Commentary

Plenty of sunshine as owners meet

Spirits are high as NFL reviews rules, talks trades and settles with retirees

Originally Published: March 18, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- Things couldn't be any sunnier for NFL owners.

They are staying at the plush Biltmore resort with temperatures in the 80s. Skies are clear and sunscreen is in generous supply. Team profits are up thanks to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Interest in the sport continues to grow.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
AP Photo/Matt YorkRoger Goodell has reason to be in good spirits at the NFL owners meetings.

Life is so good in the NFL that everyone enjoys a good laugh. Each year's meetings open with the commissioner giving a state of the league address. To spruce up the address, NFL events personnel designed a tailgate theme for the owners, general managers and coaches attending.

Just as commissioner Roger Goodell started to go point by point on the positive state of the league, someone on the events staff turned off the power, a flashback to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Once everyone realized it was a staged event, everyone got a good laugh.

It's good to be an NFL owner or someone who works in the NFL these days.

Here is what we learned about the first full day at the NFL owners meetings.

1. The "tuck rule" is all but dead: Competition committee co-chairman Jeff Fisher, head coach of the St. Louis Rams, said there wasn't a lot of debate when the committee presented its plan to eliminate the tuck rule. The talk went so smoothly, it's not out of the question the league could vote it out as early as Tuesday. Sure, the New England Patriots might vote against it, but others will favor the change. The reason is that officials have been quietly calling more fumbles on tuck rule plays in the past two years, knowing that any turnover will be reviewed. Fisher also confirmed that Tom Brady's famous tuck rule play would be ruled a fumble and not an incompletion under the proposed rule change. Here's the thinking: If a quarterback loses the ball early in a motion going forward to pass, it's an incompletion. That's pretty easy to see. But when a quarterback is bringing the ball toward his body, he's not passing. He's trying to protect the football. That's why this will end up being ruled a fumble and has been called that way for the past couple of years.

2. The competition committee says the running game isn't being altered dramatically with two proposals: The proposed "peel-back block" change, which will make blocking a defensive player below the knee from behind illegal anywhere on the field, will likely be adopted. Fisher and committee co-chairman Rich McKay showed enough tape to coaches to eliminate fears that zone-blocking schemes on running plays would be altered by a rule change.

The more debatable issue is the 15-yard penalty that could go to running backs if they use the crown of the helmet in the open field. The rules proposal involves two scenarios -- backs who are outside of the tackle box or backs who are more than three yards downfield. The league studied every helmet-to-helmet play in Week 16 last year and found five backs who would have been penalized for a crown-of-the-helmet hit. "We're trying to bring the shoulder back into the game," Fisher said. Backs can still duck their head and brace for a tackle under the new rule. Offensive coaches do have concerns about this, so there will be plenty of discussion Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeBranden Albert
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliTackle Branden Albert, the Chiefs' franchise player, could fill a hole for the Dolphins.

3. Trades being discussed: In the first week of the league year, four trades, including the blockbuster deal that sent Percy Harvin to Seattle, were executed. More might be on tap. The slowest one to develop is the Darrelle Revis discussion. The New York Jets are willing to listen to offers for Revis, who can leave in free agency after the 2013 season. The most likely team to trade for Revis would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the Bucs might not be willing to give up a first-round pick this year, the possibility of using a No. 1 in next year's draft might be something that keeps the trade conversations alive. Don't expect anything to happen soon, however. A more likely trade could be Kansas City offensive tackle Branden Albert to the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins lost left tackle Jake Long to the St. Louis Rams in free agency. One way for the Dolphins to replace him would be to use one of their two second-round picks to acquire Albert, the Chiefs' franchise player. The Chiefs would like to recoup the second-round pick they traded to San Francisco for quarterback Alex Smith.

4. Business on the agenda: Conversations will heat up over the future of the Pro Bowl. Over the next couple of days, owners will discuss whether to continue the Pro Bowl and whether to keep it in Hawaii. Goodell said he noticed improved effort in the most recent Pro Bowl and was appreciative of that from the players. He wants to make the game more attractive. Talk of changes in the offseason schedule hasn't gone away. Some folks in the league office want to push back the start of free agency into April and push the draft back into May. Talks with the NFLPA will continue after Goodell said he brought the topic up to the union at the combine.

Getting a team in Los Angeles could also heat up. AEG, which is trying to fund a stadium construction in downtown Los Angeles, isn't killing the project after last week's story broke about AEG being taken off the market and changes at the top of the company. Goodell said the NFL is willing to talk about the Los Angeles stadium situation this week and see if progress can be made in securing a site. The Farmers Field site proposed by AEG doesn't look promising.

The league also will discuss expanding the playoffs in future years, but there will be no change for the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeJim Brown
AP Photo/Matt YorkThe settlement between the NFL and the league's retired players was good news to Hall of Famer Jim Brown.

5. Don't minimize the settlement the NFL made with retired players: On Monday, Goodell announced the end of a five-year court fight with retired players over their imaging rights. Former NFL great Jim Brown said he couldn't be happier. "Retired players will have a seat at the table," he said. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the NFL will contribute $42 million over an eight-year period to a "common good" fund that will be run by a seven-member board of retired players. The fund will be established to assist retired players or families of retired players who are struggling. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, a former receiver for the Baltimore Colts, admitted he had always been frustrated by not having a system in which retired players ran a fund with the league as their partners. "It's a new day," Richardson said. "It's better late than never."

Here is why this is important: If the settlement is approved by the court after a five-year fight, the board of retired players can establish an independent licensing agency for the publicity rights for retired players. It would operate separately from the NFLPA. For example, if a company wants to produce ads involving retired players and use footage of the players in uniform, the agency can strike deals that would add more money to the fund. This won't stop NFL Films from using the footage of game action of the past. It would involve new commercial ventures.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer