The NFL's Annual League Meeting is usually its most interesting and relaxed -- think: Andy Reid in Tommy Bahama -- gathering of the season. Which is not to say nothing serious happens in all the meetings between the rounds of golf. Rules get changed and, because almost every head coach and many general managers and owners are available to the media, news is often made about rosters, the forthcoming draft and injuries.
Here is a quick primer on some of what to expect next week in Orlando, Florida:
1) What's a catch? Let's find out!
It became clear the catch rule would be changed during Super Bowl week -- that's when Roger Goodell said he wanted to "start over again and look at the rule fundamentally from the start." And ever since the Competition Committee met at the NFL Scouting Combine, the "going to the ground" portion of the rule was set to disappear. That means that players will no longer have to maintain control of the ball all the way through when they hit the ground. So Dez Bryant's infamous overturned playoff catch would have stood; same with Jesse James' would-be touchdown grab in a hotly contested game against the Patriots last season. Calvin Johnson, whose waved-off touchdown catch in the Lions' 2010 season opener was a prime example of the mandate to control the ball while going to the ground, would indeed have scored under the revised rule.
On Wednesday, NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron revealed what the Competition Committee will recommend in Orlando:
The goal of all of this: to make the catch more of a know-it-when-you-see-it call. So, no more concern about the ball moving slightly while the players hold it or coming out after the player crashes to the ground. And expect replay review to overturn catch calls only in cases of an obvious mistake, not in the fine-tooth-comb way it had been used last season.
What other changes might owners vote on? There is a proposal to make fouls for roughing the passer and hits on a defenseless player reviewable by instant replay. And there will be a point of emphasis to encourage officials to be more aggressive in ejecting players for egregious personal fouls, while also giving officials in New York the power to tell the officials on the field to throw a player out. The impetus for the point of emphasis was two plays in particular from last season: when Pats TE Rob Gronkowski speared Bills CB Tre'Davious White, and when Bucs WR Mike Evans hit Saints CB Marshon Lattimore well after the play ended. Neither Gronkowski nor Evans was ejected.
One thing that will not be recommended: A proposal to make defensive pass interference a 15-yard penalty instead of spot foul. After deliberation this offseason, the Competition Committee is lopsidedly opposed to making this change.
2) A discussion on the national anthem
The overheated debate over player protests during the national anthem had largely quieted by the end of last season, in some part because a coalition of players and the league reached an agreement on NFL funding for social-justice initiatives. There was no mandate from the league that required everyone to stand for the anthem, and several players promised to continue raising awareness -- most prominently, free-agent safety Eric Reid, though he recently said he won't kneel in 2018. While the issue has faded from the headlines, owners -- probably along with coaches and general managers -- are expected to discuss how to proceed, although there is no specific line item on the meeting agenda.
No vote is expected on any policy change until at least the Spring League Meeting in May, if there is a change at all. There is, for now, no consensus among owners about what to do -- and there has not been much discussion about it since the season ended. Some teams would like a rule change to keep teams in the locker room during the national anthem, while others would like an NBA-style rule that requires players stand -- although owners know such a rule risks angering players. Still others believe the NFL should stick with the status quo, although there is acknowledgement among owners that if the controversy flares again next season, they will have missed an opportunity to resolve a thorny issue while the spotlight is off the games. One owner said he wants to hear from the commissioner on where the league stands with the players' coalition and if there is any understanding to be brokered with them.
3) Carolina Panthers sale: What's next for the franchise?
Owners are likely to get an update on the impending sale of the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been on the market since the end of last season. Current owner Jerry Richardson, who is being investigated for workplace misconduct, has already ceded day-to-day control of the team. Owners are expected to get an update on those who are interested in purchasing the franchise and where the process stands. The hope is that a winning bidder will be chosen no later than early next month, with a vote to approve a new owner in May. It is very unlikely that any details of the investigation will be revealed.