Barbarians at the gate

For almost four decades now the NFL has experienced extraordinary uninterrupted growth. But there may be corrosion occurring beneath the shiny shield.

The liability is here! Liability, lawsuits and the league’s responsibility for every single player who has ever had a concussion has been lurking in the shadows for years. However, it has now arrived at the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue. It has to be dealt with and measures must be implemented to protect both players and the league. Over 3,000 players have signed up for the concussion lawsuit against the NFL. If the players prevail in this suit and the league is held financially responsible to pay billions in damages, the NFL’s business model will change drastically. Margins will be shredded, insurance premiums will skyrocket, and the style of the game will be altered to a softer state. Liability could have a ripple effect on the style, the toughness, and the overall aggressiveness of the game we are accustomed to. If the style changes, fans may turn the channel on the NFL.

The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening: I predicted that there would be several $25 million dollar a year QBs in the very near future. It’s coming! In addition, average QBs will be making $15 to 20 million per year and the top five star players on each team may eventually account for 50% or more of the cap dollars in use per team, leaving the remainder to be divvied up by the rest of the roster. That then could result in younger players and draft picks playing and even starting for the minimum salary. The days of multiple players making near or at the average salary of $3 million dollars will be gone. This model could lead to more turn-over of the roster, more rookies playing right away and more inexperienced players on the field. Coaches will have to work even that much harder preparing these players. Could the model create resentment amongst players? Can it divide a locker-room and be a chemistry killer? We don’t know yet. But the bottom line is that football is a team sport that relies on men working together for a singular purpose. If the team-ness fades, so can the quality of the product.

Too many rule changes: There have been talks about changing or eliminating the kickoff. Can you imagine taking out the most exciting play in football? It’s been discussed for years. That’s like removing the POP from opening a champagne bottle. If the game we know starts looking dramatically different, will we still watch? Yes, these changes are implemented because of safety concerns like preventing concussions. Many rule changes have been much needed, but will the line be crossed (or has it been crossed) to where the game starts looking very different and fans start drifting away.

Less kids playing football: I have more and more parents telling me that they aren’t letting their kids play football. If the pipeline of talent gets diluted will the level of play suffer over time? This may take a few years to become a reality but it’s a real possibility. If negative findings come out relating illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s to brain trauma suffered while playing football even less kids will step onto the football field.

So how do we keep our game intact while making it safer for our players? The union, the players (current and retired) and the league have to come together to work together to preserve the long-term health and tradition of the game. The league has to do a better job to include the players’ opinions when making substantial rule changes. The union and league have to be less adversarial and more transparent with each other. Coaches at all levels have to teach proper tackling techniques to improve safety. And hopefully, NFL football as we know it will be around for decades to come.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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