When Peter asked me if I wanted to write his MMQB column, I immediately tossed around topic ideas with teammates, friends, tweeps and others. One topic stood out above the rest: How would I change the NFL? Examining things both on and off the field, here are five ways I would change the game:
1. PLAY THE SUPER BOWL ON SATURDAY.
What comes to mind when you think about the Super Bowl? Most sports fans would mention the house parties they attend to celebrate the big event. Others may think of their favorite sports bars where they can go and watch the game. It's safe to say the Super Bowl is synonymous with eating, drinking and getting together with friends.
When I think of these activities, I think of Saturday night. Saturday is the one night a week my wife and I get a babysitter for our daughter Julie. Most people are able to enjoy themselves comfortably Saturday night because they have less obligations and responsibilities to attend to the next day. That's why it makes sense for the NFL to have its most important game on a Saturday.
Why should the NFL change the day of the Super Bowl when it just set so many viewership records in February? The simple answer is because it could be even bigger. No matter what day it is played on, diehard football fans are going to watch the game. But what about the casual NFL viewer? These are the ones who only watch if it is convenient for their schedule. To grow the audience of the Super Bowl, the NFL has to target those people.
Sunday night is a time when parents are getting their kids' lunches ready and making sure their homework is done, when young professionals are preparing their work for the beginning of the week. Conversely, Saturday is the night mom lets the kids stay up later while she watches Saturday Night Live, and that young professional is looking to relax after a long week. Grabbing these viewers, plus the diehards, would increase excitement while at the same time increasing viewership that adds new fans and increases revenue.
2. CHANGE THE SCHEDULE.
I propose changing the schedule to where each team plays every team in their conference plus one rival from the NFC. This admittedly drastic idea would have three big repercussions:
One, divisions would be eliminated and the top six teams from each conference would get in the playoffs. The top three finishers every year likely would be the same in this format as the current one, but I think it would make a big difference in which teams would get spots four through six. Let's face it, from year to year certain divisions are a lot stronger than others. In some years, the fourth best division champ is weaker than both wild card teams. Eliminating the divisions would guarantee the best teams make the playoffs.
Two, it mostly does away with strength of schedule. Since every team from every conference is playing each other minus one game, strength of schedule would basically be the same. This schedule would let every fan know their team had an equal shot to make the playoffs.
Three, it would add a brand new aspect to the league year -- cross-conference rivalry week. I love this idea. It's like interleague baseball, but for just one game a season. There are some great rivalries (Texans-Cowboys, Steelers-Eagles, Jets-Giants, Raiders-Niners, etc.) that would be awesome to see annually. While I realize every team might not have a natural rival, I think the fans would still be excited for it.
3. EXPAND THE ROSTER AND CREATE A MINOR LEAGUE.
Currently, NFL teams have 53 players on the roster and only 45 are active on Sundays. Roster limitations create issues for coaches and front offices as the season heads down the stretch. It also forces players to conceal injuries and play hurt, knowing their roster spot might depend on it. By expanding the roster by, say, six (59 total, 51 active), it gives coaches, executives and players more options on a weekly basis, like having backups who have been on the roster all season, and not simply plucked off the street. This also would allow teams to keep "bubble" players out of camp and let the team develop them. This brings me to the next part...
... Create a minor league. It doesn't need to be like baseball where every team has a farm system, but simply a league that allows some of those raw players to keep developing their game. Without NFL Europe, would we have ever heard of Kurt Warner? Who are we missing out on now without a developmental league? Sure, there is the CFL and Arena Football, but those aren't the same kind of games. Is the new UFL the answer? Hopefully, the NFL will help fund a league that will accomplish this goal.
4. ESTABLISH A SENSIBLE ROOKIE WAGE SCALE.
How rookies get paid is the subject of much debate in the NFL. Here's my solution:
First rounders: Four-year contracts. Can't be franchised in fifth season.Second rounders and below: Three-year contracts. Can't be franchised or restricted in fourth season.
All picks: 90% or more playing time = $1 million bonus80% or more playing time = $750,000 bonus70% or more playing time = $500,000 bonus60% or more playing time = $400,000 bonus50% or more playing time = $300,000 bonus
Simply, if a rookie comes in and is good enough to play, he should be compensated on the back end. The reason the bonus starts going down by $100K after 70 percent has to do with the current player performance. Player performance gives you a bonus based on how much you play relative to how much you make. Example: Peyton Manning plays every play but his bonus is very small because his salary is so big. A seventh-round rookie could play 60 percent of the plays for his team and make $150K-$200K in player performance money. With the rookies getting slotted, it seems like a reasonable tradeoff to have bonuses for the ones that play.
The real sticking point to the rookie wage scale has little to do with the scale and more to do with the money being saved. The NFL Players Association has projected a savings to the league of around $200 million based on certain rookie scales (not the one I put forth, but similar.) I think that money should go back into the locker room towards veterans and to former players, especially those who played pre-1993. The owners have made it clear the savings should go back in their own pockets. I think very little progress will be made on this until the owners realize that we aren't going to give back money that is already being paid to players, rookies or not.
5. CHANGE OVERTIME.
Our current regular season system of sudden death overtime is not the way to decide a football game. I have two main problems with the current system.
One, it doesn't make a team do enough to win. After a long, hard fought game the fact that one team can get a good kickoff return, a 20-yard pass interference penalty, run it three times and kick a field goal for a win is insane. That team didn't get a first down without penalty help and didn't have one good offensive play, but still won the game. Is that how classic games should be decided?
The second problem I have with the current OT is the arbitrary way the team gets the ball. Again, after a great game, the team that gets the first chance to win is the one who wins a coin flip. How is that the way to help decide a game? If you want to keep the current system, the ball should be given to the team with the most penetrations inside the 20, most total yards, least amount of penalties, or any way determined by what takes place on the field. But certainly not a coin flip.
My perfect overtime scenario is simple and not far off from our new playoff format, with a few exceptions. My OT would start with the team who had the most possessions inside the 20 and letting them have the decision if they want the ball or not. If that was even, it would go to the team with the fewest turnovers. After play started, both teams would be guaranteed a shot at the ball. After both teams have their possession, and if it's still tied, then it goes to sudden death.
1. I think the Texans will be playing past Week 17 this season. We return 10 starters on each side of the ball. Last season, our defense over the final 13 weeks gave up just 87.6 rushing yards per game, good for fourth best in the league. Second-year defensive coordinator Frank Bush won't be starting this year from square one. On the other side of the ball, Matt Schaub has gotten better every year since his arrival. His 4,770 passing yards last season are more than Peyton Manning has ever thrown in a single season and rank sixth best all-time. Throw in the best receiver in football, Andre Johnson, and the best talent at the running back position since I have been here, and I think we will be balanced and hard to stop.
2. I think the Dolphins are my sleeper playoff team in 2010. In another division, they might not be that much of a sleeper, but the AFC East is tough. They made solid additions at spots where they needed help. Brandon Marshall will give Chad Henne a legitimate number one receiver and will add to an always solid run game. Karlos Dansby will bring athleticism to Miami's linebacking corp as well as being a good leader. You could argue that this is the most talent head coach Tony Sparano has had since he has been in Miami.
3. I think, despite my feigned confidence above, there is absolutely no telling who is going to make the playoffs this season. I think the league hasn't seen this much parity in a long time. I really think if you can pick 6 out of 12 playoff teams tomorrow you are really, really impressive. I might as well throw myself in the mix.
AFCPLAYOFF TEAMS(in no particular order)
PATRIOTS -- I think the AFC East is the hardest division to predict in the whole league. There will be a really good team that doesn't make the playoffs out of this division. The Pats know how to win those AFC East games and Wes Welker looks like he will be ready. Hard to bet against them.
COLTS -- After last season, I'm starting to be convinced that Peyton Manning could win with any starting 10 in the NFL.
RAVENS -- You have to like what they did in the draft as it relates to what they already have. Also, Anquan Boldin will be a nice addition for Joe Flacco and I really like Ray Rice's game.
CHARGERS -- They have to figure out Marcus McNeil and Vincent Jackson's contract before the season starts. Those are two core players on that offense. If they aren't happy, even if they are out there, it won't be good for that team and will make the the rest of that division really happy.
DOLPHINS -- See above
TEXANS -- See above
• I know I didn't put the Jets up there, and I don't mean any disrespect by it. They are loaded, but putting the pieces together can be tough in a short time period of time. I felt like there would be an odd man out in the AFC East and I just flipped a coin. Sorry, Jets.
• The Steelers are going to be a real interesting team to watch this year. If Byron Leftwich has the same magic he did a couple years ago when he subbed for Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers will be there at the end of the season with a chance to go to the playoffs.
NFC PLAYOFF TEAMS(in no particular order)
COWBOYS -- This team has everything it needs. Replacing Flozell Adams at left tackle will be the key to their success this year.
VIKINGS -- With Brett Favre, they will have the same kind of success as last year. Without him, it's anyone's guess.
SAINTS -- It's hard to see them not making it back to the postseason, although if the defense doesn't make the same big plays (pick-sixes, forcing turnovers, key stops, etc.) there could be some fall off. Drew Brees, though, is probably worth 10 or 11 wins minimum.
49ERS -- Great defense and an offense that I think will take a big step forward this year.
PACKERS -- It's a coin flip between them and the Vikings in the North.
FALCONS -- Solid team makeup. I think Matt Ryan and Michael Turner will be better this year and their defense will keep improving.
• Philadelphia was hard to leave off but first-time starter Kevin Kolb will have his hands full. I got to know Kevin my first couple years in Houston when he was lighting up the scoreboard for the Cougars, and I like his mental makeup. I don't think the notorious Philly media and fans will bother him as much as people think it will. The NFC East simply will be tough sledding. They are all going to knock each other around this year.
• Don't be surprised if Washington is there at the end either. Don't forget how good that defense was last year. Kyle Shanahan can run an offense and they won't leave the defense on the field nearly as much.
• Call me crazy, but I think the Bears will be good. It seems like a lot of people are waiting for the Mike Martz-Jay Cutler relationship to blow up, but I see Cutler putting up big numbers if his offensive line holds up.
• Don't write off Matt Leinart and the Cardinals. If he dedicates himself this offseason, there is no reason that offense still can't put up big numbers.
Obviously you can tell why I said picking 6 out of 12 right now is really hard. There are so many teams to make cases for. I could pick another 12 and might do better than my first 12.
4. I think I don't quite understand playing the Super Bowl in New Jersey. Why risk playing the most important game of the year in the elements when so many warm weather options are available?
5. I think I'd like to see Texans rookie Trindon Holliday get in the open field this season. Unfortunately, I have seen the fastest guy in the NFL, Chris Johnson, get into the open field a couple times over the past few years, but I think Trindon can give him a run for his money. This guy is ridiculously fast. This video (around the 2:40 mark) does it justice.
6. I think I'm really jealous of those who got to go to the World Cup. South Africa is a place I have always wanted to go and the World Cup is an event that I've always wanted to attend.
7. I think my teammate, David Anderson, our slot receiver, is solid gold. With a twitter name like @whiteout89, you know the kind of sense of humor he has. It's only a matter of time before he gets in front of a TV and shows everyone else what we have been seeing and hearing in the locker room for the past four years. Nobody is safe from Dave's needle. He gets after everyone, but in a way that makes everyone, including the person getting needled, laugh. This usually happens during our 10-minute stretching period before practice. One guy will get it, some more than others, but every one laughs and stays loose. Oh, and he usually does his needling in an English accent. For some reason, it makes it that much more funny! Character guys are essential to have on a team.
8. I think if soccer wants to get big in America, it needs to do what every other American sport has done: Cater to the offense. Football has done it with various penalty changes like pass interference and allowing a certain amount of holding at the line of scrimmage. Basketball has done it by not allowing hand checking. Baseball has done by shrinking the strike zone down to the size of a Happy Meal. My suggestion for soccer? Make it 10 on 10. By taking one guy off, it will allow for the skill guys to have more space to do the amazing things that on occasion you see them do.
9. I think athletes have never had a better opportunity to market themselves than through social media. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, or your own personal site -- ericwinston.com -- athletes can get their own message out to the fans in a way that presents themselves in the best possible light. Athletes that take advantage of these avenues can set themselves up for promotional and other opportunities during their career and after.
10. I think I'd like to end with a few thank-you notes. First of all, thank you to Peter for letting me be a part of MMQB. Thank you to my editor Dom for making me feel like I can put a few sentences together. I want to thank my family -- mom, dad, step-dad John, brothers Matt, Drew, and Kyle -- for always being there to push me up this hill of life. Last but not least, thanks to my daughter Julie for being beautiful and my stunning wife Jenny who's my everyday editor-in-chief. I love you and thank you for everything you do. I definitely couldn't do it without you.
More Special MMQB columns:
Nnamdi Asomugha: Advice for rookies on adjusting to life in NFLMaurice Jones-Drew: What separates great players from good in NFL