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Friday, March 23, 2001
The Depth Chart: NFL's most pressing issues

By Chris Mortensen
Special to

As we head into the annual NFL owners meetings in Palm Springs, there are a few pressing issues that face the league, regardless of whether they are addressed in this session. Forget instant replay. It's no longer a controversy. In fact, the NFL likely will approve replay as a more permanent fixture next week. Here are other items that remain on the burners:

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Chris Mortensen's most pressing issues in the NFL
1. Realignment. As the league heads into a 32-team field with the addition of the Houston Texans in 2002, the NFL is about to realign into eight four-team divisions divided by two conferences. Changes won't be as radical as some fans would like. The most dramatic change would be the leading proposal currently under consideration in which an AFC South division would be created with Houston joining Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Under this proposal, Arizona would depart from the traditional NFC East and would be joined by Seattle to form a new NFC West division along with St. Louis and San Francisco. A decision is forthcoming by late May, although the NFL's way is often delay, delay, delay.
2. Salary cap blues. It has been a shock to most players and teams this offseason. The money isn't there to collect or spend for the majority. Then again, it may be similar to the stock market -- it has a way of correcting its excesses. Yet, is it good for the fans? Not really. Is it good for the game? Not really. Things won't get a whole lot better. The NFL has really become partners with the NFL Players Association. Regardless of denials, there is a secret two-year agreement to extend this current system another two years to 2006. There are mechanisms to massage the system during the agreement, but you wonder just how willing the two sides are to make changes.
3. Minority hirings. Sure, it's gotten a little better. But is it enough? If it's enough, how does Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis get passed over? Only Buffalo waited to even give Lewis an opportunity to interview for a job. The competition committee recently discussed different scenarios to loosen up the rules for playoff coaches to interview for jobs, but the road blocks still remain, and no change is imminent.
4. Player off-field conduct. Regardless of the outcomes, the trials of Ray Lewis, Rae Carruth and Mark Chmura in the past year were an indictment on the NFL. The league and its member clubs have been more vigilant in addressing issues with players. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue did note during his Super Bowl press conference that the most recent season was relatively scandal free. Well, that's a little something.
5. Player on-field conduct. Critics label it the "No Fun League." In fact, it is the players -- specifically veteran players -- that are campaigning for a crackdown on taunting and unnecessary celebration. The fear is that the NFL is one retaliation away from an ugly incident. The competition committee will report to the owners that the league will be more aggressive in enforcing unsporstmanlike conduct during the 2001 season.