|David Drapkin/Associated Press|
|Commissioner Roger Goodell is with the Saints' Tom Benson and the other 31 owners in Palm Beach this week.|
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The NFL Annual Meeting is always more about the part of the league you don't see than the part you do.
When sessions commence at The Breakers on Monday morning, the most pertinent topics to those who run the show -- the owners -- will be about the challenges facing a sport that seems to reach new plateaus of popularity on an annual basis. There are costly new stadiums. There are lawsuits coming as a result of concussions and other post-career problems for players. There's Los Angeles.
But there are also things that will hit your living rooms and stadium sections on Sundays in the fall.
The owners and general managers and coaches will be out of here midday on Wednesday. By then, we'll have some rules changes. We'll have more fodder on the over-arching football-related stories of the offseason. And then, it'll be on to the draft and minicamps and OTAs.
Here are 10 things to watch:
The NFC coaches breakfast, when all 16 of the conference's coaches are available to the media, is set for Wednesday morning. Sean Payton might talk then. He might talk sooner. And he'll have plenty of questions to answer. Who will take his place in the coming weeks? And for the 2012 season? Then, we have the issue of discipline for Saints players like Jonathan Vilma and ex-Saints like Scott Fujita and Tracy Porter.
The league believes it'll be much harder to police player-run pools -- i.e., 10 players putting a grand each into a hat, with $10,000 going to the one who knocks another team's guy out -- than it will be to curb what happened with Gregg Williams and Co. As such, Roger Goodell wants to drop the hammer on the players involved, like he did with Payton and Williams. Those punishments will be on the table this week, with the NFL Players Association wrapping up its player rep summit across the state in Marco Island.
The Cowboys/Redskins issue
Dallas and Washington will have their case heard before special master Stephen Burbank, as the clubs try to recoup $10 million and $36 million in lost cap space over this year and next, a result of the league's claim that the teams created an unfair competitive advantage by stashing big salary numbers into the uncapped season of 2010.
And where it gets interesting is here: They'll have support. When I asked one executive from a rival team if it's crazy to think Washington and Dallas got screwed here, the answer came back quickly: "No. This all seems somewhat arbitrary." Don't be surprised if Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder have a strong backing at the meeting, mostly because it's easy to argue their point. All you have to do is ask a simple question: Why weren't the teams that didn't spend to the old salary floor punished, too?
It's been two years since the new overtime system was installed on a playoffs-only basis, and we've only seen it put into practice once thus far. And in that case, in last year's AFC wild-card round, it was over in one play, with Denver's Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas to oust Pittsburgh. So we really haven't seen it play out yet, with each team getting multiple possessions.
Chances are, we'll get a chance to real soon. There's a proposal from the competition committee to be voted on this week that would expand the format to the regular season, which is what coaches wanted all along. The opposing viewpoint on this could come from the networks -- who want the games to fit into their time slots -- though it seems likely this one will go through.
This relates back to the Saints' bounty scandal, as well as the aforementioned lawsuits. It's also a major reason why Goodell was compelled to obliterate the Saints with sanctions, and an area where a lot of money will be spent in the coming years, and even decades. So it's certainly something the owners will be discussing from a business standpoint.
But as it has in recent years, it will also creep into the rule changes. There is a proposal on the table to further strengthen guidelines on unnecessary roughness. And there's another that would allow teams an extra roster spot to give players suffering from a concussion time to recover.
Injured reserve rules
Another potential rule change would allow a team to tag one player on injured reserve as "Designated for Return," giving the club a chance to get an extra roster spot while not finishing a player's season when an injury isn't really "season-ending." In the past, if a player suffered, say, a six-to-eight-week injury in Week 7, a club would have to seriously consider putting him on IR, because the roster spot was too valuable.
Should this rule tweak pass, clubs will have added flexibility. The "Designated to Return" tag, which can only be used once, allows a player to return to practice after six weeks away, and return to the roster after eight weeks on the shelf, though clubs do reach a crossroads at nine weeks, when the player has to either return, or go on the traditional, season-ending IR. Had this tweak been in for 2011, the Colts would have had an extra roster spot for more than two months while they waited on Peyton Manning.
There have long been complaints that the NFL's trade deadline is boring compared with other sports. And part of that is unfixable -- the nature of the game is such that, unlike in baseball or hockey, it can be pretty difficult to integrate new pieces into prominent roles on the fly.
But there's another part that can be adjusted to promote movement, and that's the juncture of the cut-off date. As it currently stands, no trades can occur after the Tuesday following Week 6, which means there are fewer clubs ready to conduct a fire sale and fewer holes left by injuries for contenders to fill. Even if the difference is marginal, the proposal to move the deadline back two weeks, to Week 8, should help.
Last year, the league allowed teams to carry 90 players into training camp, and it seems like it worked out well enough. So now the expanded rosters are being proposed as a permanent change. There are two prongs to this. First, the new rule would allow 90 players in camp. Second, it would allow the first cutdown to be to 80, the previous roster limit at the start of camp, rather than 75.
The extra bodies in camp can help coaches split the team up more efficiently -- last year, new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was able to stock scout teams for both his offense and defense and, in effect, run two separate practices to double the reps for players. That's big, considering the new restrictions on contacts and two-a-days. And it also allows more players to get a longer look.
It's already rolling here. Giants owner John Mara was asked if there was enough room for both his team and No. 15 in Gotham, and Mara slyly shot back -- "The David Carr press conference is tomorrow." Funny, because the Tim Tebow press conference actually is on Monday, and the AFC coaches breakfast is on Tuesday.
Rex Ryan won't be the only coach answering questions on this one, either. Every team in that division has a connection. Bill Belichick kicked the tires on Tebow in 2010, is close to his college coach, Urban Meyer, and employs the coach (Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) who drafted him. The Bills were very interested pre-draft in Tebow. And the Dolphins are, of course, in Florida, with questions lingering over the quarterback position.
The story that dominated the headlines for the first six weeks of the offseason was trampled later in the week by the Tebow trade and the Saints' sanctions. And that's probably the way Peyton Manning wants it, with some calm to follow the hysteria.
But with all 32 coaches available during the next three days, we'll hear from the Broncos folks on the future, and also likely get postmortems on the Manning chase from up to a dozen teams. Then, the Manning story advances to what he'll look like when he actually throws the ball at OTAs and minicamp.
Last Wednesday, with the Manning story in the books, I boarded a flight in Denver bound for Kennedy. I'd spent 24 days in Indianapolis (following nine days there for the Super Bowl on top of that) and 10 more in Denver covering No. 18's departure in his old home and search for a new one.
As we pulled away from the gate, I looked down at my phone (don't tell the flight attendants) â¦ And saw tweets about the league's announcement on the Saints' bounty penalties. Within five minutes of that, the Tebow trade was done. Then, it was wheels up.
Point is, there's no telling how quickly the next story can come, or where it will come from. So keep your eye out for "Story X." Because something tells me that, based on what we've already been through in this frantic offseason, there could be more big news to drop before I get on another plane.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer