A Quick Look at the NFL Landscape Post 2011

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By: Joe D.

The future is uncertain; however, you do not have to be clairvoyant to see the NFL will undergo dramatic changes over the next few years. The NFL players association is considered one of the weakest unions among the professional sports (save for hockey). Essentially, what the owners want, they get. The players are well compensated, but as a whole, they have historically been pushed around at the negotiating table.

It should be noted that Gene Upshaw was the head of the players union in previous negotiations. Presently that role is manned by DeMaurice Smith (a former trial lawyer and litigator). It is not inconceivable that Smith will attempt to make his mark by negotiating harder and more firmly than his predecessor. This could lead to an extended period where college football is the only available option making Sundays a day of remembrance.

However, for the purposes of this article I will consider that players have historically been less than unified against the NFL management. Therefore, while Smith may increase health benefits, pension allotments, and team size, though the NFL management will undoubtedly get its way.

First of all, the NFL regular season will expand to 18 games. There won’t be many who mourn the death of two pre-season games. Players don’t wish to risk injury that is everpresent on the football field (as evidenced by Steve Smith who broke his arm in a flag football game). Owners will not miss the half filled stadium. Fans with season tickets won’t miss the mandatory purchase of tickets for two pre-season games (though they will still pay for one). As a side note, it is unconscionable that the owners charged the same price for regular and pre-season games.

Compound the regular season with two bye weeks, and it is evident the football landscape will be moving from a 17 week regular season to an 20 week season. Television contracts will increase, sponsorship dollars will increase, and while increased injuries may correspond to an extended season, SOMEONE wins the Super Bowl every year. Generally that someone is the healthier team, but not necessarily the better team (as evidenced by the Giants defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII).

The great thing about football is that every game counts. In 2005, the Cowboys missed the playoffs due to a tie breaker (presuming they would have beating the Rams in the final game if they still had a playoff pulse).  In 2008, the Cowboys were ousted from the playoffs as they were behind in the standing by only 1/2 game. Certainly in baseball there are ties at the end of the season. One game out of 162 is ten fold less consequential than one game out of 16. The increase to 18 games in this comparison is statistically inconsequential, but most will agree watering down one’s product can be detrimental.

Baseball and basketball have such long seasons. At times it feels like they play game seven for the championship, take a week off and start the new season.  For the average fan, the outcome of games become white noise barely registering on their consciousness.  Fans long for football. Stories about Patrick Crayton are prevalent because fans are starved for the only panacea we need. Seriously, why else would people focus so much energy on a fourth string veteran who has never been to a pro-bowl? We tell our children not to gorge themselves with chocolate on Halloween because we know it will make them sick. Walking away from the NFL version of an all you can eat buffet may be the smart thing, though none of us will.

As for the pre-season games, we have grown accustomed to the starters playing one quarter in the first game, a half in the second game, three quarters in the third (as this is the dress rehearsal for the regular season), and sitting out in the final pre-season game. With only 2 preseason games, the third string may never see the field. Before you scoff at the 3rd string, please remember that Tony Romo was the 3rd string QB behind Drew Henson in his first year.  With only two pre-season games, starters will likely play a half in one game, and 3/4’s of the next game.  I don’t see Jesse Holley hitting the field.

Certainly the coaches saw Romo’s potential on the practice field, but would they sacrifice precious game time to a player with no pedigree and little investment by the team? Without game time, would Donovan McNabb been ushered out in favor for Kevin Kolb? How did Miles Austin‘s performance on the practice field affect his ability to become the #1 WR? In the 2009 pre-season, Austin caught a total of three balls for 44 yards. It’s not a huge surprise that the Cowboys coaches were unaware of what he would do once he became a starter (though they were aware of his potential).

The NFL doesn’t cherish its record book the way baseball does; however, certain numbers resonate with fans. That guy, he’s a 1,000 yard back. In a 16 game schedule, that breaks down to 63 yards per game. In an 18 game schedule, it’s only 55 yards per game. Both are relatively unimpressive and you wouldn’t sign the guy to a long-term contract, but recall that Troy Hambrick was 28 yards away from 1,000 in 2003. It’s a better than a coin flips chance that he does get to 1,000 with an extra two games.

While the consideration of a 1,000 yard back won’t be greatly affected by the addition of 2 games, there will be a huge increase in the number of 2,000 yard backs. At present, there is Eric Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, OJ Simpson, and Chris Johnson. That is elite company; however, with two additional games, a very good 1700 yard back will be an less than deserving player among a Mount Rushmore of backs. Jimmy Carter and both George Bushes do not belong on Mt. Rushmore.

And we finally reach the end of the season. Watching a night game played in the snow can be entertaining. Watching the Patriots demolish the Titans in the snow is anything but (unless you are a Patriots fan). The NFL will continue to start the season around Labor Day. Fast forward 20 weeks, add three weeks for the playoffs, plus a bye (or the Pro Bowl), and finally the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will be played in late February. It it still winter, but the temperatures in the north east tend to be at their most frigid around January and early February. When the Super Bowl is played in New Jersey in 2014, there may be a slight chance of pleasant weather. It won’t be bikini weather, but fans won’t lose any fingers or toes.  Though it is Jersey, so they may not have their full complement of digits, let alone teeth.

Here is one problem that the NFL may not be paying any attention. Valentines Day. The one day where men all over the country are OBLIGATED to set aside their own wishes and shower affection on the one person in life who can make their lives truly miserable if they don’t.

More often than not, Valentines weekend will butt up against the NFC/AFC conference championships. Those games are only played on Sunday, leaving Saturday free for love.  I once tried taking my significant other to a Valentines Day dinner the day before Valentines day (smartly to avoid the rush and the crowds).  Ignorantly, I thought I had met my obligation for celebrating the holiday.  The following day, Valentines Day, I had nothing prepared.  Anyone want to guess how that ended?

Most men buy flowers, chocolates, jewelry, and take their significant others to dinner and a show. There are others to take their loved ones on a get away to make up for the negligence that was suffered DURING FOOTBALL SEASON AND THE PLAYOFFS! Not all women will object to a day of watching football. I’m inclined to say most women will object to an afternoon of football on their getaway.

So prepare for the new NFL. It will be a longer season, filled with injuries, more beer commercials, statistical records that will ring hollow, greater ignorance of the non-starters, and a very angry significant other if you sacrifice her lone weekend of love for watching the best reality television has to offer.

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Tags: Barry Sanders Chris Johnson Dallas Cowboys Demaurice Smith Donovan McNabb Eric Dickerson Gene Upshaw Jamal Lewis Kevin Kolb Miles Austin New England Patriots Oj Simpson St. Louis Rams Steve Smith Tennesse Titans Terrell Davis

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