NFL Celebrations: The Fun Police Will Ride Again

The league has relaxed its celebration penalties, but we’ll still complain about a few killjoys come Sunday afternoons in the fall . . . plus that time a star player told me he wouldn’t show up to OTAs in Green Bay even if it meant losing a $5 million bonus
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After addressing the reduction of overtime last week—I suggested getting rid of OT altogether—there are a few more pieces of business to analyze from last week’s NFL owners meeting, their final gathering until October.

Have Some Fun, But Hurry Up

The NFL and Roger Goodell certainly heard the complaints: they were the “No Fun League,” taking the spontaneity out the game and turning players into robots. And not only did fans and media complain, but so did current and former players, prompting a series of meetings between players and Goodell, Troy Vincent and other league officials.

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The relaxing of celebration rules was promptly “celebrated” by the NFL with an email that contained a video showing players enjoying themselves after touchdowns, signaling that the fun was back. Well, not all the fun, as “offensive demonstrations and celebrations that are prolonged and delay the game” will still be penalized. Brandtslation: “Have fun, just be nice and be really quick!”

Inevitably, we will be parsing why one celebration was “offensive” and another was not this season; why one celebration that lasted slightly longer than another happened to be penalized. The NFL’s Fun Police will still be around; embrace the debate.

Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown.

Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown.

L.A.’s Super Bowl Can Wait

Construction delays caused by Los Angeles rain (who knew?) have pushed the opening of the Shangri-La of a stadium being built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke back a year. Now the Rams will play another season in a stadium that is too big (L.A. Coliseum) and the Chargers will play another season in a stadium that is too small (the StubHub Center). The “Relocation Three”—the Rams, Chargers and Raiders—won’t christen their new buildings until 2020.

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The year’s delay means there are probably another 10-15 players on each team’s current roster (Rams and Chargers) that might not ever play in the new L.A. stadium. Indeed, with the short career lengths and high turnover among NFL rosters, I would estimate that 75-80% of the current Rams, Chargers and Raiders players will never play for their current teams in those buildings. The business of football moves fast.

The biggest “winner” from the delay is the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They went into last week’s owners meeting thinking Los Angeles would host the 2020 Super Bowl; they left with the game themselves. L.A.’s rain is Tampa’s gain.

Looking for Volunteers

We’ve reached the time of the offseason for the annual parsing of why certain players are not attending “voluntary” workouts at team facilities. Having been on both sides, the reality is this: although workouts are voluntary, coaches and management notice (and remember) when players do not attend. For players not assured of roster spots, missing even one “voluntary” workout in May can be reason for separation in September.

During my nine offseasons in Green Bay, I spent hundreds of hours trying to convince some of our top players about the importance of the offseason program. I had to fight against the reality that spring in Wisconsin is not as appealing as players’ homes in Florida, California, Texas, etc. Ultimately, over the course of a couple years, I negotiated meaningful workout bonuses (85% participation) into all our veteran contracts. Even with these significant financial incentives, however, some players still would not come. I had one star tell me, “Andrew, you can put a $5 million workout bonus in there; I ain’t coming.”

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Players will also skip offseason workouts to send a subtle (or not so subtle) rumble of discontent about their contract situation. The goal of the agent and player is to force the team to answer questions about this “distraction” and create some level of front office angst so that management addresses the contract. Teams react differently to these “soft” acts of disobedience; most choose not to engage.

Players have such limited slivers of opportunity to try to leverage financial gains; sitting out of “voluntary” workouts is one such way.

Brandt’s Rants

With Odell Beckham Jr. (one of those players foregoing voluntary workouts) signing the largest Nike contract in NFL history—roughly $5 million per year—there is a brewing narrative that goes like this: “Nike is paying Beckham more than the Giants!” Please. Odell’s in the last year of his rookie contract; he’ll make far more from the Giants soon enough.

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The news that there will now be one roster cutdown (instead of the previous two) may give 20 players per team another training camp paycheck (roughly $1,000), but I fail to see how this is a good thing for players. Sure, there will more reps and one more preseason game for players who will inevitably be released, but also more opportunities to be injured in their “camp body” role. Now the final preseason game will be fully, instead of partially, stocked with players that will be released the next day. And Labor Day weekend will now feature a 40% labor force reduction.

The NFL, which continues to oppose gambling as it relocates to Las Vegas, now says mobile betting will not be allowed in the new Raiders stadium, to which I say: Good luck with that. With all of these mixed messages on gambling, my sense is that the NFL knows a lot can change by the time the Raiders stadium opens in 2020, giving them cover for changing their “integrity” mantra about gambling.

I like the ESPN hire of Chip Kelly, but only if producers and on-air colleagues let him talk. Kelly brought innovation to a game in sore need of it and has intellectual horsepower. He can add a lot if given the forum to be more than someone commenting on highlights and 20-second soundbites.

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