Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: The NFL Is Hoping to Learn a Lot from the AAF

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 13, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - FEBRUARY 10:  Trent Richardson #33 of the Birmingham Iron is tripped up by Arnold Tarpley, III #25 of Memphis Express during an Alliance of American Football game at Legion Field on February 10, 2019 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/AAF/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/AAF/Getty Images

The NFL may find its future in the AAF, the Browns' high-risk gamble, and the numbers show the Pats' postseason run may have been better than anyone thought. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

   

1. Football's latest test tube

In its first weekend of play, the Alliance of American Football proved shockingly fun and of surprisingly good quality. The early ratings suggest there could be a long-term future for the start-up, and the NFL was watching as closely as anyone at home.

The NFL doesn't just see the AAF as a minor league system. (Hall of Famer Bill Polian is one of the architects of the AAF, and no one is more hardcore NFL than Polian.) It sees the AAF as a test tube; it wants the AAF to beta-test rules and ideas it can potentially use.

The NFL believes the AAF, I'm told by NFL team officials, can also serve as almost a rebirth for former NFL players like Trent Richardson, who scored two touchdowns in his opening game for Birmingham over the weekend. 

But back to what the NFL can steal from the league. Or will. Some ideas will make their way into the NFL, officials say; others won't:

Rushing with a maximum of five defenders. If you rush more than five, you're penalized. It's only a matter of time before something like this becomes a part of the NFL. The league, for some time now, has been trying to manufacture offense and continues to look for ways to protect offensive players, to the detriment of those on the defensive side of the ball. Limiting the number of players who can blitz would be a big step in that direction.

No kickoffs. Football traditionalists hate potentially eliminating this rule, but it was played out in the AAF, it seemed...fine. Starting each post-score possession on the 25-yard-line didn't plunge the game into a black hole because the kickers weren't there. And it just might keep a lot of players healthier.

Transparent reviews. This is one of the most fascinating parts of watching the AAF and really one of the most fascinating things I've seen in all of sports. The review process was broadcast for all to see, and it offered a helpful window into the refereeing apparatus that might save refs from a lot of criticism.

Ah, but don't expect this in the NFL—perhaps ever. When I asked an NFC East assistant coach if this would ever happen in the NFL, he responded, "Are you f--king kidding me?"

He added, "We're generally not a league that likes openness."

Quicker games. The AAF utilized a running game clock and did not have any TV timeouts, both of which made for a seemingly quicker pace. This is another idea that may be appealing to fans but isn't to the NFL, whose advertisers may not take too kindly to not having any time or space to spend their millions to associate with the NFL. The NFL wouldn't look too kindly at not getting those millions, either.

More violence. The NFL has been moving away from these types of hits, which appeared to be the most discussed play from the AAF's opening weekend.

Several league officials said they believe the NFL will continue to emphasize de-escalating violent hits and protecting the quarterback. That should allow the AAF an open lane to occupy the brutal approach, for now at least.

Eliminating the extra point. The NFL has moved the extra point back in recent years in an attempt to add some level of uncertainty to the process. There's also been talk for years about eliminating it altogether. The AAF has done away with the extra point, forcing teams into a two-point try after every touchdown.

It's impossible to say with certainty if the NFL would ever duplicate this. But I've heard enough league people speak on this to think it's only a matter of time before the NFL does.

Loosening up. One of the great moments of the opening week came after the Orlando Apollos beat the Atlanta Legends (great names). After the game, it was noted to Orlando coach Steve Spurrier the contest was his sixth straight opening-game win with a new team.

"Even won with the Redskins," Spurrier said. "That's not easy to do."

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Typical Spurrier, and it was hilarious. The league needs more personality from its head coaches. As the NFL has become more powerful, its coaches have become more hesitant to show their human sides. Far too often, coaches and players are too scared to fully speak their minds or even tell jokes like Spurrier's.

So while the NFL certainly isn't staying up at night worried about how much market share the AAF might take, it can learn a thing or two from the new kid.

    

2. Wanted: A few stars

Entertaining as it was, the AAF's future is anyone's guess.  

What we do know is that almost every alternative league to the NFL (except the Arena Football League) has not just failed, but failed badly.

What the AAF needs are more recognizable names. I wouldn't be stunned if the league at some point makes a pitch for Johnny Manziel. He's under contract with the CFL for another year.

AAF contracts generally are three years and worth about $250,000, but if the league desired, it could go higher for a player like Manziel. Or any other big name. 

Now that the games are a reality, look for the AAF to make a run at some huge names that would give it some lasting power.

    

3. Saturation point?

There's one more interested AAF observer—the revamped XFL, which is scheduled to debut next year.

Who knows what the football landscape will look like next season, but at this point the XFL looks a step behind. By next year, football fans will have watched a season of the AAF and another NFL season. Will they want to watch two upstart leagues in addition to the NFL?

I'm not so sure.

     

4. Are you with him or against him?

David Richard/Associated Press

On a lighter Browns note, quarterback Baker Mayfield has made a name for himself as much for his promise on the field as for his willingness to clap back at those who doubt him or otherwise cross him.

He's already gotten into a beef with Hue Jackson. Now he's in a beefy beef with former running back Arian Foster.

Normally, this type of thing isn't great. In this case, however, it might be a good thing.

Mayfield has embraced the us-versus-the-world viewpoint of the Browns. I love that. Browns fans certainly do. It's good to have a chip on your shoulder when you're a Brown and you're trying to reverse almost 20 years of bad football.

    

5. Something doesn't add up

Browns general manager John Dorsey said the Browns did a thorough vetting of Kareem Hunt, who was released by Kansas City last year after being caught on video assaulting a woman, pushing her to the floor of a hotel hallway and then kicking her while she was on the ground.

There's just one problem with Dorsey's explanation: He didn't speak to the victim. That's according to an account of his press conference this week from Mary Cay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

"I talked to a lot of people [but] I didn't get a chance to talk to that victim," Dorsey said. "That's probably part of her privacy stuff."

Dorsey was asked if he tried.

"No," he said.

Unclear as the reason the team didn't speak to the victim is, the bottom line is that without speaking to the woman involved, it's impossible to call whatever background check the Browns did "extensive."

The Browns signed Hunt because he's talented and they think he's worth the risk. That's it. That's all.

Dorsey is taking a massive chance with Hunt, whom he drafted when he worked in the Chiefs front office. He took the same kind of chance in drafting Tyreek Hill, which has worked out from a football standpoint even if it likely leaves many fans queasy about cheering on someone who admitted to assaulting a woman.

It may work out in Cleveland, too, but Dorsey and the team have left themselves a lot more open to criticism than if they had made just one more phone call.

    

6. An all-time postseason for an all-time team

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Despite the general lack of fanfare for yet another Patriots title, their playoff performance deserves it.

In their three postseason games (divisional round, conference championship and Super Bowl) of 2018, the Patriots outgained their opponents by a total of 544 yards, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That may not seem like a lot over three games, but it is.

The last time a team had a 500-plus-yard postseason advantage was in 1989, when the 49ers outgained their opponents by 599 yards. That team had Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and won its three postseason games by a combined score of 126-26. ESPN.com once ranked that team the best of the Super Bowl era.

That's not bad company to keep, even for a team as used to winning as the Patriots.

     

7. The Eagles struck gold, but will they lose it?

Eagles wide receiver Golden Tate recently made some interesting comments on Twitter about his contract situation. When ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted the Falcons had signed linebacker Bruce Carter to a one-year extension, Tate tweeted: 

My favorite part of that Tate tweet was the "peace" sign at the end of it.

The Eagles traded for Tate during the season, and he finished the year with 30 catches for 278 yards in eight regular-season games with Philadelphia. For the Eagles not to sign him to a long-term deal would be a big mistake because they don't have an array of dynamic pass-catchers. Give Tate, long one of the most underrated receivers in the game, a full season in Philly's offense and he'd dominate.

If the Eagles are smart, he'll be back.

    

8. A brief but rare look into the NFL's executive office

Morry Gash/Associated Press

John Bel Edwards, the governor of Louisiana, wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his displeasure regarding the blown pass interference call at the end of the NFC title game.

The governor then made the response from Goodell public.

Besides illustrating just how powerful the NFL has become, prompting exchanges between a sitting governor and the commissioner over a play in a game, it is also provided a rare look at the decision-making process in the commissioner's office. Those moments are far too few.

    

9. The wrong message

Ron Harris/Associated Press

It was a little more than two years ago that then-49ers defensive back Eric Reid joined quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling to protest social injustice—primarily, unjustified police shootings of black men.

This week, Reid signed a contract extension with the Carolina Panthers. And Kaepernick?

He remains unsigned, and as I have said for the last couple of years, it likely will remain that way. And in a week in which Kareem Hunt found work again, that remains a pox on football's house.

     

10. Just dream

Tight end Martellus Bennett, who won a Super Bowl with the Patriots before retiring, remains one of the most talented people I've ever known. Next month, he'll publish a book called Dear Black Boy, which tells black kids they can be more than athletes. They can be anything. It's another groundbreaking moment for a player with a lot of them.

         

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL

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