PHOENIX — The NFL opened its annual league meeting Monday with thoughts of a pending return to the Los Angeles market on the minds of many people within the sport. One prominent owner, the New England Patriots’ Robert Kraft, said he believes the league will have two franchises in Los Angeles in time for the 2016 season.
“I was sad 20 years ago when I came into the league, the two teams moved out of the L.A. market,” Kraft said during a break in the meetings Monday. “It was just very unfortunate. I don’t think it’s good that we’ve let a generation of fans, young kids, grow up without a team … It’s not good for the NFL. I really believe within the next year we’ll have two teams in this market. I think there are good plans … We have some real good options. And now we’ll see what happens in the end game.”
Kraft’s comments about Los Angeles came on a day when the NFL announced how it will tweak the wording of the Calvin Johnson rule about what is a legal catch and what isn’t. There also were possible changes to the extra point being contemplated.
But this week’s meetings promise to deliver few major changes, with Kraft confirming that the owners do not intend to expand the NFL playoff field from 12 to 14 teams in the 2015 season. So the prospect of having a team or teams in Los Angeles for the 2016 season is a significant topic of conversation at the resort at which the meetings are being held, with the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers potentially vying for those one to two spots.
“I’m just speaking what I believe,” Kraft said. “There might just be one team. But I really think to support the financial commitment of doing the kind of stadium that’s necessary in L.A., you need the resources of two teams. That’s just my feeling. I might be wrong. And then whether it’s done simultaneously or not — personally I feel that would be the best way … It could happen that one would come in later. But I would like to see it be simultaneous.”
Los Angeles has been without an NFL team since the Rams and Raiders left town following the 1994 season.
Kraft said that the teams’ current cities must be given a fair chance to retain their franchises.
“I think we have to be very careful and responsible to different markets to really step up and do what they want to do,” he said. “And if they do, I think we have a responsibility to make sure there’s a team in that market.”
Even so, Kraft also said he believes there will be a team or teams in Los Angeles.
“Somehow I feel we’ll have at least one team in L.A.,” he said.
As for matters of more immediacy, the league and its competition committee announced how they will rework the wording of the Calvin Johnson rule, which requires a receiver who goes to the ground while in the process of making a catch to maintain control of the football while on the turf to be awarded a legal catch.
The committee is not proposing an alternative to completely ditching the rule, which came under renewed scrutiny when it was applied during an instant replay review to turn what had been ruled a catch by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant at a key moment during an NFC playoff game at Green Bay last season into an incompletion.
Instead, the rule is being reworded to require a player to have control of the football with both feet on the ground and clearly establish himself as a runner to be awarded a catch. If all of that happens and the runner subsequently loses the football while going to the ground, the catch is not nullified. Currently, the rule requires a receiver to have control of the football with both feet on the ground and to have sufficient time to perform an act common to the game.
“I don’t think there’s a difference,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. “I think it’s an effort to just make it easier to understand … I don’t think the standard changes. I think the way we’re communicating the standard has changed.”
A receiver who makes a catch while going to the ground still is required to maintain control of the football while on the ground. The new wording applies only the part of the rule dealing with a receiver establishing that he has made a legal catch before he begins going to the ground.
On the extra point, the NFL continues to study possible ways to bring at least a little bit of drama to one of its most automatic plays. The Patriots have proposed having the ball snapped from the 15-yard line, making the extra point the equivalent of a 33-yard field goal. There also has been ongoing talk, from a year-old proposal, of moving the ball a yard closer to the goal line, to the 1-yard line, to encourage teams to attempt two-point conversions more frequently.
New York Giants co-owner John Mara said it’s possible those two proposals could be combined, giving a team the choice of snapping the ball from the 1-yard line for a two-point attempt or from the 15-yard line for an extra point.
“It’s going to be discussed,” said Mara, a member of the competition committee. “Whether or not it has 24 votes, I don’t know.”
Any rule-change proposal must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners to be enacted.
The NFL experimented with a longer extra point during the preseason last year. Mara said he thinks any change ratified this week would be for regular season play.
“I think this would be for the regular season,” Mara said.
Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said: “I’ll be interested to see [Tuesday] where the discussion leads us. We’ve been down this path before where we’ll have the discussion for a number of years, and you never know what will happen. As to whether a proposal will have enough [support] to get 24 votes, that’s not an easy thing to do.”
The owners also are set to discuss a new procedure that would allow an independent observer to halt a game with a medical timeout if a player on the field is believed to be in need of one.
Teams have proposed 13 different replay-related changes. It’s not clear if any will generate significant support.
Momentum for putting the expanded playoffs into effect for the 2015 season appears to remain stalled. The owners are to discuss the measure Tuesday but no vote is scheduled. Expanding the playoffs for the 2016 season and beyond seemingly remains a strong possibility. The owners could sell the additional opening-round playoff games to the television networks at the same time they seek a long-term TV deal for the regular season package of Thursday night games currently carried by CBS and the league-owned NFL Network.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about expanding the playoffs,” Kraft said. “It definitely won’t happen this year. A lot of people want it badly and of course it gives their team a greater chance to be in. We’re analyzing the facts. But I think it’s something that could happen when we go long term with our Thursday night package, that we tie it into that. We’ll see what happens.”
The owners voted Monday to approve a one-year suspension of the NFL’s blackout policy for local TV broadcasts. So there will be no local TV blackouts in the 2015 season. There were no blackouts last season and two in the 2013 season, according to the league. The NFL’s long-standing policy requires a game to be sold out 72 hours before kickoff to be carried in the local TV market of the home team.
The league announced that next season’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 25 in London will air in the local TV markets of the teams but also will be carried worldwide on a digital platform.