Dec 16, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA;  Detroit Lions fans dressed in Christmas attire react in the first half against the Denver Broncos at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Big bidding expected for NFL Christmas games

There will be a hot commodity on the market ahead of next holiday season: a pair of NFL games on Christmas Day.

The league plans to auction off the TV rights to those two games to the highest bidder, with the price starting at $50 million per game, Front Office Sports reported Thursday.

In an unexpected move, the NFL decided to schedule a doubleheader on Christmas Day, which falls on a Wednesday in 2024. NFL executives pointed to the ratings the three Christmas games got in 2023; each were among the top 10 in ratings in the regular season, per the Wall Street Journal.

Because games on a Wednesday would not fall under any preexisting contract, the league will allow all its TV and streaming partners — CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN-ABC and Amazon Prime — to duke it out for the rights.

There have been only two NFL games played on a Wednesday since 1949. One was when the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants were moved off a Thursday to avoid conflicting with the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The other was when the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to play on Thanksgiving but the game was pushed back three times due to COVID-19.

This will be the fifth straight season the NFL has played on Christmas, encroaching on a sports day typically dominated by the NBA.

–Field Level Media

Dec 21, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; A Philadelphia Eagles fan dressed as Santa cheers during the fourth quarter against the Washington Football Team at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

NFL to play 2 games on Christmas Day, a Wednesday, this year

The NFL is scheduling two games for Christmas Day 2024, even though it falls on a Wednesday.

Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s executive vice president of media distribution, said Tuesday at the annual league meeting in Orlando, Fla., that the league will play on Wednesday because the fans “clearly spoke” through their viewership. The three Christmas Day games in 2023, played on a Monday, each were among the top 10 in ratings in the regular season, per the Wall Street Journal.

“From what we’ve seen the last couple years is really some unprecedented growth, and not just on Christmas, on Thanksgiving, too,” Schroeder said. “The last couple of years have had the highest-regular season game ever viewed in the regular season. That mindset, that opportunity, that belief we have that football brings people together — that’s even truer on these big holidays that happen throughout the year.

“When we saw the viewership from this past year, really our fans clearly spoke. We certainly saw and believe that they are very much enjoying and wanting NFL football on Christmas. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to play a couple of games, like we’ve typically played for well over a decade, probably more than that, on Saturday of Week 16, and then come back and play a couple of games on Christmas Day on Wednesday.”

Wednesday games are rare. The last time a game was played on a Wednesday came in 2021, when a COVID-19 outbreak forced the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to delay their planned Thanksgiving game until the following Wednesday.

“Well, I think the days are the same for us. We’ve done this,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “In fact, COVID was a learning opportunity, I think it was the first time we played on a Wednesday. It will not be a regular thing. It will be when Christmas falls on a Wednesday. But the time period between games has been done before. We have not seen any elevation of injuries. You all, and we, have had a major focus on Thursday night when we first put it in, and we’ve still not seen any kind of elevation of injuries. So I think we have this down.”

This will be the fifth straight season the NFL has played on Christmas, encroaching on a sports day typically dominated by the NBA.

In 2024, the NFL schedule calls for the league to be idle only on Tuesdays.

The league holds games every week on Sunday, Monday and Thursday, with some late-season contests held on Saturday. A Black Friday game was introduced last year and will continue in 2024, and a Week 1 game in Brazil also will occur on Friday.

–Field Level Media

Nov 2, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Amazon Prime Video's Thursday Night Football cast (L to R) Charissa Thompson and Tony Gonzalez and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andrew Whitworth and Richard Sherman on set before the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tennessee Titans against at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

NFL grants Amazon, Peacock rights to two marquee games

Two more NFL games will be distributed exclusively via a streaming service in the 2024 season.

The league announced Tuesday that Peacock will have the rights to stream the Week 1 game from Sao Paulo, Brazil, which will be the first NFL contest in South America. The Philadelphia Eagles already are booked for that game against an opponent still to be announced.

Amazon Prime Video has been granted an NFL wild-card game, which will represent the second time a playoff game has been streamed exclusively. Last season, Peacock streamed the Kansas City Chiefs’ 26-7 AFC wild-card win over the Miami Dolphins, memorable as the fourth-coldest game in league history.

Amazon Prime already has the rights to the league’s Thursday night package.

“As media consumption habits evolve, the NFL continues to work with our partners to put our games on digital platforms where our fans are increasingly spending their time,” Hans Schroeder, NFL executive vice president of media distribution, said in a news release. “The viewership success of both Thursday Night Football on Prime Video and the historic Wild Card game on Peacock last season are strong indicators our streaming distribution is resonating with our fans.”

Both the Week 1 Brazil game on Peacock and the wild-card game on Prime Video will be available for free on broadcast television in the local markets of the competing teams as well as on the NFL+ mobile app.

The wild-card game between the Chiefs and Dolphins on Peacock averaged approximately 23 million viewers, which the NFL said set a record for the most-streamed live event in U.S. history.

–Field Level Media

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker (7) kicks off against the Philadelphia Eagles to start Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

NFL adopts kickoff rule aimed at boosting return rate

NFL owners approved new kickoff rules that are designed to increase return rates while also reducing the chance of high-impact injuries on Tuesday at their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The kickoff modification is modeled after the format used by the XFL and is a one-year program with the expectation that further alterations could be made.

It will take effect in 2024.

Under new rules, the kicker will kick from his own 35-yard line while his teammates line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. Nine players on the receiving team will line up at their own 35, with two players near the goal line as returners.

On the kicking team, only the kicker can move until the ball hits the ground in the designated “landing zone” inside the receiving team’s 20-yard line.

If the kick doesn’t go that far, the ball will be placed at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. The receiving team will get the ball at its own 30 in the instance of a touchback.

By putting the majority of players closer together, and without that running start, high-speed collisions are less likely, reducing “space and speed,” according to the league.

The plan was reviewed and refined by the 32 NFL special teams coordinators before being presented to the league Competition Committee and, ultimately, owners this week.

As the NFL has modified the kickoff in the past decade to reduce concussions, the return rate has fallen. Just under 22 percent of kickoffs were returned last season, and ESPN reported Tuesday that the goal for 2024 is about 80 percent.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris told The Athletic that the newly designed kickoff will be intriguing.

“I think it’s important for us to find ways to bring excitement back for our fans and us,” he said. “And also to make special teams coaches more relevant, right? We don’t want to lose the relevance in any position of what we’re doing. So I’ve got to give those guys credit for coming up with the idea. We’re going to fight the battles of the unknown. Without a doubt, we haven’t seen the play. (We have) seen a form of the play in a different league.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 17, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; A detailed view of a New York Giants helmet before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

NFL grants international market access to four new teams

The Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants are going global.

The four teams are entering the NFL’s Global Markets Program for the first time, with three of them including Germany among their target countries.

In the third year of the league’s program, the total number of teams participating has risen to 25 across 19 different markets around the country. The program aims to help teams grow their presence on the international stage with events, marketing and commercial opportunities.

The Browns were granted rights to Nigeria — the first NFL team to access that market.

The Giants have rights to Germany, the Colts were allowed both Austria and Germany and the Lions were granted Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.

The league also said that the Miami Dolphins are expanding their rights holdings to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico — the former two being targets for the first time. Miami already had rights in Brazil, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The Los Angeles Rams, who previously had rights in Australia, New Zealand, China and Mexico, became the first teams to expand their rights to Japan and South Korea.

“The momentum of the Global Markets Program underscores the strong commitment of NFL clubs to growing the game and their passionate fan bases around the world. Clubs are seeing the value and opportunity in new markets and aligning with the league to accelerate that growth together,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president for club business, major events and international, said in a statement. “We can’t wait to see the ongoing impact of the program on fandom and global growth in this season and in years ahead, both in new and existing markets and via new clubs joining and active clubs deepening their strategic commitments.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 16, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) runs after a catch during the first quarter against Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson (55) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

NFL outlaws controversial ‘hip-drop’ tackle

NFL owners voted Monday to ban the controversial “hip-drop” tackle, which was blamed for numerous injuries this past season.

The rule change was proposed by the NFL Competition Committee and adopted at the annual owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Owners also adopted a change to challenges, approving a third challenge for coaches after one successful challenge, instead of two. Also approved was the enforcement of a major foul by the offense prior to a change of possession.

The hip-drop tackle is defined as a technique in which a player “unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner’s legs at or below the knee.”

It will now result in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down. Further, players could be subject to fines and warning letters for employing the technique.

NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent said last week the tackle was “something we want to get out of the game.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker (7) kicks the opening kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals during the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kickoff change, hip-drop tackle ban proposed to NFL owners

NFL owners will have some proposals for rules changes to mull over ahead of next week’s annual league meeting, including a radical change to kickoffs and whether to ban hip-drop tackles.

The competition committee on Wednesday unveiled its proposed rules changes for the 2024 season, including one that would adopt kickoff alignment used by the XFL in recent seasons.

For one year only, the panel is proposing the 10 players other than the kicker line up on the receiving team’s 40-yard line on kickoffs in order to minimize high-speed collisions. The kicker would still kick off from his own 35.

At least nine members of the receiving team would line up in a set-up zone between their own 35- and 30-yard line. Up to two returners would line up in the landing zone between the goal line and the 20.

Teams would have to alert officials of an onside kick, in which case the traditional formation is used.

The XFL used a similar formation in 2020 and 2023, but the newly merged XFL and USFL is using the NFL’s alignment in 2024.

The committee also is recommending the ban of the hip-drop tackles, a technique in which a player “unweights himself by swiveling and dropping his hips and/or lower body, landing on and trapping the runner’s legs at or below the knee.”

The committee is proposing a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down for the tackle, which has been blamed for numerous injuries.

Other proposals include adding two instances of plays that can be reviewed — whether a passer is out of bounds or down by contact before throwing and whether the game clock expired before a snap.

Also, a change to allow an emergency QB3 to be on the practice squad as opposed to previously being a part of the 53-man roster also is proposed.

Rules changes need approval from 24 of 32 owners for adoption. The league annual meetings are next week in Orlando, Fla.

–Field Level Media

Feb 27, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers  general manager John Lynch talks to the media at the 2024 NFL Combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

49ers lose 2025 pick, docked fourth-round position for payroll issues

Payroll errors in 2022 caused the NFL to dock the San Francisco 49ers a 2025 fifth-round pick and forfeit a better position in the fourth round in the 2024 draft for an accounting mistake that impacted salary-cap projections.

“This action resulted from a league review that found administrative payroll accounting errors at the close of the 2022 league year that resulted in a misreporting of the club’s cumulative player compensation. The NFL determined that the club would have remained under the salary cap at all times regardless of the error and there was no intent to circumvent the cap,” the league said in a statement.

The NFL moved the 49ers’ fourth-round pick, No. 131, to the bottom of the round, behind the compensatory selections to No. 135.

“We take responsibility and accept the imposed discipline from the NFL due to a clerical payroll error. At no time did we mislead or otherwise deceive the League or gain a competitive advantage in connection with the payroll mistake,” the 49ers said in a statement Monday.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Robert Hunt (68) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Winners, losers in free agency: Cheers to Commanders, ode to OGs

Two short years ago when the confetti flew at the start of the 2022 NFL league year, lines formed to congratulate the biggest winners of the early transaction period.

And who could blame them, what with the Denver Broncos solving a years-old quarterback quandary by trading away multiple players, draft picks and ultimately committing hundreds of millions for the magic elixir.

Well, Russell Wilson stands to count a record $85 million against the salary cap for the Broncos in 2024 while suiting up for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wilson won 11 of his 30 starts but takes with him a parting gift of the $161 million guaranteed from Denver for two years of service and a grand total of zero postseason snaps.

We’re going to avoid the obvious — 35-year-old, physically limited quarterback Kirk Cousins ($180 million with Falcons) and pass rusher Brian Burns (traded to Giants, deal includes $76 million guaranteed) are definitely lucky ducks, but you don’t need us to point that out.

It’s with this caveat we present the early reaction to the trades, signings and expected deals two days into the 2024 NFL league year. Please, hold the confetti.

Contract numbers are as reported by multiple outlets and listed by Spotrac.com.

–Free Agency Winners
Offensive guards
If you haven’t seen new Panthers guard Robert Hunt moving in the open field, we recommend checking out the 6-foot-6, 327-pounder making a TD catch in the Dolphins-Ravens “Thursday Night Football” game that was called back because of a penalty. Hunt can play guard, tackle and probably salsa for his new salary of $20 million per year. He signed a five-year, $100 million deal to become a paver in front of the Panthers’ new-look offense and quarterback Bryce Young.

Hunt wasn’t the only big man to cash in.

The Eagles signed Landon Dickerson to an $84 million contract and is currently third in the NFL in total contract value at the position behind Hunt and Chris Lindstrom (Falcons), whose five-year deal is worth $102.5 million.

Patriots guard Michael Onwenu ranked No. 2 in total cash in his contract for 2024 at $26 million in 2024.

Running backs
Two of the top five contracts in terms of total value were handed out within minutes of the negotiating window opening Tuesday.

Saquan Barkley jumped from the Eagles to the Giants for $37.75 million and Josh Jacobs was welcomed to the Green Bay Packers on a four-year, $48 million agreement. His $14.8 million in total cash is more than Barkley will make this season — $13.25 million — and the 2023 franchise-tagged backs are 1-2 in total cash this season.

Washington Commanders
We knew they were planning to shop free agency, but Washington shuffled in 13 players in the first 48 hours of free agency without signing an individual that consumes more than 4.2 percent of the team’s total cap space.

Defensive end Dorance Armstrong received the largest guarantee at a total of $22.125 million over the course of his contract.

The Commanders still have a few highlight moments ahead in the offseason. Washington holds the No. 2 overall pick and six of the top 100 selections in the 2024 draft.

–Free Agency Losers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Not signing franchise-tagged pass rusher Josh Allen to a long-term extension before March 13 meant Jacksonville would roll the dice on a deal with wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who convinced two teams — the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans — to bring better bids to the ball.

Ridley wound up with $50 million guaranteed and signed a four-year, $92 million deal and then celebrated with a keyboard TD dance of a signoff in Jacksonville, posting the statement: Chess not checkers.

Jacksonville didn’t come up entirely empty-handed, luring Bills free agent Gabe Davis. That’s what we call a downgrade.

But the Jaguars also lost superior players at other positions, namely safety. Jacksonville signed Darnell Savage (Packers) and lost Rayshawn Jenkins to the Seahawks.

Chicago Bears
By now, it’s not clear to the outside world what the plan is at quarterback.

If the Bears held the line on Justin Fields because they believe he’s the quarterback to build around — spoiler alert, they didn’t — kudos to general manager Ryan Poles.

But not finding a landing spot for Fields creates doubt about the big picture.

Poles isn’t out of shots by any stretch. There’s the matter of the NFL draft, No. 1 and No. 9 overall picks, and plenty of free agency left.

Credit for re-signing cornerback Jaylon Johnson and landing an every-down running back in D’Andre Swift. Will he hold up in a regular role?

As for needs, can Poles still find proper solutions in bargain pass rushers and wide receivers and further repair an offensive line we’d rate as mediocre before picking his prize at quarterback?

–Field Level Media

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks on from the bench during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

NFL looking into Falcons, Eagles for possible tampering

The NFL is looking into potential tampering by the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles prior to the start of free agency, a league spokesperson said Thursday.

The reviews center around quarterback Kirk Cousins agreeing to a four-year, $180 million contract with the Falcons, and running back Saquon Barkley signing a three-year, $37.75 million deal with the Eagles.

The Falcons said in a statement Thursday that “due to the NFL’s review, we are unable to provide information or have additional comment.”

The Eagles have denied the claims, however Penn State head coach James Franklin told reporters that Barkley — who played collegiately with the Nittany Lions — had contact with Howie Roseman before the Philadelphia general manager was allowed to speak to anyone other than the running back’s agent.

Barkley spoke on the topic on Thursday.

“Coach Franklin, I think, kind of misinterpreted it,” Barkley said. “The truth was that the sales pitch was Penn State and how many Penn State fans are Eagles fans. But that (came) through my agent, my agent told me that.”

–Field Level Media