The owners of the 32 NFL teams were gathering Sunday in Palm Beach, Fla., for the annual league meeting, which comes amid the recent furor of the sport’s bounty scandal and the salary cap reductions assessed to the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
But there is other business at hand for the owners once the meeting officially begins with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s address to the representatives of the teams Monday morning. They are to consider a slate of proposed rule changes that includes using the postseason overtime format during the regular season and making all plays with turnovers automatically reviewed by instant replay.
Some teams appear to favor getting the overtime systems for the regular season and the postseason in sync. The two-year-old postseason overtime format prohibits a team from winning a game with a field goal on the opening possession of overtime. Such a kick still can win an overtime game during the regular season, when the first team to score in overtime wins.
“The feeling was that we made the change in the postseason to try to give us the fairest opportunity for those teams in the postseason to have an opportunity,” Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the league’s competition committee, said during a conference call with reporters last week. “When we asked the Players Association this year, they endorsed doing it in the regular season. When we asked the coaches, they endorsed doing it in the regular season. So our feeling was maybe for consistency’s sake, we should do so.”
When the overtime format was changed for the postseason only, team and league officials said they wanted to see how things went and didn’t want to immediately risk longer games and increased injury potential during the regular season.
Any proposed rule change must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners to take effect.
The instant-replay proposal would make all plays with a turnover automatically reviewed, without a team having to use one of its challenges. The league previously made all scoring plays subject to such automatic replay reviews. A separate proposal would have all replay rulings being made by the replay official in the booth, instead of by the referee on the field.
Other proposed changes include penalizing a defensive player for a horse-collar tackle on the quarterback in the pocket, a play that currently is an exception to the ban on such tackles; pushing back the NFL trade deadline by two weeks, until after the eighth week of the season; increasing the offseason and training camp roster limit to 90 players per team; making it possible for a player to return to the same season from the injured reserve list under some circumstances; and enabling a team to put a player with a concussion on its inactive list the Friday before a game and add another player to its roster.
There is certain to be plenty of talk at this meeting about Goodell’s suspensions imposed last week in the bounty case involving the New Orleans Saints. Goodell suspended Saints Coach Sean Payton for an entire season, General Manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely for their roles in the bounty scheme, in which defensive players received cash payments for hits that injured opponents.
Punishments of those players most heavily involved in the bounty scandal remain pending. The league announced last week that it had found no evidence to corroborate reports of bounty systems on other teams on which Williams coached, including the Redskins. But the league did not rule out punishments of those teams in the future if new information surfaces.
The Redskins appear to be considering a challenge of the league’s recent decision to reduce the team’s salary cap by $36 million over the next two years. The Cowboys received a $10 million salary cap reduction over two years. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said late last week that a challenge could be in the works.
“We are working within the rules and procedure of the NFL and I am not at liberty to say what we’re doing,” Jones said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “But we’re certainly not through with that. We . . . have expressed that we don’t agree with that.”
Both teams have denied wrongdoing. The league made the reductions based on the way the two teams structured players’ contracts during the sport’s season without a salary cap in 2010. According to people familiar with the case, the Redskins and Cowboys technically violated no salary cap rules but, in the league’s view, attempted to gain an unfair competitive advantage when the salary cap went back into effect.
The teams could challenge the league’s decision in a case to Stephen Burbank, the University of Pennsylvania law professor who serves as the sport’s “system arbitrator.” He has the exclusive jurisdiction over such cases, under the sport’s collective bargaining agreement.
“First of all, there is no joy in Mudville, having to team up with the Redskins on a point with the league,” Jones told the Morning News last week. “They’re competitors, not cohorts. It just shows you, independent of that, some of the issues we have with this cap-space issue. Sometimes you can have strange bedfellows and this is one of them.”
The NFL generally announces its featured opening-weekend games for the upcoming season at the league meeting. The New York Giants, the reigning Super Bowl champions, are scheduled to host the season-opening game on Sept. 5. That’s a Wednesday, with the league having moved up the opener by a day to avoid a conflict with President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Giants’ opponent for the opener has not been announced.
Update, 2:15 p.m.: The Redskins and Cowboys have filed a case with an arbitrator challenging the salary cap reductions imposed on them by the NFL for the way the teams structured players’ contracts in the sport’s season without a salary cap in 2010, a person with knowledge of the proceedings said Sunday.