Five ways to change the NFL, plus my 12 postseason teams for 2010
Each team should play every team in its conference once a season
Texans' playoff drought will end, and why Dolphins will be a sleeper
A hilarious teammate, suggestions for improving soccer and much more
With Peter King off, Texans offensive lineman Eric Winston took time away from his offseason to write today's Monday Morning Quarterback column. Winston is entering his fifth season in the NFL and has started 55 straight games at right tackle for Houston. He is also busy off the field, staying active in the NFL Players Association and doing charity work for Shriners Hospital for Children. Follow Eric on Twitter here.
When Peter asked me if I wanted to write his MMQB column, I immediately tossed around topic ideas with teammates, friends, tweeps and others. One topic stood out above the rest: How would I change the NFL? Examining things both on and off the field, here are five ways I would change the game:
1. PLAY THE SUPER BOWL ON SATURDAY.
What comes to mind when you think about the Super Bowl? Most sports fans would mention the house parties they attend to celebrate the big event. Others may think of their favorite sports bars where they can go and watch the game. It's safe to say the Super Bowl is synonymous with eating, drinking and getting together with friends.
When I think of these activities, I think of Saturday night. Saturday is the one night a week my wife and I get a babysitter for our daughter Julie. Most people are able to enjoy themselves comfortably Saturday night because they have less obligations and responsibilities to attend to the next day. That's why it makes sense for the NFL to have its most important game on a Saturday.
Why should the NFL change the day of the Super Bowl when it just set so many viewership records in February? The simple answer is because it could be even bigger. No matter what day it is played on, diehard football fans are going to watch the game. But what about the casual NFL viewer? These are the ones who only watch if it is convenient for their schedule. To grow the audience of the Super Bowl, the NFL has to target those people.
Sunday night is a time when parents are getting their kids' lunches ready and making sure their homework is done, when young professionals are preparing their work for the beginning of the week. Conversely, Saturday is the night mom lets the kids stay up later while she watches Saturday Night Live, and that young professional is looking to relax after a long week. Grabbing these viewers, plus the diehards, would increase excitement while at the same time increasing viewership that adds new fans and increases revenue.
2. CHANGE THE SCHEDULE.
I propose changing the schedule to where each team plays every team in their conference plus one rival from the NFC. This admittedly drastic idea would have three big repercussions:
One, divisions would be eliminated and the top six teams from each conference would get in the playoffs. The top three finishers every year likely would be the same in this format as the current one, but I think it would make a big difference in which teams would get spots four through six. Let's face it, from year to year certain divisions are a lot stronger than others. In some years, the fourth best division champ is weaker than both wild card teams. Eliminating the divisions would guarantee the best teams make the playoffs.
Two, it mostly does away with strength of schedule. Since every team from every conference is playing each other minus one game, strength of schedule would basically be the same. This schedule would let every fan know their team had an equal shot to make the playoffs.
Three, it would add a brand new aspect to the league year -- cross-conference rivalry week. I love this idea. It's like interleague baseball, but for just one game a season. There are some great rivalries (Texans-Cowboys, Steelers-Eagles, Jets-Giants, Raiders-Niners, etc.) that would be awesome to see annually. While I realize every team might not have a natural rival, I think the fans would still be excited for it.
3. EXPAND THE ROSTER AND CREATE A MINOR LEAGUE.
Currently, NFL teams have 53 players on the roster and only 45 are active on Sundays. Roster limitations create issues for coaches and front offices as the season heads down the stretch. It also forces players to conceal injuries and play hurt, knowing their roster spot might depend on it. By expanding the roster by, say, six (59 total, 51 active), it gives coaches, executives and players more options on a weekly basis, like having backups who have been on the roster all season, and not simply plucked off the street. This also would allow teams to keep "bubble" players out of camp and let the team develop them. This brings me to the next part...
... Create a minor league. It doesn't need to be like baseball where every team has a farm system, but simply a league that allows some of those raw players to keep developing their game. Without NFL Europe, would we have ever heard of Kurt Warner? Who are we missing out on now without a developmental league? Sure, there is the CFL and Arena Football, but those aren't the same kind of games. Is the new UFL the answer? Hopefully, the NFL will help fund a league that will accomplish this goal.
4. ESTABLISH A SENSIBLE ROOKIE WAGE SCALE.
How rookies get paid is the subject of much debate in the NFL. Here's my solution:
First rounders: Four-year contracts. Can't be franchised in fifth season.
Second rounders and below: Three-year contracts. Can't be franchised or restricted in fourth season.
All picks: 90% or more playing time = $1 million bonus
80% or more playing time = $750,000 bonus
70% or more playing time = $500,000 bonus
60% or more playing time = $400,000 bonus
50% or more playing time = $300,000 bonus
Simply, if a rookie comes in and is good enough to play, he should be compensated on the back end. The reason the bonus starts going down by $100K after 70 percent has to do with the current player performance. Player performance gives you a bonus based on how much you play relative to how much you make. Example: Peyton Manning plays every play but his bonus is very small because his salary is so big. A seventh-round rookie could play 60 percent of the plays for his team and make $150K-$200K in player performance money. With the rookies getting slotted, it seems like a reasonable tradeoff to have bonuses for the ones that play.
The real sticking point to the rookie wage scale has little to do with the scale and more to do with the money being saved. The NFL Players Association has projected a savings to the league of around $200 million based on certain rookie scales (not the one I put forth, but similar.) I think that money should go back into the locker room towards veterans and to former players, especially those who played pre-1993. The owners have made it clear the savings should go back in their own pockets. I think very little progress will be made on this until the owners realize that we aren't going to give back money that is already being paid to players, rookies or not.
5. CHANGE OVERTIME.
Our current regular season system of sudden death overtime is not the way to decide a football game. I have two main problems with the current system.
One, it doesn't make a team do enough to win. After a long, hard fought game the fact that one team can get a good kickoff return, a 20-yard pass interference penalty, run it three times and kick a field goal for a win is insane. That team didn't get a first down without penalty help and didn't have one good offensive play, but still won the game. Is that how classic games should be decided?
The second problem I have with the current OT is the arbitrary way the team gets the ball. Again, after a great game, the team that gets the first chance to win is the one who wins a coin flip. How is that the way to help decide a game? If you want to keep the current system, the ball should be given to the team with the most penetrations inside the 20, most total yards, least amount of penalties, or any way determined by what takes place on the field. But certainly not a coin flip.
My perfect overtime scenario is simple and not far off from our new playoff format, with a few exceptions. My OT would start with the team who had the most possessions inside the 20 and letting them have the decision if they want the ball or not. If that was even, it would go to the team with the fewest turnovers. After play started, both teams would be guaranteed a shot at the ball. After both teams have their possession, and if it's still tied, then it goes to sudden death.
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