Beginning Monday, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners and presidents from each of the 32 NFL teams will convene in Palm Beach for the annual NFL Owners' Meeting, a three-day conference broaching the status of the game and how potentially to enhance it.
As part of the annual review of the state of the league, the competition committee, headed by Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, met over four days in February at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and again for a week in Naples, Fla., earlier this month.
"We conducted our annual survey, which we sent to all the teams and really got good input, and that kind of frames the outline for our report," McKay said. "We also met with the players, got their concerns, proposed some things to them to get their feedback and that kind of forms the basis of our report."
McKay, in a conference call on Wednesday, explained a few of the changes the committee plans to propose to the owners next week:
McKay: "With a fifth seed in the playoffs winning the Super Bowl and a sixth seed winning it two years ago, it shows that, competitively, we are a very balanced league. The interesting thing this year was in the AFC-NFC head-to-head games, the final result was 32 for the AFC and 32 for the NFC, which again shows good balance."
Plays per game: 153.1 (more than 2006)
Points per game: 43.4 (highest since 1983)
Yards per game: 650.4 (10th highest in NFL history)
Passing yards per game: 428 (2nd highest in NFL history)
Touchdowns per game: 4.85 (more than 2006)
Penalities per game: 13.45 (fewer than 2006)
Average length of game 3:02:59 (less than 2006)
The owners also can expect to hear proposed rules changes and enhancements from both the competition committee and from individual teams:
Eliminate the force-out:
McKay: "The only time a force-out would be called is if a player was actually held and carried out of bounds, which really begins to mimic the college rule. Last year, we think it was called a total of 15 times, but it would eliminate those 15 calls."
This proposal does not apply to plays under review.
Expand instant replay to include field goal reviews:
McKay: "Obviously we had the anomaly last year with the one kick that hit behind the post, so we propose that we expand to cover that play."
This would exclude any kick in which the ball sails directly over one of the uprights. If a coach were to challenge such a play, he would be informed by an official that it isn't reviewable.
Option to defer after winning the coin toss:
McKay: "We've proposed it before, but we'll propose it again that the winner have the opportunity to defer."
Eliminate 5-yard penalty for a facemask:
McKay: "We believe that we can still promote and cover all the safety issues that there are with respect to the facemask penalty. With the 15-yard penalty, we then said that you must twist it, turn it or pull it for a 15-yard penalty, as opposed to the 5-yard standard, which only required a grasp."
Length of hair and player nameplate visibility:
McKay: "The Kansas City Chiefs propose that a player's hair may not cover or obscure the surname on the upper back of the player's jersey. And that a player's hair may not cover or obscure the numerals on the back or sleeves of the player's jersey."
There also are numerous resolutions, bylaw proposals from teams, and other miscellaneous items on the agenda:
Specifically, there are thoughts of expanding the offseason roster limit beyond the current 80.
McKay: "The two division champions that have the best records automatically qualify for seeds number one and two. After that, seeding would be according to the best record. Tiebreakers would go to division champions. In other words, if you were a wild card, you would be competing for seeds three through six, depending upon your record. If you tied with a division champion, you would lose the tiebreaker and be seeded one spot lower."
McKay: "This is something we've proposed on two other occasions. This is our third shot at it."
This system would enable a defensive player to have a helmet equipped with a speaker device to enable one-way communication from a coach to the field. A primary and secondary player would be designated, though only one could be on the field at any given time. If the primary player was injured, the secondary player could switch to his own helmet equipped with the speaker. In the event that both players were forced to come out of a game, teams would simply have to revert to hand signals.
Moratorium before free agency:
McKay: "A dead period some 5-7 days before the beginning of free agency, in which teams would be free to talk to potential free agents' agents only; certified agents only. Not the players themselves. They cannot negotiate a contract; they cannot execute a contract. They cannot visit or meet with the player face-to-face."
This change would serve to benefit the home team of a free agent. Players are free to negotiate with their original teams, even throughout the moratorium.
One of the items that promises to be prominently discussed at the meetings is league integrity. Accountability will be stressed at a league level and at a team level. In order to uphold the league's integrity, league and team officials will be urged to report any violations, and will be protected with anonymity in such cases.
In addition to co-chairs McKay and Fisher, six others fill out the competition committee:
Marvin Lewis, Head Coach, Cincinnati Bengals
John Mara, President/CEO/Co-Owner, New York Giants
Matt Millen, President/CEO, Detroit Lions
Ozzie Newsome, GM, Baltimore Ravens
Bill Polian, President, Indianapolis Colts
Mark Richardson, President, Carolina Panthers