Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.
First and 10: April 3
1. Overtime overhaul? | 2. 10-minute OT | 3. ‘Color rush’ lives
4. McKay on comebacks | 5. Lame-duck Raiders
6. Relocations, relocations, relocations | 7. Hiring Super Bowl assistants
8. Quinn on Sarkisian | 9. League meeting odds and ends | 10. Pats stuff
By the time the NFL owners voted, 31-1, last Monday at a Phoenix resort to approve the Raiders’ move from Oakland to Las Vegas for the 2019 or 2020 season, any wariness about placing a franchise in the nation’s gambling capital had long since dissipated.
The one dissenting vote cast by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was registered not because of gambling concerns but because, as Ross said later, he was unsure that the league had exhausted all the possibilities for keeping the team in Oakland.
Earlier in the process, those owners who did have some concerns about the move seemed wary mostly because of the size of the Las Vegas market, not because of gambling.
It once would have been unthinkable that the NFL — long opposed to the legalization of sports gambling in other states, citing the potential threat to public confidence in the sport’s integrity — would put a team in Las Vegas. By the time it actually happened, there was almost no debate on the issue.
“Las Vegas has evolved into arguably a family destination,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week in Phoenix. “It has. That’s not your father’s Las Vegas. They are a great community that has tremendous prospects for the future. We are very comfortable because of really our precedent relative to being in other cities that have gambling nearby. The sensitivity toward the perceived integrity of our game is very much there. But Las Vegas did not in any way compromise that. … I know that the NFL is very comfortable that we haven’t compromised anything as to our stance on gambling or gaming by going to Las Vegas.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league has not and will not change its opposition to the spread of legalized sports gambling.
“We did not change any of our gambling policies in the context of the Raiders’ relocation,” Goodell said in Phoenix. “It wasn’t necessary. The Raiders didn’t ask us to do that. We don’t see that — changing our current policies. Your broader question about continuing our efforts on gambling, that is a major risk for us. And I think we have to make sure that we continue to stay focused on making sure that everyone has full confidence that what you see on the field is not influenced by any outside factors. That’s our number one concern. That goes to what I consider the integrity of the game. And we will not relent on that.”
The owners’ approval of the Raiders’ move was a function, according to Jones, of the league’s view of Las Vegas as a growing market and a unique tourist destination. The gambling issue, Jones said, was a non-factor to the owners.
“I would have to say that the Raiders going to Las Vegas was just a reflection of how much the NFL thinks of the future, with all the pluses that are involved for the NFL,” Jones said. “It certainly was not a deterrent for that decision, that part of it. But there are so many other things to consider there. And it has caveats regarding that in the agreement. I would just look at it positively, that it just reflects Las Vegas and that gaming was not a deterrent at all, as witnessed by the vote.”
… AND TEN
That measure is to be reconsidered by the owners at their May meeting in Chicago, and there are indications that it is likely to be ratified then. The proposal was made as a player-safety measure. It is to reduce wear and tear on players and eliminate the possibility of a team playing what amounts to a five-quarter game on a Sunday and then having to play again four days later on a Thursday night.
But Cowboys executive Stephen Jones, a member of the competition committee, said last week in Phoenix that regardless of happens with the proposal to shorten overtime, committee members should feel an obligation to take a more comprehensive look at whether the NFL’s overtime system is in need of an overhaul.
“We obviously heard it loud and clear as a committee that we’ve got work to do,” Jones said. “I just think it’s probably deeper than just saying well, they were against 10 minutes. Is there a better way to do overtime? I think we’ve got to go back and sharpen our pencils and see if there’s a better way to do it.”
That point was underscored to some, Jones said, when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl with a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime.
“I think even after the Super Bowl there’s a lot of people feeling there’s got to be a better way that both teams get the opportunity,” Jones said.
Under the league’s current overtime format, the team that gets the ball first in overtime can win with a touchdown. If that team gets a field goal, its opponent gets a possession and can tie and extend the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown.
“Obviously player health and safety is always at the top of our list, which was what brought this to attention,” Jones said. “It’s a player health and safety rule. But at the same time, is there a better way to do it in terms of … do both teams get the opportunity, a fair shot at it? I’m sure after the Super Bowl there’s people that feel like it would’ve been interesting to see what Atlanta would have done had they had their chance. Not taking anything away from New England. What an amazing game and an amazing outcome. It’s just we’ve got to continue to look at it.”
Jones said he does not know how much support there would be on the competition committee or among the owners for a college-style overtime format in which teams would alternate possessions from a specified yard line until there was a winner.
“We’ve got to really probably do a deeper dive on that,” Jones said. “I think it’d be premature for me to speculate on who might be open-minded to something like that.”
2. 10-minute OT: A 10-minute overtime, if enacted, would create the risk that a team could have a long possession ending with a field goal, and its opponent would not have enough time remaining on the clock for a fair shot at drive to tie or win the game.
“That was discussed,” said New York Giants co-owner John Mara, a competition committee member. “That’s a risk. But you have a couple timeouts. You shouldn’t let a drive like that happen …. You shouldn’t let the team hold the ball.”
Mara said he is not concerned about the possibility that approval of the 10-minute overtime could lead to more tie games.
“It was something the players, when we met with them in Indianapolis, supported,” Mara said. “The opposition to that is it might create more ties. My response to that is: So what? I’d rather have that used as a tiebreaker at the end of the year than something like point differential.”
That led Mara to say jokingly of Redskins President Bruce Allen: “The one that I wanted to support vigorously but I understand it was withdrawn was the Washington proposal being able to opt out of those godawful ‘color rush’ uniforms. I told Bruce he finally made one proposal in 20 years that I was willing to support and he had to withdraw it.”
4. McKay on comebacks: Another good line came from Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, as he reeled off statistics that he said showed the health of the sport from a competitive standpoint.
“Those are good stats,” McKay said. “I have a stat about fourth-quarter comebacks, the fact that we had 72 of them. But I really don’t like to talk about comebacks.”
The Falcons, of course, squandered a 28-3, third-quarter lead to lose the Super Bowl to the Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.
The $1.9 billion stadium that’s planned for the Raiders and the UNLV football team in Vegas is to be completed for the 2020 season.
That leaves the Raiders’ home for the 2019 season unknown. And, really, no one should be surprised if things get ugly enough in Oakland before then for the league and the Raiders to consider putting them elsewhere.
Yes, the Raiders have what should be a contending team. Yes, they could lure Oakland native Marshawn Lynch out of retirement, if they can work out his contractual status with the Seattle Seahawks. And yes, Davis has urged fans in Oakland to direct their ire at him rather than at Coach Jack Del Rio and players. Davis said last week he thinks the team will be “well supported” during its remaining time in Oakland.
But it is an unbelievably awkward, potentially untenable situation. The Raiders are asking for support from fans in a city that they have been approved to leave.
Davis said he would consider working out a third one-year lease for the Raiders to play in Oakland in 2019. That seems unlikely. Other possibilities that have been mentioned for 2019 include the Raiders playing in Las Vegas at UNLV or in another market. They could share Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., with the San Francisco 49ers. Could San Antonio, which once attempted to lure the franchise, be a possibility? And if Santa Clara or San Antonio would be a possibility for 2019, how about 2018?
A city councilman, Larry Reid, already has expressed a desire to get the Raiders out of Oakland sooner.
Asked about that last week, Davis said: “I can understand that. That’s emotion speaking. I like Larry. He does a good job for the Bay Area. I’ll talk to him as well and we’ll see where we can go as well. But emotions are high right now.”
6. Relocations, relocations, relocations: The Raiders’ move is the third franchise relocation ratified since January 2016. The Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles last year. The Chargers have exited San Diego and will begin play in L.A. this coming season.
“None of us like to see anyone move, the three situations, and it’s horrible for the fan base,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “Look, I went through it myself and came close to even moving in the New England region but I decided not to do it, walked away from a great financial deal because that was right for me …. In the end, we’re in a very competitive league. And you can’t compete at the highest level if you don’t have a first-rate stadium. I think that is what really this is all about.”
Jerry Jones thought back to late Raiders owner Al Davis, Mark Davis’s father.
“Al was a very close friend of mine and I know how much he thought of Oakland and where his heart was,” Jones said. “So that’s unfortunate that they’re leaving Oakland. However, for years even when Al was here, I know how hard they tried to get a new facility. It just didn’t work. It didn’t work and it wasn’t working. They were approved to go to L.A. And so that’s just unfortunate. They’ve got great fans. They’ve got great fans in Oakland. The Raiders are a national-followed team. They’ve got over the country. I wish Mark well in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a great city, a treasure in the country, really. The Raiders, they fit like a glove. So I wish them the best.”
Goodell likened this period to a time in the 1990s when relocations became frequent.
“We had a number of relocations in the ‘90s,” Goodell said. “I believe it was four in a very short period of time, maybe even a year. So that’s an unfortunate circumstance. But it comes after a great deal of work to try to resolve the issues. We’ve been successful in keeping our franchises where they are. Unfortunately we weren’t in this case. We want to continue to find ways to be creative and finding those solutions in those markets. But we also have stability for those teams now. Those teams, that wasn’t something that just started in the last year or two. They’ve been struggling with stadiums for at least a decade in almost every one of those cases.”
7. Hiring Super Bowl assistants: Another proposal tabled in Phoenix was one by the competition committee that would allow an assistant coach on a team still in the playoffs to reach an agreement with another franchise to be its head coach.
That’s currently forbidden, which is why the 49ers had to wait until after the Super Bowl to hire Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Of course, it was clear to everyone by then that Shanahan would get the job, so the official hiring was a mere formality.
“There may be some opposition but I don’t think it really changes what’s going on right now,” Mara said last week, before the measure was tabled. “It just prevents you from announcing it. I think the theory behind that is if that coach that’s in the Super Bowl is the offensive coordinator in a news conference and he’s asked about the quarterback situation with the new club, he can simply say, ‘Hey, I’m not allowed to talk about that now. Nothing’s been announced.’ To me, it makes sense as the way to do it.”
In the aftermath of the Redskins’ firing of Scot McCloughan as their general manager, reportedly because of McCloughan’s allegedly ongoing issues with alcohol, Quinn was asked last week about the Falcons’ support system for Sarkisian and his previous alcohol-related issues while at USC.
“When we had the opportunity to hire Steve, that was one of the real questions that we wanted to talk about: his recovery and how we can do the very best job of supporting him,” Quinn said. “That was a big topic that he and I discussed prior to coming on board. I wanted to make sure he was healthy and doing great. And he was. I wanted to find out the exact steps that are necessary for him and how I can best support him, which I do 100 percent.
“I’ll leave that between he and I. But the steps are in place to help with his recovery. Fortunately with him, part of his openness to talk about it helps a lot, too. His way to help someone else by having it be transparent is important to him.”
# Several NFL head coaches, including Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, said at the league meeting they would like to see the limitations on offseason workouts and how much time players can spend at teams’ facilities during the offseason relaxed in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Ummm, how to put this delicately:
Coaches, the league and the NFL Players Association don’t care what you think.
This is a collective bargaining issue between the league and the union. The NFLPA pushed hard for these restrictions in the last CBA as a matter of player health and safety, and is proud to have secured thems. The union is not about to reverse field in the next set of labor negotiations, and NFLPA leaders have made it very clear they are paying no attention to the coaches’ concerns.
On the league side, never forget that owners own and coaches coach. When the owners during previous league meetings have wanted to decide something to which coaches might object, they simply have waited until coaches were out the room — at a golf outing, perhaps — to do what they wanted to do.
Move on to something else, coaches. You’re not going to win on this.
# Goodell said he has seen no evidence that free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed.
“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that that’s an issue,” Goodell said. “My experience in 35 years is that our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try to improve their teams. If they think a player can help them improve their team, they’re gonna do that.”
# The newly approved centralized instant replay system, with rulings being made by members of the NFL’s officiating department stationed in New York, creates the possibility of a hectic time in the league office when many games are being played at once early Sunday afternoons. Dean Blandino, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, and his staff potentially could be in charge of multiple replay reviews taking place simultaneously.
That shouldn’t be a problem, Blandino said in Phoenix.
“We’ve been doing this for three years now since 2014,” he said. “We’ve been involved in the replay decision-making process. There are three people in the room — myself, our senior director of officiating and one of our officiating supervisors — that can make decisions. We have one person that’s assigned to each game and they’re responsible for calling things to our attention.
“We had a real good year last year with the three people in the room feeling out that early window on Sunday. So if there are up to three challenges going on at once, we can manage that. It would be a very rare instance where they would all be initiated at the same moment and have a fourth where you really couldn’t get to it. The way it flows, you can get to the replay station. And we feel comfortable with that early window of games.”
# The NFL still has not given the go-ahead for coaches and players to watch video on the tablets they’re allowed to have on the sidelines during games. The use of the tablets remains limited to viewing still photos.
“Video on the tablets on the sidelines was discussed,” Blandino said in Phoenix. “I think that’s something that we’ll continue. We’ve heard from our coaches and from our clubs, where they stand on it. And I think that’s something, as the technology continues to improve, it will continue to be part of the discussion.”
# According to a person familiar with the league’s inner workings, owners decided nothing definitively in Phoenix about a contract extension for Goodell. His current deal reportedly expires in March 2019 and his pay is a matter handled by an owners’ compensation committee headed by the Falcons’ Arthur Blank. Profootballtalk reported that Goodell’s contract was among the subjects addressed during an owners-only session in Phoenix.
# Rob Gronkowski is a game-changing player when he’s healthy, and his off-field antics are generally fun and basically harmless. But is it really the best idea for a player coming off back surgery, and a season in which he was placed on the injured reserve list and missed the playoffs and Super Bowl, to spend part of his offseason ramming into a pro wrestler?
# Adrian Peterson is scheduled to visit the Patriots on Monday, as first reported by ESPN. Peterson remains unsigned in free agency and isn’t headed back to the Vikings, who signed Latavius Murray to replace him at running back. New England always has made sense as a potential landing spot for him. If Peterson isn’t going to get a mega-contract, he at least should choose a team that gives him a chance to be productive again as a runner and possibly reach a Super Bowl.