Why expanded playoffs are on hold
Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners wrapped up their annual meetings quickly Wednesday morning, but they left plenty of decisions to be made at the spring meeting in San Francisco in May.
Here are a couple of issues from last week's meetings that require more time to study.
It was widely expected going into the meetings that the number of playoff teams wouldn't be expanded for 2015. Goodell offered an interesting observation on why nothing happened this year.
"Several factors went into the decision to at least postpone the expanded playoffs," Goodell said. "Some of them would be on the competitive side. The last two years, interestingly enough, it's been inconsistent with our experience in [previous seasons] that the last two weeks, we actually would have had five less teams that would have [still had to compete for playoff spots] under the 14-team format than the 12. And that's a little bit counterintuitive due to the experience we had."
What Goodell is saying is five teams over the past two seasons that would have clinched a playoff spot with two weeks remaining under a 14-team format hadn't yet done so in the current 12-team format.
In 2014, Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay and Seattle would have all clinched an NFC playoff berth with two weeks left to play under a 14-team format; none had clinched in the current 12-team format. In 2013, New England would have clinched at least an AFC wild-card spot with two weeks left to play in a 14-team format; under the current format, the Pats didn't clinch a postseason berth until Week 16.
That could reduce the importance of late-season games, and it also raises a concern I've had since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. I wonder if the league's middle-class teams are disappearing, leading to a growing number of haves (playoff contenders) and have-nots (teams with little playoff hope). I'm also wondering if it's taking teams longer to rebuild.
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles would have been the additional NFC wild-card team if the playoffs were expanded. The 10-6 Arizona Cardinals would have been the extra NFC wild card in 2013. In each of the two years, there would have been a two-game gap between the seventh NFC seed and the next group of teams. Because a nine-win team would have been the seventh seed in the AFC for 2014 and an eight-win team in 2013, the races would have been more competitive.
The second topic that created a stir was the owners' decision not to endorse Bill Belichick's proposal to put replay cameras on goal lines and other strategic sideline locations. The motion was tabled until May.
Don't believe owners aren't willing to spend the money to add these cameras. The proposal just needs more time. In fact, research on the technology will start this week. The league needs to determine if there would be problems setting up cameras in different stadium configurations. It also needs to investigate potential safety factors along with various types of cameras.
It's not a matter of if -- but rather when -- cameras will be used along the goal lines and border areas of the field.
Finally, there probably wasn't enough talk about compensatory draft picks. With player salaries going up, compensatory picks are becoming more valuable. In 2004, for example, only one third-rounder and four fourth-rounders were awarded. That year, 22 seventh-rounders were distributed.
This year, there were three third-rounders, five fourth-rounders and eight fifth-rounders. Only seven seventh-rounders were awarded. An early look at the 2016 compensatory possibilities point to as many as 19 total picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds and as few as six in the seventh round.
Teams simply can't afford to lose decent compensatory picks by signing too many players in unrestricted free agency.
Q: When is the NFL finally going to eliminate tie games in the regular season? I realize tie games don't occur often enough, and that may be the primary reason why nothing has been changed. Why not make it that if a game is still tied after five quarters (four plus overtime), a shootout of sorts takes place between the two place-kickers -- in which they alternate kicking field goals starting from 45 yards and moving back 2 yards on each round?
Daryl in New Baltimore, Michigan
A: The last thing the NFL wants is a tie. Overtime was created to prevent that. But the fans' demand for two possessions keeps pressure on the NFL to talk about adjustments that could lead to more ties. The NFL doesn't want to go to a college-like system of tiebreaking. The problem is two possessions can eat up 10 minutes of the overtime and potentially increase the likelihood of a tie. Fortunately, there has been only one tie each of the past two years. But you are right, it's one tie a year too many. The overtime change that states a game can no longer end with a field goal on the first possession hasn't led to many ties. But if the NFL mandates a second possession even after a touchdown, there will likely be more ties. What the league can't do is extend a sixth quarter. Safety would be an issue.
Q: Here's a thought -- why change the extra point at all? To me, the fact that it is almost, but not quite, automatic, makes it exciting, because we know there will be misses, and when they occur, they are significant. Remember New Orleans [scoring a 75-yard touchdown on a multiple-lateral play as time expired] in 2003 against Jacksonville, cutting the lead to 20-19 and setting up apparent overtime after the "automatic" extra point -- which was then missed? If misses are more common, they are less exciting. The rarity of a missed extra point is what makes it exciting -- and valuable.
Eric in Bronx, New York
A: It looks as though we are going to lose on this one. Owners ordered the competition committee to make recommended changes to conversions. Something is going to change when owners vote in May. I'm OK if the ball is spotted at the 1½-yard line. If you put the ball at the 1, you create three options. Coaches can go for the one-point conversion, the two-point conversion or fake a kick and try for two points. You can't do that from the 15. As you might guess, I'm not for change, and I especially don't like the idea of extra points with the 15 as the line of scrimmage.
Q: Now that third parties can call for players to be taken off the field for suspected concussions, will owners get rid of the inactive list and let the full 53-man roster be active for a game? If not, teams can be at a serious disadvantage if someone comes off the field and another player at the position gets injured.
Demitri in Seattle
A: You ask a great question. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Here's the story. The Washington Redskins annually submit a proposal to all but eliminate the inactive list. If you pay them, play them. The committee said it would put out a proposal, but the issue slipped through the cracks. Before the end of the owners meetings, the Redskins submitted a proposal for next year. I think it's time to minimize the number of inactive players.
Q: I understand why the Browns and general manager Ray Farmer are getting punished for his texting in games, but why didn't he just talk to other Browns coaches in the booth? Or are GMs not allowed to interact with coaches at all during games?
Scot in New York City
A: Good question. That would have been easier and wouldn't violate rules. There are no rules against a general manager going into the coaching booth. That may not be a good idea, because the GM's presence might create tension, but there is no rule against it. Most GMs don't go there in order to allow coaches to do their jobs. With texting, there are records that can be studied. The league investigated, and the texts were discovered. The penalty could be a bad one for Ray Farmer and the Browns.
Q: Who decides if a player goes on the exempt list, the league or his team? Doesn't it seem wrong that a player can be put on the exempt list while waiting on the legal system (like Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson). Then he faces potential suspension afterward even if charges are dropped. I'm in no way condoning anybody's behavior, but it seems like a double penalty even if they were paid while on the exempt list. Can the team use the player while waiting on the legal system or does the league make them deactivate them? Doesn't that make them guilty until proven innocent? Wouldn't the better solution be, if the league decides a suspension is warranted after a player has been on the exempt list, he gets credit for time served -- but he has to pay back his salary for the number of suspended games?
Duane in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
A: The commissioner is the one who decides on the exempt list. You are right. It can be unfair. The exempt list was something Roger Goodell leaned on last year when personal conduct and domestic violence became huge issues for his office. The exempt list bought time for players to handle their legal problems, but it didn't specify penalties for their actions. Goodell is handing over those decisions and recommendations to new hires. Let's hope a better disciplinary system is enacted before the start of this season.
Q: With all the hype around the Buccaneers having the first draft pick, little has been discussed about how they're going to protect him. The Eagles are shopping veteran guard Evan Mathis, who is highly regarded, so I'm surprised to hear nothing about Tampa Bay looking into a trade.
Bret in Colorado Springs, Colorado
A: I think the answer is simple. The Bucs are probably interested, but they can't afford to give up a draft choice or two to satisfy Philadelphia in a trade. If he's cut, they might make a move. Here is the problem if they make a trade. The Bucs would have two older guards -- Mathis and Logan Mankins. You aren't building anything if you trade away draft choices and have two older guards who might be out of the league in a year or two. It's different if you sign Mathis as a street free agent.
• Jason in Manassas, Virginia, came up with an interesting idea. He wonders if 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula should switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3. That isn't a bad idea. Since last year, the 49ers have lost Patrick Willis and Chris Borland at linebacker. Ahmad Brooks is older. NaVorro Bowman didn't come off his knee injury well last year. It might not be a bad idea for the team to consider playing to the strength of Tomsula, previously the defensive line coach.
• Matt in Richmond, Virginia, notes the success of former college coaches with young quarterbacks, such as Jim Harbaugh with Colin Kaepernick and Pete Carroll with Russell Wilson. He wonders if those QBs would have been as successful going with standard NFL coaches. Maybe not. Teams need to strike a balance between making young QBs pocket passers and fitting their skills.
• Todd in Detroit asks about the future of Reggie Wayne. My guess is that he just needs to stay in shape and hope for a chance when training camps start. I still think he has good football left, but I don't see anything happening soon.