Did you know that the NFL holds a spring owners meeting every year? They're typically snoozefests of committee reports and rubber-stamp policy approvals, drawing little public attention and almost no media coverage.
This week, however, owners will gather in Atlanta to tackle a series of significant developments. All eyes will focus on a hotel meeting room in the city's Buckhead district. Agenda items include the future of the kickoff, a record-setting franchise sale and deep social justice divisions.
Let's take a closer look at each and whether there will be resolution.
Owners are expected to approve a proposal, largely authored by a group of nine special-teams coaches, that would change blocking and alignment rules on the kickoff. The goal is to make the play safer by reducing high-speed collisions; 2017 data revealed that concussions occurred on kickoffs five times more frequently than other plays. If the changes don't work in 2018, owners will consider eliminating the play for the 2019 season. You can read more details here.
In March, owners approved a rule that penalizes players 15 yards for lowering their helmets to initiate contact with an opponent. Flagrant contact is subject to ejection. But the league's competition committee, along with many coaches, argued for an automatic replay review of any ejection to ensure it was merited. This proposal, which is expected to pass, will veer replay into the previously avoided territory of subjective calls. Replay officials must judge and confirm whether the contact was flagrant. But the current safety-driven environment will take priority over previous replay boundaries.
Carolina Panthers sale
At least 24 owners must approve David Tepper's $2.275 billion purchase of the franchise from Jerry Richardson, who began soliciting bids in December 2017 after a Sports Illustrated report alleged that he sexually harassed multiple women and used a racial slur toward a team scout. Tepper, a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is not expected to face opposition. The price fell short of the initial $2.5 billion estimates but is still well beyond the previous NFL high of $1.4 billion paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. First up for Tepper: learning the extent to which he supports general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera.
Owners were starkly divided in March on how (or if) they should address a policy that engulfed the league in 2017. According to the current rule, players "should" stand during the anthem but are not required to. That has allowed players such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid to kneel during the anthem as part of their protests against police brutality, drawing heavy criticism for the league from President Donald Trump and others. Both players have filed collusion grievances against the league after failing to find jobs as free agents. It's unclear whether a consensus will emerge this week on how the NFL could support players but also eliminate external criticism. It's possible owners will leave Atlanta without a resolution on an issue they all want to fix.
Owners are expected to approve Nashville as the site of the 2019 draft, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, continuing the road show that the league began after its final New York draft in 2014. Also on the agenda is approving two future Super Bowls: Glendale, Arizona, (2023) and New Orleans (2024). The league has reversed its Super Bowl bidding process. Instead of opening it up to bids from around the country and sifting through the results, it targets a single market and invites it to submit a bid.
Owners will no doubt discuss next steps after the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibits sports gambling. States can now act to legalize betting, if they choose. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has called on Congress to enact uniform standards for all states that take that step. Paragraph 15 of the standard NFL player contract prohibits players from betting on the NFL. In addition, other league personnel are prohibited from betting on any professional, college, international or Olympic competitions. According to the NFL policy, those prohibitions are in place "regardless of whether such activities are legal."