Contentious issues face NFL this offseason
Among them are Kaepernick, betting, penalty reviews.
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.