Much of the work done at the NFL Annual Meeting revolves around the business of the league and the maneuvering of owners hoping to move to Los Angeles -- and the other owners who hope to control the process -- figures to provide a fascinating window into how the league's next big decision will unfold.
The meeting in Arizona is the first full gathering of owners since St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke's plan to build a stadium on a plot of land he owns in Inglewood was reported in January and the Chargers and Raiders announced last month a joint plan to build a stadium in Carson. With all three teams on year-to-year leases on their current stadiums -- and St. Louis proposing its own stadium in an attempt to keep the Rams -- Los Angeles will dominate the intrigue until there is a resolution.
But all the back-room politicking won't impact the game on the field as immediately as the voting on rules changes. These can sometimes be riveting -- several years ago, Commissioner Roger Goodell called for a vote to change overtime rules while coaches were out golfing -- but despite an overflow of proposals from teams centered tweaking instant replay review, there is unlikely to be a major change to any of the rules. One thing that seemed certain to change this spring has seemingly been put on the back burner. Owners will discuss expanding the playoffs by two teams -- one extra wild card in each conference -- but the momentum for expansion has slowed and no vote is scheduled.
So what is on teams' minds? Discontent with instant replay, apparently. Teams proposed 13 rules changes relating to instant replay, but none are likely to pass because team-generated ideas rarely receive the 24 votes needed to become new rules. Among the proposals are those that would have all penalties be reviewable, have any foul that results in an automatic first down be reviewable, and have all penalties against defenseless players be reviewable. Washington proposed increasing a coach's number of challenges from two to three, even if he is not successful on an early challenge.
The most sweeping proposal comes from the New England Patriots, who want any play to be reviewable. John Mara, the president of the New York Giants and a Competition Committee member, said that proposal has little support and Troy Vincent, the league's top executive overseeing football operations said the concern is that coaches would go fishing for penalties by throwing a flag on a play that goes against their team and hoping a foul would be found when the replay is looked at.
"Basically, to simplify things, your head coach is going to become the eighth official on the field," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who is also a member of the committee. "It's going to be our responsibility now to determine whether or not these are fouls or not fouls and we don't want to go there. This replay system was never designed to involve fouls. We think it's our responsibility as the committee -- and Dean [Blandino, the league's head of officiating] is doing a great job right now of improving the quality of officiating -- we think we can take care of some of these issues on the field through those means rather than put ourselves in a standard where we're looking at plays, like I said earlier, where the standard is so different when you're talking about on the field versus the frame-by-frame review. Again, we frame-by-framed a lot of things this past spring and it's just not something that we support."
One New England-centric rule change could receive some support, though. The Competition Committee will put forth a proposal related to the reporting of eligible and ineligible players, requiring that if an eligible player reports as ineligible, he must play in the tackle box. That is a direct response to the Patriots' having eligible players reporting as ineligible during a playoff game against the Ravens, to the ire of coach John Harbaugh. Fisher said the proposal came about after the annual survey of teams showed concern about the tactic.
"There was a concern on behalf of a number of clubs and a number of coaches and coach (John) Madden's subcommittee that unless we had some guidelines in place, that this thing may get out of hand," Fisher said.
Other proposals: one that would give each team a possession in overtime, even if the team that has possession first scores a touchdown on its opening drive; and a quirky proposal from Indianapolis that would create the potential for a nine-point play by giving teams that successfully convert a two-point conversion the chance to add another point by kicking a "bonus field goal" from midfield.
But the NFL's most controversial rule -- the catch/no-catch rule known as the Calvin Johnson rule -- is not likely to receive a makeover, even though the Competition Committee spent considerable time looking at replays of receptions. While it was in the spotlight again after Dallas receiver Dez Bryant had a crucial catch waved off in a playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, the language of the rule could be tweaked to be clearer, said Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the committee. But a catch -- and almost all rules -- are likely to remain the same next season.