the top 10 most valuable NFL franchises. There are other reasons for that besides their efficient disinterest in making a good on-field product — the real estate and cost of doing business in expensive places like L.A., the Bay Area, and D.C. being a huge one — but the lesson for anyone acquiring an NFL team as an asset is pretty clear. Strip the place to the frame, gorge on TV money, and only do the bare minimum to keep people interested.
That distancing of the product — and its overall quality as an experience — from revenue makes for a dysfunctional exchange between the consumer and the producer.
What does that mean, exactly? It means that because the Rams don’t have to worry about quality, they can slog into the Coliseum, wait for a new stadium to be built, and bill themselves as a content company while playing in front of hundreds of bored fans. It means that being good, for a lot of teams, is an accident, or a periodic spasm to regain fan interest spaced between long troughs of minimal effort.
This explains why the NFL now functions less like an open market business, and more like a cartel. (Not a cartel exactly, economics pedants, but cartel-ish.)
A cartel really doesn’t care what you want. It knows what you need, and has it. All behaviors from that point forward only protect the cartel and its control of supply and delivery. There will be no innovation, no new ideas not in service of that maintenance of revenue streams, and no serious competition between cartel members. In fact, they’ll all cut the quality of the product wherever possible to take home the most possible cash.
The NFL isn’t alone in this in sports, and not even in football, either. The disease of guaranteed revenue has bitten college football, too. Texas, the most profitable athletic program in the nation, is a prime example of the strange incentives huge profits can create within a sports franchise. The more money the program makes, the less consistent or important the quality of the product has been to the priorities of those at the top running the cash machine.
But as the most popular sport in America — and one that pools profits — it is the most visible, and most visibly prone to this leveling by the demands of the spreadsheet. Even a distancing by slight degrees, like turning your basic exchange from one of fans opting into an experience into one of a television product given to captive subscribers, is enough to change how ownership behaves.
There is a structural reason live audiences aren’t even necessary anymore: Ticket sales make up such a shrinking percentage of team revenue that the Rams and 49ers might as well play on sound stages, if you think they don’t already. The distance between the sport and the mammoth business it built will only grow, and in that space will be those who loved the NFL, but now watch the condensed version of the NFL on RedZone, and those who make it begrudgingly while looking to the next successful investment opportunity.
RIP Bernie Casey – a multi-faceted player both on and off the field. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Bernie Casey, one of the NFL’s fastest receivers in the 1960s and an actor and artist who gained fame in the 1970s and 1980s, has died at the age of 78.
Born in the small town of Wyco, West Virginia, Casey became a college football and track star at Bowling Green. In 1959 he was a key player on the 9-0 Bowling Green team that was voted the small college national champion. One of Casey’s college teammates was Jack Harbaugh, who later became a coach and is the father of Jim and John Harbaugh.
Casey was an outstanding all-around athlete who finished sixth in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1960 U.S. Olympic trials, and at 6-foot-4 he was a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. Loving that talent, the 49ers selected Casey with the ninth overall pick in the 1961 NFL draft.
A man who understood that players could control their careers long before the players won the right to free agency, Casey was traded from the 49ers to the Falcons in 1967, but he refused to go to Atlanta. Casey knew he wanted to explore acting, and so he told the Falcons they’d have to trade him again, this time to the Los Angeles Rams. The Falcons, knowing Casey wouldn’t budge, obliged.
In an eight-year NFL career, Casey finished in the Top 10 in receiving four times. His best season came in 1967 with the Rams, when he was chosen to the Pro Bowl and scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of a key late-season win over the Packers, helping the Rams earn a playoff berth.
When Casey announced his retirement in 1969 at the age of 29, he said he had other things he wanted to do with his life. He had already written and starred in one-man plays, and he intended to paint and have a book of poetry published as well. In 1977, when a New York Times interviewer asked if he had any thoughts on football, Casey answered, “Actually, I’m working on a volume of love poetry now.”
Casey’s first movie role came in Guns of the Magnificent Seven, a sequel to the classic The Magnificent Seven. He suited up as a football player one more time to appear in Brian’s Song, and he later had roles in the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, and in 1980s comedies like Revenge of the Nerds and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In Bill & Ted, Casey played a teacher who asked Ted (Keanu Reeves) who Joan of Arc was, eliciting the response, “Noah’s wife?”
In comedic or dramatic roles, as a painter or a poet, as a wide receiver or a hurdler, Bernie Casey was one of a kind.
Mike Florio is not happy with the traditional doubleheader offerings from CBS and wants the NFL to steal from the FOX inventory.
As the league looks for ways to make the presentation of its games more compelling on TV, the league needs to further embrace ways to present more compelling games.
Currently, flexible schedule isn’t available until Week Five, and even then it can be used only twice before Week 10. Ideally, the league would have the ability to slide games from window to window whenever it wants.
It would be a useful tool for Week Three. Currently, the late-afternoon games set for the first CBS doubleheader of the year consist of Bengals-Packers and Chiefs-Chargers. But the better games for the afternoon window happen in FOX regional windows, at 1:00 p.m. ET (2-0 Falcons at 2-0 Lions) and 4:05 p.m. ET (1-1 Seahawks at 1-1 Titans). Yes, the latter two games will be broadcast by FOX and, sure, the networks need certainty as to where and when they’ll be broadcasting games. But if the goal is to maximize interest and in turn audience, the league needs to have the ability to flip the switch as its discretion to move games around in order to achieve the biggest bang.
Even if the FOX games couldn’t have been moved to the CBS late-afternoon window, an early game on CBS — 1-1 Texans at 1-1 Patriots — would be more compelling at 4:25 p.m. ET than either of the current options. Reasonable minds may differ on that; regardless, the league needs to have the ability and the willingness to adjust the schedule whenever it wants in order to put the best games in the best spots on the weekly broadcasting calendar.
The DB wouldn’t think that the folks at CBS are all that unhappy with having the Packers from Lambeau, no matter who the foe might be.
LONDON – ETA 2022
The DB hears all the nay-sayers with all their reasons why a team in London wouldn’t work – usually centered on the idea that a seven-hour flight from the East Coast is insurmountable in a League where teams go six hours all the time from the East to the West. (Due to a polar route LAX to LON is not 13 hours, but more like 10½), but Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com says the suits of Goodell are still all in on expanding the NFL’s football footprint to the UK.
London might not be getting a team in the near future. But as the NFL’s executive vice president of international, Mark Waller, sees it, the UK’s capital city is ready for one.
“We’ve proven clearly that the level of support is here from a fan perspective, a stadium and stadium ownership perspective and from a city and government perspective,” Waller said over the phone, from London, late Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll get a lot of support if and when we need it.”
On Sunday, the league will cut the ribbon on the second decade of the International Series, which started in 2007 with its first regular-season game overseas, a 13-10 win for the Super Bowl champion-to-be Giants over a woeful Dolphins team. The NFL has come a long way since.
The league will play four games in London this year for the first time, and is in its second year back in Mexico City, with hopes to go to Germany and China down the line. Next year, a stadium that the league worked in partnership with Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League will open. And fan interest, while still not close to the major sports in the UK, has grown steadily.
That brings us to the question that’s been on the docket for years now: Could the NFL become the first major North American sports league to put a team in Europe full-time?
The answer is definitely maybe. Waller says the league’s international wing has put the pieces in place, and now has to keep growing on its progress, and wait for a franchise to raise its hand.
“If you think about LA, there were years and years where we weren’t in LA, and then an owner decided to make a move and start building a stadium,” Waller said. “So our job is to make sure, for London, that if and when an owner feels it’s the right move to make, we’re ready for it. And that’s what we’ve put in place—great fan base, stadium options, and a real focus on feasibility and logistics.
“The one thing we can’t show yet: can a team be competitive week in and week out? That’s why I’d like to do back-to-back weeks with the same team (next year), to get real sense of how that works. We’ll try to make that happen.”
– – –
Now, I’m like everyone else on this, which is to say I’m unsure how a team would be received over there on a full-time basis. But I’ve talked to Waller for years on this subject, and the truth is he hasn’t moved far off his position. The goal, to start, was to have a team in London at the International Series’ 15-year mark. We’re two-thirds of the way there, and Waller thinks 2022 is doable.
“Absolutely,” he says. “And that aligns well from a CBA and union standpoint—that would need to be part of a union agreement. Not to say we couldn’t bargain it separately, but obviously if we’re doing it around that time, that would make sense. And from a media/broadcast standpoint, we’d need to think it through. It feels to me like all the indicators are there, showing that’s still a realistic timeframe.”
Indeed, the CBA expires in March 2021 and the broadcast deals are up after the 2022 season, so the timing works. What’s left to figure out in London? The biggest issues are logistical.
Having a team five time zones from New York and eight time zones from Los Angeles isn’t ideal, and competitive-balance issues resulting from that can’t be ignored. To ease the issues, Waller says the hope is to give a London team two facilities—one in the UK and another somewhere in the U.S. southeast.
Waller explains, “If the team had a second base on the East Coast, and when they came over to the States they were going back to a familiar place, there’s a general feel (among teams) that it would solve a vast number of the operational issues, whether it’s transportation issues, talent issues and making sure week-in, week-out, you have the talent you need on hand, increasingly there’s belief that’s the right solution.”
Would it be perfect? No. Having Tuesday free-agent workouts in, say, Atlanta to fill an immediate need for the London team wouldn’t be ideal. Neither would, say, a London vs. Seattle game in the wild-card round of the playoffs. But that doesn’t make these things impossible.
And the NFL will get an interesting snapshot of how it might work when the Rams go to the UK in late October. They’ll play in Jacksonville on Oct. 15, then spend the week in Northern Florida before flying to London on Thursday night ahead of their Oct. 22 game against the Cardinals at Twickenham Stadium.
Another test Waller was hoping to conduct this year—and hopes to get in 2018—is to have a team play back-to-back games in London, which would allow the league a better look at how being there would effect a franchise’s overall operation. “It’s a bit of a disappointment that we didn’t have a team playing two games this year,” he said. “We couldn’t make it work from a scheduling standpoint.”
Waller also knows that getting a team to do it won’t necessarily be easy, but the idea of getting a club to waive its right to a bye following a trip to the UK wasn’t a simple proposition either. The Colts did it last year—and won the following week—and three teams (Ravens, Jaguars, Dolphins) will do it this year. And one of those three, Baltimore, actually requested it.
These are all signs that progress is being made, and Waller’s department is moving forward. To be sure, it’s not as if there’s a set plan to have a team over there, and there are alternatives to be had.
The plan for now is to stick to four games in 2018. “I don’t think we need to play more games in London to prove that the opportunity is here,” Waller said. But the idea of growing that number raises another option that’s been bandied about—an annual eight-game schedule in the UK with each team being required to make the trip every other year.
There’s no question the idea of having an NFL team over there still sounds a little crazy. But it’s not quite as nuts as it was 10 years ago, when the Giants and Dolphins played on a soccer pitch that quickly devolved into a mud pit. At that point, the NFL wasn’t even up to speed on the problems that grass would present, and a lot of people in the stands weren’t quite sure what to make of what they were watching.
“All of the things that we talked about confirm our belief that it’s a very doable possibility,” Waller said. “This year, we’ll do four games, and 40,000 tickets for each game are bought by the same people, so as far as building a season-ticket base, that’s a meaningful number now. And the fact that we’ve got so many teams that have been over here and have had a good experience is a huge positive.
“We feel confident that the fan base is here, and that the logistics work.”
The NFL has come a long way.
The DB keeps hearing that the Jaguars, pinched in Jacksonville by geography and population with a London-centric owner are primed to make the move (London would give the AFC South some badly-needed market pizazz).
But we also think that by 2022, the Chargers might be a team in desperate need of new ownership, a new market, a new everything. They could go to the AFC South, with Houston moving West.
And if Jacksonville also moved we could have the AFC International with the Titans and Colts getting two-week road trips to England every year.
Stranger things (imagine President Donald Trump in 2012) have happened.