Con­tentious is­sues face NFL this off­sea­son

Among them are Kaeper­nick, bet­ting, penalty re­views.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS EXTRA - By Sam Farmer

The NFL closed the book on the 2018 sea­son last week, but in a round-the-cal­en­dar league, there’s hardly time to take a breath.

The scout­ing com­bine is com­ing up, and teams will take the next step in their eval­u­a­tion process, in­clud­ing sur­vey­ing a ro­bust crop of tight ends. The Ari­zona Car­di­nals have the No. 1 pick and will eye a cou­ple of po­ten­tial de­fen­sive line­men who could be the top pick: Ohio State de­fen­sive end Nick Bosa and Alabama de­fen­sive tackle Quin­nen Williams.

There’s the fu­ture of Colin Kaeper­nick’s col­lu­sion case against the NFL, and the in­evitable in­ter­twin­ing of the league and le­gal­ized sports gam­bling. Af­ter a down year fol­lowed by an up year, where are the NFL’s TV num­bers go­ing?

A look at some of the NFL top­ics we’ll be dis­cussing through­out 2019:

■ What’s re­view­able: As it stands, coaches can’t chal­lenge penal­ties that are called or not called. But not ev­ery­one agrees that should be the case, and the an­nual de­bate flared again when of­fi­cials failed to throw a flag for pass in­ter­fer­ence in the NFC ti­tle game be­tween the Rams and Saints. Both teams were hurt by blown calls in that game. For the most part, coaches are against open­ing the Pan­dora’s box of al­low­ing penal­ties to be chal­lenged.

One con­cern is, they could hold the flag in their pocket, then throw on their op­po­nent’s game-win­ning play in hopes of find­ing some­thing on the video — an other­wise in­con­se­quen­tial hold on the back side of the play, for in­stance — that might af­ford the de­fense a mul­li­gan. Re­gard­less, the com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee surely will con­sider ways to im­prove the re­play re­view and chal­lenge sys­tems.

■ Whither Raiders? With the city of Oak­land su­ing them and the rest of the NFL, the Raiders were hop­ing for a deal to play the 2019 sea­son at Or­a­cle Park, home of the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants, be­fore mak­ing their Las Ve­gas de­but in 2020. But they failed to get the needed per­mis­sion from the 49ers to play in San Fran­cisco, even though the Nin­ers ac­tu­ally play in Santa Clara.

■ Con­cus­sions: The NFL has re­ported good news on the head-in­jury front, with its num­bers show­ing a 29 per­cent drop in the over­all con­cus­sion rate in 2018. In part, the league cred­its bet­ter-per­form­ing hel­mets and rules changes such as dis­al­low­ing run­ning starts and wedges on kick­offs, thereby mak­ing the game safer. As for the ban on play­ers low­er­ing their heads to ini­ti­ate con­tact, the league called those penal­ties fewer than 20 times in 2018 yet sent out warn­ing let­ters to more than 100 play­ers who crossed the line. Look for more strin­gent en­force­ment in 2019.

■ Rooney Rule: The league is com­ing off its big­gest-ever drop in mi­nor­ity head coaches, from eight to four. Ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port, only four coaches had “step­ping­stone” jobs of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor or quar­ter­backs coach dur­ing the 2018 sea­son. That’s 7.1 per­cent of 56 jobs.

NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell de­fended the ef­fec­tive­ness of the so-called Rooney Rule, which re­quires teams to in­ter­view at least one mi­nor­ity can­di­date for any head coach or gen­eral man­ager open­ing. “We don’t look at the suc­cess or fail­ure of the Rooney Rule in oneyear in­cre­ments,” Good­ell said. “We’ve had the Rooney Rule around for nearly 20 years. It has had an ex­tra­or­di­nary im­pact on the NFL. Over 20 clubs have hired mi­nor­ity (head) coaches in that pe­riod of time.”

■ On­side kicks: The league’s new kick­off rules, which wipe out run­ning starts and over­load­ing sides of the field, have made on­side kicks nearly im­pos­si­ble to suc­cess­fully ex­e­cute. The NFL will be watch­ing an in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tive in the startup Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball. That league has elim­i­nated kick­offs, giv­ing teams the ball on the 25-yard line, and is do­ing away with on­side kicks too. Un­der AAF rules, teams can opt to con­vert a fourt­hand-12 from their 28 in lieu of an on­side kick.


Many were stunned Jan. 20 when of­fi­cials didn’t pe­nal­ize the Rams’ Nick­ell Robey-Cole­man for flat­ten­ing the Saints’ Tom­mylee Lewis be­fore the ball ar­rived, re­viv­ing de­bate about chal­leng­ing penal­ties.

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