The NFL owners convened this week for an annual league meeting. A lot happened during their final meeting before the 2018 season begins, including a new team owner, two rule changes, and the announcements of a future draft site and two Super Bowl host cities.
However, the most controversial was the new national anthem policy that the owners passed.
Here’s what happened this week at the league meeting in Atlanta:
Two rules were passed
The new kickoff rule is actually really fun
There’s always hand-wringing about the NFL changing rules to make the game safer, but this is a case that could make football more exciting too. It’s a win-win.
Removing kickoffs altogether would be an unpopular decision. But the reality is they’re not that exciting. The new rule removes the distance between blockers, making kick returns more like punt returns.
It’s no surprise the proposition passed, and the result will likely be fewer head-to-head collisions and dangerous plays. The fact that it’ll also probably result in more entertaining kickoff returns is a bonus.
Ejections are now reviewable
A tweak in the language of replay review rules allows officials to double-check the disqualification of a player.
This change goes hand in hand with a rule that passed in March that allowed officials to make ejections after replays. In this case, the opposite would be true, and officials could undo an ejection if a replay proved it was unwarranted.
A similar rule is already in place in college football. Targeting results in an immediate ejection, but officials automatically review the play and can undo the disqualification after replay.
It’s a logical addition to the rulebook.
A new national anthem policy was “unanimously” approved
The NFL owners passed a new national anthem policy that they tried to tote as a “compromise”: players can stay in the locker room during the anthem, but if they are on the field during it, they must stand. If they don’t, the league will fine the teams, and the teams have the option to fine the players who demonstrate.
However, it’s only a “compromise” for the owners, who want to have their cake (show fans that they “respect” the flag) and eat it too (say that they’re giving players options). All owners voted for the change, except the 49ers’ Jed York, who abstained.
As expected, it’s already receiving pushback from the NFLPA:
Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a "compromise" between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue, but certainly not with player leadership; we weren't there or part of the discussions.— George Atallah (@GeorgeAtallah) May 23, 2018
In March, several owners believed the May meeting would be the time to find a resolution regarding players protesting for social justice during the national anthem.
“We’re going to talk about it more today, look at it in the May meeting and have more conversations with the players about it,” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney told SB Nation’s Thomas George.
But the idea of a resolution kept taking twists and turns. Don Banks of Patriots.com said it would be a surprise if a conclusion was reached by league owners this week.
According to Judy Battista of NFL.com, owners have different opinions about how to handle protests. Few players demonstrated during the national anthem by the end of the 2017 season, but there’s always the possibility that new events or more provocation from Donald Trump could incite a resurgence of protests:
At least one owner believes the league is hesitant to create a sweeping rule of any kind because the controversy had quieted down, and there seems little good to be gained from provoking either the players or the president with an edict. Still, there are owners who are concerned about heading into a new season -- the next full owners’ meeting is in October -- without a rule providing guidance, fearing that the league could be left flat-footed if news events cause players to want to resume protests.
At one point, there was a new idea on the table, too — and it was terrible:
Per sources, one anthem idea being discussed: Leaving it up to home team on whether teams come out for the anthem; if teams do come out for the anthem, potential that teams could be assessed 15-yard penalties for kneeling.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 22, 2018
But this new policy isn’t much better and will result in some unhappy players around the league.
A finalized agreement on a social-justice partnership was reached, though.
Seven months after reaching an agreement in principle, the NFL and the Players Coalition last night finalized their nearly $90 million social-justice partnership, per sources.— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) May 22, 2018
Other items on the agenda that were made official
The owners approved the Panthers sale
Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner David Tepper agreed to purchase the Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson for $2.275 billion — a record amount for a pro sports franchise.
All that was left is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s with a vote to approve the sale. Tepper needed approval of 24 NFL owners, but the vote was unanimous in his favor.
Draft site announced for 2019 (but not 2020)
The NFL announced in February that the five finalists to host the 2019 and 2020 NFL Drafts are Nashville, Denver, Cleveland/Canton, Kansas City, and Las Vegas.
Nashville’s raucous street party to reveal new uniforms in April helped make the city the host for the 2019 NFL Draft, which was officially announced at the owners’ meeting.
The league held off on naming the 2020 host, however:
The NFL will vote name host cities for Super Bowls 57 and 58, plus 2019 NFL Draft tomorrow. I’m told they won’t award the 2020 draft site yet — big event, so league wants to take its time, and it’s well ahead of past years on planning anyway.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 22, 2018
Since Nashville is hosting in 2019, that would narrow the candidates to Denver, Cleveland/Canton, Kansas City, and Las Vegas for 2020.
Canton may have a better chance at 2020, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the NFL. The league was founded in 1920 in Canton, and the city is now the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Super Bowl hosts for 2023, 2024 unveiled
The next four Super Bowl cities are set: Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, and Los Angeles. The following two — Super Bowl LVII in Arizona and Super Bowl LVIII in New Orleans — were announced at the meeting after the owners vote:
NFL set to award Super bowls in 2023, 2024 to Arizona, NOLA respectively at owners meeting starting tomorrow. new process does away with bid system. Story in @sbjsbd meeting preview story https://t.co/Z89WynuIGA— daniel kaplan (@dkaplanSBJ) May 21, 2018
Cities will no longer have to submit Super Bowl bids. Instead, the NFL will offer the hosting gig to a city.
One more likely discussion among the owners
Supreme Court’s gambling ruling
A week before the NFL’s meeting, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is unconstitutional, clearing the way for states to individually legalize gambling on sports.
But first, NFL owners will have plenty of discussions about how the league will deal with the Supreme Court decision. The conversation was already happening among owners, who have pushed for Congress to pass a framework for betting regulations. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is on board too:
Talk will ramp up now that the door is open for a significant change to the league’s approach to gambling. The owners likely discussed it this week, even if they didn’t release any official statement.
What happened at the league meeting in March?
The May meeting is typically the time to pick up whatever didn’t get done at the league meeting in March.
At that meeting, held in Orlando, several rules were tweaked. Click here for a full recap of the March meeting, but the most important updates were three rule changes:
The catch rule finally got fixed
Football’s most controversial rule was simplified to a three-stop process to determine whether or not a catch was made:
- Two feet down, or another body part
- A football move
A new targeting rule was passed
The addition of a new helmet-to-helmet to rule was a little unexpected in March, but came together quickly. Competition committee chairman Rich McKay broke it down in simple terms when he explained it to reporters.
“This is simply, if you lower your head to initiate contact and you make contact with an opponent, it’s a foul,” McKay said.
The question now is how strict NFL officials will be about players lowering their head. Many of the NFL’s most popular defensive players complained about the new standard and believe it will be difficult to enforce consistently.
“It’s ridiculous,” Richard Sherman told USA Today. “Like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket.”
According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, those concerns have been assuaged in meetings with players and coaches. League executives have pulled back on expectations that the new rule will have a drastic effect on the game and assured players that it will only be called in obvious and/or flagrant circumstances.
In May, the league finalized the language on what constitutes a violation of this rule:
Players can be ejected after replay
Last year, one-game suspensions were given to Rob Gronkowski, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Evans, Thomas Davis, Andrew Sendejo, and Danny Trevathan for illegal hits, illegal blocks, and unnecessary roughness penalties that didn’t result in ejections.
The NFL hopes that by giving officials the chance to eject players after a replay review, it can reduce those kind of suspensions and punish players on the spot for their actions, if deemed egregious.