Both necessity and an effort to control a larger share of its audience's attention are driving the NFL to alter its annual schedule—which has been mostly untouched for the last two decades—in future seasons, including 2014.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the NFL is looking at shifting the ever-popular draft from late April to May. Part of the move revolves around the unavailability of Radio Music Hall in New York City during the typical draft weekend, but the NFL would also gain a longer lifespan of relevance during its offseason with a mid-May draft.
Changes to free agency and the scouting combine are also being discussed, with both potentially being moved back or changed in order on the calendar.
One could now look at the re-shuffling of the offseason as a potential precursor to changes to the regular-season and post-season schedules, including the move towards an 18-game schedule.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell still isn't ruling out the idea.
According to Pro Football Talk, Goodell said the option is "on the table," and that season structure is something the NFL will "consistently reevaluate."
The NFL is making big decisions about the structure of its once set-in-stone offseason.
Here's an outline of how the NFL should construct a new offseason calendar:
Start of Free Agency: Beginning of March
NFL Combine: Mid-March
There's logic behind moving the start of the new league year to before the NFL Scouting Combine.
For one, such a move would help eliminate the unavoidable tampering that plagues the combine every season. With decision-makers and agents in one place, Indianapolis has quickly and predictably become a breeding ground for such activity.
Such tampering would be no longer be a problem if free agency started before the combine, which could also then be used more definitely for teams who addressed needs in free agency. With the guessing game of free agency mostly completed and roster holes filled, general managers can focus in on certain position groups in Indianapolis.
The one worry here: Is there enough time between the end of the Super Bowl and the start of free agency? Less than a month is a quick turnaround time for the two franchises playing in the big game.
NFL Draft: Late April
Why fix something that isn't broken?
A late April draft feels just about right. There's ample time between key offseason scouting events with enough time remaining after the draft for rookies to adapt to their new surroundings before training camp. By the end of April, every team is ready for the three-day event.
Moving the draft back two or three weeks would also disrupt the flow of rookie mini camps. No one needs the extra time in the summer more than first-year players.
Rookie Mini Camps, Organized Team Activities: May-June
With the draft kept in late April, rookies would get a chance to go through regular mini camps before being thrown in the fire of organized team activities (OTAs). The rookies need the time to digest playbooks and receive their NFL orientation before joining the big club.
In this scenario, rookie mini camps remain in May, with the majority of heavy OTA work coming in late May and early June. Very little change is needed here.
Training Camps: July-August
Part of the NFL's proposed schedule change revolves around a set start to training camp for all 32 teams. But one set date isn't necessary, as the heavy majority of teams begin camp during the last week in July.
If the draft is moved back to May, it's possible the start of camps could get pushed back to early August. There's no need for such a change.
Here's where we could start to see significant changes. If the NFL goes to an 18-game schedule, the preseason will almost certainly shrink to two games.
The NFL's exhibition schedule—at least in the opinion of this writer—is a balancing act of priorities. While you absolutely want four games to evaluate a greater number of players in live-game scenarios (especially with 90-man rosters), the quality of games is typically poor and the threat of injury to key players is too great.
There's no easy solution, but the safe bet is that the NFL will eventually shift to a two-game preseason. Maybe the NFL and the NFL Players Association can agree on three games, with a bye week thrown into the process for all 32 teams during the August schedule.
Regular Season: First Weekend in September
Regardless of whether or not the NFL goes to an 18-game schedule, the start of the regular season should stay at the first weekend in September.
In an 18-game scenario, the two extra weeks would get tacked on later, pushing the Super Bowl back later into February.
I still find it difficult for the NFL to justify an 18-game scheduler—regardless of the potential revenue gain—as the league continues to fight back against health lawsuits and promote more safety in its game. Few that don't hold an NFL checkbook want 18 regular-season games anyway.
The NFL should keep the same start date and continue to play 16 regular-season games. Everyone who loves the game would remain happy.
Super Bowl: First Sunday in February
Pushing back the Super Bowl one or two weeks would have serious repercussions for the rest of the offseason. Free agency would almost certainly have to follow suit, an idea that relocating players wouldn't want.
The simple solution: Keep the Super Bowl at its current date and time.
Having the biggest game on the schedule on the first Sunday in February allows the necessary time for all 32 teams to be ready for the start of the new league year, although the Super Bowl teams would be slightly pinched.
Overall, the NFL calendar doesn't need to be altered significantly. There's still enough relevancy and interest during the spring and summer months to power the NFL's money machine without moving back the draft.
And adding more regular-season games to the schedule is an idea rooted in nothing but money and greed. The current 16-game schedule, followed by a 12-team playoff, is a system that is nearly universally loved.
The best layout for the NFL calendar doesn't require a massive overhaul. In fact, the current system only needs a few tweaks here and there.
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