In working day to day in the trenches of the NFL, I’ve noticed the evolution of the business of the game in several areas. Here are three of the more obvious ones.
1) The “throw away player”: If it’s not guaranteed (the contract), it doesn’t mean a thing and teams are taking advantage of that more than ever. There was a time when a player who was drafted by his team, played hard and was a good community and locker room guy, was given every chance to stay, play and be paid handsomely. Even though the team may eventually want to reduce the players’ salary, they did it with diplomacy, class and patience. Those days are gone and now it’s “thanks but we are moving on”.
Draft picks are so cheap right now and teams have a 4 to 5 year retention on them, depending on the round drafted, (not counting the franchise tag), that they are incentivized to just pay about four or five star players and have the rest of the team near or at minimum contracts. Under this new CBA this trend is here to stay.
In twenty-even years as an agent I never heard teams talk more about players ages than they do now. If you are on the wrong side of 30, not named Manning, Brady, or Brees, you may as well be ready for a tap on the shoulder any day to be shown the exit.
2) The tail is wagging the dog: The NFL used to be so secretive. However, Roger Goodell and company have pulled the curtain back for all to see its inner workings. The Combine, locker rooms, draft rooms, injury reports, and transactions were all done in shrouds of secrecy. Now that the league knows it can and does monetize this information, head coaches and general managers' every move is on stage for public display.
Having that information available to the public and then reported, analyzed, scrutinized, speculated upon and criticized has created a fish bowl environment for owners, coaches and front office execs to operate in. And being that owners want to be popular, head coaches want to get extensions and front office people want to keep their jobs; just about every decision is made with heavy consideration as to what the public/fan base will think and how they will react. Therefore, many decisions made on hiring’s, personnel, and draft transactions are now based on avoiding scrutiny from the thousands of media outlets that exist. Sure, there are the Belichick’s and Thompson’s who will still have the courage to move on from a Welker or Farve, but they are a dying breed.
Mark my words; there will be an owner in the next seven years that will let his fan base actually vote on who his team will take with their first draft pick.
Even though this trend started several years ago with bloggers (who weren’t under contract with the NFL), it’s getting worse.
3) The old football culture is on life support: Coaches and players pass down culture in football. However, I believe the chain has been permanently broken. The players who live and work there no longer dictate the fraternal locker room culture. Concussions, sexual preferences, and the ability for players to speak their mind have the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Gone are the days of hiding concussions, being a wedge buster, having to prove your manhood in the Oklahoma drill, and extreme hazing. Sure some will still exist but it’s being swept out the door.
Its actually a good thing to have a kinder, gentler and more transparent league, but the NFL has to be very careful its doesn’t stray to far from it roots.
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