All right, NFL Competition Committee. You have a little more than a month before your annual meeting, and there are some things I want you to think about, and I know I’m speaking for several other fans. The game is never going to be perfect, but there are a couple of things you could tweak this offseason that will make the NFL immensely better to watch.
1) Cap the rookie contracts. There needs to be a cap on what a rookie drafted at a given slot can receive. It’s a big problem right now that top draft picks are so expensive. The worst teams are supposed to get the high draft picks so that they can get the best rookies and thus improve their team. But these young superstars—you know, like Jamaal Anderson, Vernon Davis, Cedric Benson, and Troy Williamson—are costing their teams so much money that it’s setting the team back more than improving it. There’s a reason no one’s trading up early into the first round anymore; it’s practically a punishment. If going into the draft, we knew that pick #22’s salary must fall between X and Y, contract negotiations should go faster, and there won’t be long holdouts; Brady Quinn’s agent would say, “All right, Phil Savage, you know you got a huge steal here, and there’s no way we sign for anything other than the absolute max.” Savage spends a few days trying to talk him down, realizes he can’t, and Quinn’s in camp plenty early.
2) Hit the QBs. Last I checked, an NFL quarterback is a football player. Let people hit him, for crying out loud. I’m amazed I’m not hearing anything of a stink from Patriotsland about this—am I the only person who thinks that maybe the reason they didn’t wrap up Eli on that miracle play is that they were afraid that in throwing him to the ground they’d get a 15-yard penalty? It’s happened before, I remember a Vince Young incident in particular, but this could be the high-profile play that leads to change, if people would start raising a fuss. I’m tired of coddling QBs. I understand the other side of the issue, of course, it’s bad for the game if a team’s most important player gets hurt. But there should be, like with kickers, a 5-yard and 15-yard version of the penalty. If your momentum carries you into the passer a little bit on the late side, and he falls on his butt, 5 yards for running into the passer. If you lay him out, making no effort to stop yourself, it’s 15 yards, plus you’ll get fined.
3) Ice cakes, not kickers. As soon as it started happening, we all knew it was bad for the game when a time out gets called a half-second before the snap and a good field goal is negated. This is the issue most likely to be addressed at the annual meetings. What’s happening is that coaches are approaching refs to let them know they will be calling a timeout before the kick. So change that. A coach may not talk to a referee about a timeout unless he is calling one or asking for a rule clarification. So the coach can’t make sure he has the ref’s attention. There are a number of other ideas about this, and I’ll accept just about any solution to this problem, really.
4) Forward pass, or fumble? This needs to get called consistently. It’s so hard to determine in some cases whether or not the passer’s arm was moving forward when the ball got knocked loose. I think the rule should be, if the ball falls backward behind the passer’s hand, it’s a fumble. If the ball falls forward ahead of the passer’s hand, it’s a forward pass. Compare it to the ruling on a lateral. It doesn’t matter what the passer’s intention is, all that matters is which direction the ball travels. If it travels forward and misses, it’s an incompletion. If it travels backward and misses, it’s a fumble. I propose the same principle here.
5) Sideline catches. This is one rule where I think the college way is best. In the NCAA, a receiver needs only to get one foot in bounds for it to be ruled a catch. However, if he leaves the ground to make a catch, the defender can push him so that his foot does not land in bounds. In the NFL, you need both feet in, but the defender cannot force you out. Sideline catches will become a lot less controversial.
6) Juggling catches. This is another situation where instant replay gets overused. Over the past several years, the rules have changed to try to nail down exactly what does and doesn’t constitute control of the football. And somewhere in it all, the ability to objectively say “He had control of it” got lost. I saw some spectacular catches get negated because the ball moved around a tiny bit in the guy’s arms. That’s BS. This is a situation where we need fewer rules and more common sense.
7) Dog piles. It’s been a staple of the NFL forever. The ball squirts loose, and 22 men in pads jump on top of each other trying to wrestle the ball away. Officials peel them away and the last guy holding the ball has won. And that’s great, it’s fun, it’s high drama. But there are occasions where someone, we’ll call him #82, clearly has control of the fumble, and everyone piles on top, and by the time it’s all over, someone’s wrestled it away. I know at least once I’ve seen the refs look at a replay and say “Number 82 recovered the fumble, it’s [his team]’s ball.” That’s great, it’s the right call, and it should be encouraged that such calls happen more often.
8) Tanking games? It’s been brought up by others that it’s a problem that players are being rested at the end of a season and teams are losing games, and that the competition committee should do something about it. I say leave it alone. In terms of playoff implications, I think this rule is taking care of itself. The Super Bowl featured two teams who played their starters in the final game of the season (against each other) when the game had no impact on the playoffs. Most people think that game was what sparked New York’s run to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, teams that did rest people, like Indianapolis, Dallas, and Tampa Bay, got bounced from the playoffs in their first game. So I think we’ll see more people playing all-out towards the season’s end next year. The other argument is that teams will lose games to get better draft picks. As I stated earlier, better draft picks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and I think most NFL coaches and players would rather have one fewer loss on their record than jump up three spots in the draft.
9) The OT. This is the biggie. We all know the problems; that the flip of a coin is too powerful. I still think my solution is the best I’ve heard—I don’t believe the college system is perfect or even that good. Yes, it’s better than what the NFL has, but it removes the element of special teams, and can drag on forever. You can see my solution in more detail here, but basically, it’s this: first person to six points wins. So you can’t just drive down to the 25, and kick a field goal on first down. You either go for the touchdown, or kick the FG and trust you’ll get another shot. If neither team has scored 6 by the time 15 minutes are up, then whoever’s scored more in OT wins. And if it’s tied, it’s a tie, unless it’s the playoffs, then there’s no 15-minute mark. Just get someone to 6 points.
What are your thoughts on these issues, and what did I miss that you want to see the competition committee address?