1) Expanded playoffs in 2014/15 season: The league lost its multi-year battle against the NFLPA for an 18 game season, but it will win on expanding the playoffs. There is actually a macro force at work here. It’s not just about potentially adding another two games and another week, it’s more about making the NFL a year-round sport. The league wants its product active and consumed 365 days of the year. Sure, adding more teams and another playoff tranche will generate more TV revenue, but it will also expand the overall yearly cycle if another week is added as well. If you want some proof of what I mean just look at the new date (May 8-10) for the NFL draft. Years ago, teams reported to camp around August 1st through 5th now it’s more like July 23rd thru 27th. In the off-season; free agency, the Combine, draftee team visits, the draft, mini-camps, OTAs, rookie mini-camps, rookie signings, and the start of camp, are all newsmakers worthy of coverage. The NFL network needs content to make money year-round. With five weeks of pre-season games, more playoff games, and a May draft, the NFL is really an eleven-month product.
2) A bigger minority push: The league office is quietly disappointed with the lack of minority hiring’s at all position levels from offensive line coaches (there are only two that I am aware of) all the way up to general manager. The minority conversation is usually carried on in whispers around the league because it’s such a sensitive subject. Although the Rooney Rule forces teams to interview minorities, the league really doesn’t have a system to develop them for other top positions. The minority coaching internship program is good but it lacks follow through. No formal programs exist to mold minorities for front office positions. The informal format usually consists of a GM like Ozzie Newsome recommending a minority to another team for a specific position. Don’t be surprised that either more programs are formalized or the Rooney Rule gets expanded to include other coaching and front office positions other than GM.
3) The Black Out TV rule “almost” gets eliminated: I hate the Blackout rule and so does every fan. However, there is someone at 345 Park Avenue who wont let it go. I’m not sure why but I suspect there is one or two small market owners with clout who refuse to live without it. I wrote about why this rule should get tossed but a recent comment from the commissioner’s office means its not going away anytime soon. However, I do hear now there are some owners that want to see it go away and will table it at the next league meetings.
4) Zebras get some much-needed help: 2013/14 season may go down in history as one of the worst for blown calls. Several of which have altered the outcome of games. NFL head coaches can’t publicly complain about officiating but they are privately. Internally, they have voiced several grievances, particularly at two different crews. Officiating falls under “integrity of the game” at the league office so don’t be surprised if another layer of help is added in the form of a centralized video reply control room.
5) A more robust free agency market: Last year, I accurately predicted a soft free agency period. This year I believe teams will be more aggressive in the free agent market. Here’s why: With 8 teams changing head coaches and/or GMs, that means, “house cleaning time” for the roster. It takes about two or three years to build a team through the draft but coaches know owners won’t always have the patience for that. New coaches will want to sign players they know and trust from their previous teams or players they are familiar with from their own divisions. And for coaches who have some control over personnel they will want to make a quick impact with veteran players.
Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta
JAN 28 The Sports Quotient
A look at playcalling in Super Bowl history.
JAN 20 Tony Villiotti
Following Monday's announcement of those declaring for the Draft, a look at the numbers.
JAN 19 Jeff Fedotin
Chiefs' special teams coordinator has unique football mind.