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Extra Points: How the PAT Could Change by This Fall

The 32 teams are near unanimous in believing the point after touchdown needs to change. Precisely how is another story. The details of a compromise that goes to vote in May. Plus why the Saints own the draft, and eight coaches on the spot

We’re exactly one month out from round one of the NFL draft. There’s a lot to cover this week, including:

  • Ten questions for eight coaches at the league meetings, which just concluded in Arizona
  • Pete Carroll tells me he is not tortured. (Didn’t think he was) 
  • Suddenly, the Saints—who are not finished making over their team—own the 2015 draft
  • The Browns have plenty of draft ammo—that is, unless the NFL takes some of it to smite GM Ray Farmer
  • Just what parity needs: the Patriots with three prime selections in a six-pick span 
  • NFL draft wise guy: “This year, the 20th pick is the same as the 50th pick to me” 
  • Why April 17-18 is very important to this draft
  • Nine prospects have separated themselves
  • And a cool draft wrinkle the fans in Chicago will like

But first, the biggest change to NFL scoring in the 95-year history of the league is coming. If you don’t like it, get out of the way.

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Post-touchdown could feature three new ways of scoring.

Last year, in a general session at an NFL meeting, the league’s 32 teams agreed—almost unanimously—that the point after touchdown was passé. Had to go. Too automatic. And so eight days ago, when the competition committee gathered in Phoenix to go over potential rule changes for the 2015 season, the committee was stuck on the PAT fix. There was nothing the group thought it could sell that would get the required 24 votes from the teams. (A rule change needs a three-quarter vote to pass.) Find a compromise, the committee was told; the league can’t go another year with 99.6 percent extra-point efficiency—the league average for the past three years.

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So on Tuesday, each team had a chance to express opinions on what the new rule should be. Thirty of 32 teams said they wanted the PAT to change, as teams, one by one, had a chance to advance their own solutions. But the opinions on what the new rule should be “were all over the map," one competition committee member told me in Phoenix. “That’s the problem now. No one can agree, and now we have to come up with a compromise that’ll get 24 votes in May.”

This is the most likely compromise to be advanced, and the most likely way the league will amend how teams can score after a touchdown:

  • Teams will have a choice whether to go for one or two points after a touchdown, from different distances.
  • If the offensive team chooses to kick for one point, the scrimmage line will move from the 2-yard-line to the 15-yard line, making it a 32- or 33-yard attempt.
  • If the offensive team chooses to go for two points, the scrimmage line will be either the 1-and-a half- or 2-yard line. There was much debate about making it the 1, the 1-and-a-half or the 2. The feeling about putting it on the 1 was that it could turn into too much of a scrum/push-the-pile play, or a fluky puncture-the-goal-line-with-the-ball-and-bring-it-back play by the quarterback. Putting it at the 1-and-a-half or leaving it at the 2 would increase the chances of a real football play with some drama.
  • The defensive team would be able to score two points by either blocking the PAT and returning it downfield to the end zone, or by intercepting the two-point attempt and running it back, or recovering a fumble on the two-point play and returning it all the way.

Again, that’s not certain. Anytime you ask 24 teams to agree on anything, there’s a chance it won’t happen. But if 30 of 32 teams agree that the PAT is broken, there’s a good chance they’d agree to change some form of the rule. And what I’ve laid out is the most likely scenario to be passed in May, during the next league meeting.

There always will be those who don’t want the scoring system to change, because of tradition, or the attitude that football’s not broken, so why fix it? But the PAT is broken. The current system of scoring was invented by the lords of college football in 1912—six points for a touchdown, one for an extra point, two for a safety, three for a field goal—with the two-point conversion added by the NFL in 1994. Now the PAT cries out to be fixed. It’s simply not a competitive play anymore. Fifteen teams have not missed a PAT this decade. Tennessee hasn’t missed one since 2005, Kansas City and San Francisco since 2006. The Patriots and Broncos, combined, are 436 for 436 since 2011. Doing nothing would be the mistake.

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What I’m hearing about the draft, and the significant teams in it.

The Prospects

Leonard Williams: Our Andy Benoit sat down for a film session with the draft's best defensive player.Marcus Mariota: The Oregon QB's game is being scrutinized more than anyone's.Brandon Scherff: The draft's best—and nastiest—blocker is a modern-day Paul Bunyan.T.J. Clemmings: A switch from defense to offensive tackle awakened a monster.Shaq Thompson: Before he was an NFL prospect, he was baseball's worst player.

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The Saints will be a headline act.

I don’t believe it involves Drew Brees, because I think the Saints are committed to at least one more season of Brees at quarterback. But I hear New Orleans wants to be even more active before the draft, and that could mean dealing stalwart guard Jahri Evans for a third- or fourth-round pick. Or it could mean signing or dealing defensive end Cam Jordan. As of today, the Saints are the biggest power players in the draft. They’re the only team with five picks in

the first three rounds

. They have 13, 31, 44, 75 and 78. So actually they have five picks in the first two-and-a-half rounds. That gives aggressive GM Mickey Loomis the ammo to start to remake his team.

You want to pick in the top nine. Here’s what a few football people who were at the league meetings are thinking about the breakdown of this draft: Nine prime picks, then eight or 10 really good prospects, then maybe 30 or so of the same-level player. The top nine: quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, wideouts Kevin White and Amari Cooper, pass-rushers Dante Fowler and Vic Beasley, offensive tackle Brandon Scherff and cornerback Trae Waynes. After that, beauty starts to be in the eye of the beholder. I had one GM tell me: “The 17th pick on our board might be the 53rd pick on another team’s board—and that could be a team we really respect.”

Todd Gurley is the draft’s fascinating player.Every year, draft prospects injured the previous college football season go back to Indianapolis, site of the combine, to have their surgeries re-checked before the draft. This year, the re-checks will be April 17 and 18 in Indy, two weeks before the draft. Gurley tore his ACL on Nov. 15 and had knee reconstruction by Dr. James Andrews on Nov. 25. So he’ll be drafted five months after surgery. The book on Gurley is that he’ll be good in 2015 and tremendous in 2016. It’ll be interesting, particularly with the devaluation of running backs in recent drafts, to see who picks Gurley, and where. I think he’ll be gone by the 25th pick.

New England could be a big power player late on day two.The Patriots have their own picks in rounds one and two, 32nd and 64th overall. Then they have their own at the end of the third round, a third-round compensatory pick and a pick at the top of the fourth round from the Logan Mankins trade last August. They have the 96th, 97th and 101st overall picks. Don’t be surprised to see Bill Belichick/Nick Caserio flip one of those for, say, a prime 2016 pick.

The Browns and Falcons could lose mid-round picks this week. Cleveland GM Ray Farmer has admitted texting his coaches during games, a violation of league rules, and the Falcons have admitted piping in extra crowd noise at the Georgia Dome. I doubt either transgression rises to the level or a first- or second-round pick as a penalty, but I believe both teams will be docked a pick or picks. Today, Cleveland has six picks in the top three-and-a-half rounds: 12, 19, 43, 77, 111, 115. The league still has a while to go on the Jets-Patriots tampering case.

Other Chicago draft nuggets.As of now, no top prospect besides Jameis Winston has said no to coming to the draft in Chicago … Once drafted, players will do the mandated TV and radio interviews at the draft, with many of the interviews taking place outside the Auditorium Theatre and among the crowd of fans at the draft … Because of space limitations at the draft venue, the draft tables for team representatives will be placed outside in what the NFL is calling Selection Square, in close proximity to the public. The NFL is setting up a "Draft Town" fan festival in Grant Park, across Michigan Avenue from the Auditorium Theatre.