Grading NFL's offseason priorities checklist: Where it gets an F

Gruden learning to adapt to new NFL rules (2:22)

Jon Gruden tells Shelley Smith how football has changed since the last time he coached and clears the air about his relationship with Derek Carr. (2:22)

Our annual list of NFL offseason priorities published on Feb. 12 this year, in that brief moment between Super Bowl LII parades and the start of a relentless churn of change. How did the league do?

Let's take a closer look, in one final swoop, as training camps open around the country.

Enhance concussion policy

What I wrote in February: This must be an annual task for the NFL as technology improves and scrutiny increases. There is no more existential threat to the league than brain health.

What the league did: The league made permanent several protocol changes established late in the 2017 season. Most notable is the addition of a third unaffiliated neurological consultant (UNC) for each game, to sit in a mid-level booth to monitor television replays and elevated views for injury symptoms that are not immediately apparent from the sideline.

From a broader perspective, though, many of the NFL's biggest offseason stories -- the new helmet rule, a redesigned kickoff and first-ever helmet restrictions -- can be viewed through the prism of brain health. A league that once denied the serious consequences of concussions has never more actively attempted to address them. One important caveat for 2018: The speed of these changes has led to midsummer confusion that could take some time to work through.

Grade: A-

Unify the anthem experience

What I wrote in February: The league needs an unambiguous policy for all team personnel during the national anthem, as the current guidelines only say players "should" stand. It's not mandatory, and a protest carries no required discipline.

What the league did: This effort has been a complete failure. Stark divisions among owners led to a tortured "compromise" policy in May that already has been put on hold. Negotiations with the NFL Players Association could produce a better approach -- the two sides are meeting on Friday -- but continued public pressure from President Donald Trump has flummoxed league leadership and left it unable to act with coherence. The NFL might not have the power to make the issue disappear, but it has always had the authority to craft a clear and simple policy -- and to back it with courage.

Grade: F

Don't make the catch rule worse

What I wrote in February: A perfect change -- one that purges controversy while preserving simplicity -- might not exist. The NFL could be left to decide whether to exchange one set of shortcomings for another. Breaking even might be the best it can do.

What the league did: The league accomplished its top priority, eliminating the potential for a handful of rulings that don't pass the eye test. (See: Calvin Johnson in 2010, Dez Bryant in 2014 and Jesse James in 2017.)

Players no longer are required to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground. Instead, they must establish control in bounds and then have the ability to perform "any act common to the game," whether they are going to the ground or not. Rule book examples of an "act common to the game" include tucking the ball, extending it forward and taking an additional step.

Players aren't required actually to perform the act. They must only maintain the ball long enough to do so. Officials will be asked to judge that time frame. The league might have traded one set of controversies for another, but in the end the rule is no worse than it was before.

Grade: B

Re-standardize replay

What I wrote in February: Replay is good for the NFL when used in the appropriate context -- i.e., correcting obvious mistakes -- but will ultimately be drummed out if it's used to re-officiate close plays on a frame-by-frame basis.

What the league did: Most of the 2017 replay issues revolved around the catch rule, specifically overturning completed passes because of what appeared to be slight movement of the ball. The league addressed that issue in its case book, clarifying that "if the ball moves within control of the receiver he is deemed not to have lost control of the ball and it is a completed pass." The note goes on to say: "If the receiver has to 'chase' the ball, he is deemed to have lost control and the pass would be incomplete."

The NFL, however, did not do anything to clarify the larger "clear and obvious" standard for replay reversals that seemed to get lost during some of the 2017 rulings. But the immediate issue was addressed.

Grade: B+

Get the (ownership) house in order

What I wrote in February: Roger Goodell isn't going anywhere. Neither is Jerry Jones. But the seeds of their clash will cascade through the offseason.

What the league did: Goodell restructured the league office, following up on complaints from owners. Among other changes was promoting Maryann Turcke to chief operating officer, replacing Tod Leiweke.

Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' owner, has curtailed his legal assault on the league, but the anthem issue has revealed sharp divisions between him, some other owners and Goodell. On an issue of tremendous importance to the league's public perception, owners remain all over the map. They have committed to Goodell as commissioner through 2023, but their commitment to his leadership appears to remain a case-by-case endeavor.

Grade: C

Smooth (and lucrative) transition for the Panthers

What I wrote in February: The Carolina Panthers are likely to be sold for a record price, eclipsing the $1.4 billion Terry and Kim Pegula paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Many around the league will be watching. Nearly half of its primary owners are older than 70. Seven are at least 80.

What the league did: Investor David Tepper, formerly a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, paid a record $2.275 billion for the franchise. He is well-known among owners and is not expected to make waves at the league level.

The price, as wild and record-setting as it was, fell below some public predictions. Still, it will cause a substantial rise in NFL franchise valuations. According to Forbes, 29 of the NFL's 32 teams are worth at least $1.95 billion.

Grade: A

Assess roots of viewer/audience data

What I wrote in February: If they haven't already, owners must make a frank assessment of not just their product, but why its consumption trends have slowed.

What the league did: Of concern was two years of television ratings decline, unexpectedly low numbers for Super Bowl LII and a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll that suggested fan deterioration among important demographics. Publicly, the NFL has argued that it remains dominant relative to television viewing trends -- an implicit suggestion that the cause is rooted elsewhere. Internally, the league remains focused on finding new ways to deliver its product. But there were no public developments during the offseason to indicate it found any answers.

Grade: C

Turbocharge global presence

What I wrote in February: Whether the NFL is actually facing an existential crisis, its global outreach has never seemed more important.

What the league did: The most significant development in this area, beyond its continuing commitment to games in London and Mexico City, is outreach in China. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson visited in June to promote the game. Two years ago, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took a similar trip through Asia.

Wilson's trip wasn't a dramatic sea change. But it follows the long game the NBA played to establish its current dominance in the region.

Grade: C

Consider a targeting rule

What I wrote in February: At the very least, targeting will be the subject of intense debate this winter and spring.

What the league did: This discussion led in part to a new rule that will penalize players 15 yards for lowering their helmet to initiate contact with an opponent. Flagrant instances will be subject to ejection, but the NFL stopped far short of mandating the automatic ejections we see at the college level.

Still, players lower their helmets for all kinds of reasons during games, and some have concern about the consequences of strict interpretation. The informed guess is that there will be only a handful of additional ejections and that the rule will be enforced only in obvious situations.

The true goal here is to set in motion a long-term effort to minimize the use of helmets during blocking and tackling. But in the interim, there are a number of problematic possibilities. If the rule is selectively enforced, is it a good rule? And if it is strictly enforced, is the NFL truly ready for what would be a massive impact on the flow of games, and potentially their outcomes?

Grade: C-

Rethink Rooney Rule

What I wrote in February: In scenarios in which owners have pre-chosen candidates -- yes, it happens and will continue to -- is there a way to further the cause of diversity without forcing meaningless interviews? These are questions that at least some in the NFL will address this offseason.

What the league did: The NFL already had ruled that the Oakland Raiders did not violate the rule in hiring coach Jon Gruden, whom owner Mark Davis admitted he has wanted to hire for years. But it has done nothing publicly to address this issue. For now, at least, those who value diversity have been asked to accept that even cursory interviews are better than none at all.

Grade: D