Is the NFL Getting Too Greedy with Proposed Offseason Changes?
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There is no doubt that the National Football League has overtaken Major League Baseball as America's national pastime. Heck, one could easily come to the conclusion that American football is the most popular spectator sport in the world.
But, as with anything, league officials and those at the top don't seem to be happy with the status quo. Commissioner Roger Goodell and Co. are always looking to improve the brand and "protect the shield." It's the only way to remain ahead of the curve in this new era.
That being said, attempting to change something that has worked so well over the past couple decades could be a tricky proposition.
Even in the offseason, the NFL seems to rip headlines away from baseball, basketball and hockey. Its draft coincides with the first round of the NBA Playoffs and pretty much overtakes it when it comes to front pages all around the Internet and print press worlds.
The start of training camp in late July coincides with MLB's trade deadline but again takes press away from what is an intriguing time around the baseball world.
Now that the NFL has proposed changes to its offseason calendar, other sports are going to feel the popularity of the league overtake its own bottom line even more.
These proposed changes include the NFL pushing up the start of the new league year and free agency to before the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis took place towards the end of February this year.
That seems to indicate that free agency would start at some point in mid-February. Considering that Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco took place in early February, this would leave about 10 days between the conclusion of the Super Bowl and the start of the new league year.
What is the NFL thinking here?
You can't honestly tell me that it doesn't have the system correct as it is right now. The near month between the Super Bowl and free agency works best. It gives the champions time to celebrate what they accomplished before having to delve into work again.
Doesn't this pretty much water down the ultimate goal for each NFL franchise? Personally, I'd rather a Super Bowl-winning team had the time to bask in all of its glory before having to get back to the grind.
It isn't business as usual, nor should it be, for teams that achieve the ultimate goal. They should be given time to celebrate their achievement and relax prior to the start of the new league year.
Thanksgiving is reserved for the NFL, Christmas is usually reserved for the NBA and New Year's Day has continued to be celebrated with a college football backdrop.
Just as American as the beginning of April being the start of the Major League Baseball season, May and June is usually reserved for both the NHL and NBA Playoffs.
Now the No. 1 sport in the United States, football, is about to rain on their parade.
The 2014 NFL draft will begin on either May 8 or May 15 next year. While the change in date is etched in stone next year, the league is considering moving the annual event back three weeks for the foreseeable future.
In addition, the NFL may start looking for another venue to host the event outside of Radio City Music Hall.
These changes make absolutely no sense.
First, the NFL would be putting rookies behind the proverbial eight ball more than they are already. Rookie camps would be pushed back a couple weeks (or not even held at all), first-year players would have less time to prepare for their initial season in the NFL and the end result could be less production from a crop of players some teams rely on early in their careers.
Simply put, teams that didn't make the postseason or contend for a division title the season before would be forced to run rookies out on the field with at least two weeks' less preparation time. If the ultimate goal of the NFL is to create a competitive balance, this obviously isn't going to help it achieve that goal.
The upshot will likely be the elimination of rookie minicamps for many teams. In this age of more and more rookies playing opening day, that's like taking away Spanish 101 and moving right into the second year of it; catch up if you can, rookie. The league will be cutting the number of weeks between the draft and the opening weekend of the season from 19 to 16. It's another way to sacrifice quality to keep the NFL on the front pages longer.
It does seem that the NFL is looking more at its bottom line than the betterment of rookies on the football field. There is no other logical conclusion to draw as it relates to the league moving the draft back to May.
Then you have to worry about the logistics of moving the new league year up before the combine and pushing the draft back a few weeks.
As it is currently formed, the NFL offseason really gets going with the scouting combine in Indianapolis a couple weeks prior to the start of the league year. This enables general managers and front office executives to take to the event en masse. If the start of free agency was held prior to the combine, front offices around the NFL would be put in a tough situation.
They'd have to play their cards much closer to the vest, as rival teams would look for any type of sign that they were targeting a specific player. Teams that meet with a particular prospect that doesn't seem to fit a need might be linked to a specific player at the other position of need. It would lead to much more conjecture on the part of the media, which is something I highly doubt any of you fans wants at this point.
Logistically, general managers would likely bypass the combine in order to focus on free agency. In my opinion, this is another huge issue. As the ultimate decision maker for their franchises, general managers should be in a situation to actually sit down and meet with prospects in Indianapolis. Instead, they will likely be relying on scouts to relay the message back to team headquarters.
Considering that the NFL has no plans to up the amount of prospects each team can host prior to the draft, this seems to limit the access teams have to draftees prior to the actual event. Again, this makes no sense.
The counterargument, as indicated by ESPN's Adam Schefter, seems to tell us a story of veteran free agents being able to find jobs prior to the actual draft in May.
While sound in its reasoning, what is to stop teams from holding off on "the second wave" of free agency until after the draft has concluded in mid-May? Pushing back the annual event likely won't alter the landscape for multiple veteran free agents who are seen as nothing more than last resorts for teams around the league.
The changes in terms of moving up the league year to before the combine wouldn't take place until the 2015 offseason.
This means that the only difference between the league calendar from this year to 2014 would be a larger window between the scouting combine and the draft. On the surface, that idea makes a whole heck of a lot more sense. It gives teams more time to scout players and get their ducks in a row before spending important picks on prospects that will define their franchises for years to come.
That still doesn't change the fact that rookies won't be able to participate in camps, will be getting their playbooks weeks later and will have to cram much more to be prepared for the start of training camp towards the end of July.
Do you support these changes in NFL's offseason schedule?
NFL's proposed changes in the calendar really don't seem to make a whole lot of sense in the grand scheme of things. I fully understand spreading out the offseason in the purpose of interest, but not at the cost of rookies.
The negatives far outweigh the positives here. Veteran free agents might be able to find a job easier under this new schedule, but teams could easily curve that by pushing back the second wave of free agency until the end of May.
In addition, one minicamp in June would be the only full-scale team get-together prior to the start of training camp the following month. Rookies would have to mesh with veterans and prove their worth against players who already have built in relationships with the coaching staff.
In fact, letting rookies go against one another in the weeks following the draft is likely to give the team a better understanding of where said youngsters stand in their maturation process. That will be limited with veterans reporting at the same time as rookies.
In the end, "if it ain't broke, why fix it?"
All information on schedule changes provided by ESPN
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.
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