Mailbag: Future Changes to NFL's TV Packages, Impact of Canceled College Games

When and how can we expect the NFL's TV package to change? Plus, the impact a canceled college season has on the NFL, what to expect from Gardner Minshew in Year 2, whether this season will be seen as legitimate and more.
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It’s a sad day in the football world. Blue-blood programs that are 41 (Michigan), 33 (Penn State), 32 (USC) and 30 (Ohio State and Nebraska) years older than the NFL itself won’t be playing this fall. And no matter who you blame, it’s a shame that we’re here.

The slow death march college football seems to be on will absolute reverberate in the NFL world. We’re going to get to that, and a whole lot more, in this week’s mailbag. …

From Brock Ascher (@BrockAscher): What happens to NFL TV rights in the near future? Will I ever be able to get rid of DirecTV? Will I ever be able to buy a one-team out of market package?

Brock, my guess is the over-the-air packages will probably remain the same. I think Thursday night is the one variable in all this, with the potential Disney snaps it up so it can put either MNF or TNF on ABC, with the other staying on ESPN, ideal for them for cable-fee reasons. (My guess is Fox is finished with TNF.) The biggest difference you’d notice could come in structure. I was told by two execs that the NFL has discussed jettisoning the divvying up of Sunday afternoons by conference (the cross-flex would be a precursor to that).

It’d give the NFL more flexibility and, in this scenario, you could have Fox and CBS simply split up the games, via some sort of “draft.”

After that, we can dive into how streaming (where the younger audience lives) plays into all of this, and how the Sunday Ticket package you’re referencing factors into that. AT&T now owns DirecTV, which has the Ticket through 2022. The Ticket is vital to DirecTV's survival. How much does AT&T care about that? We’ll see, because the NFL has discussed the idea of moving the Ticket to a streaming service, where a younger audience lives.

You can imagine what the Ticket would be worth to ESPN-Plus, Peacock, HBO Max, DAZN or Amazon Prime. How many people would jump on those services if the Ticket was there? Based on DirecTV’s numbers, the answer is a lot. And part of the NFL’s concern about production quality in doing something like this may have been alleviated with how smoothly Amazon Prime’s venture into creating such a product for the Premier League over in the UK went.

As for the a la carte end of this, we’ll see. I think that’s coming, but it might be further down the line, and whoever were to win the Ticket rights would be involved in all of that. The bottom line here: Media’s changing fast, and the NFL is preparing for that.

From Jonathan Barakat (@jonathanbarakat): How do you think Gardner Minshew will play this year? Will he exceed expectations? Also what do you think of D.J. Chark coming into his third year?

Jonathan, I’ll give you what I like and what I don’t like about Gardner Minshew’s situation.

What I like: Minshew gets to play for Jay Gruden, who’s immediately made a big difference for young quarterbacks in both his previous NFL homes (Kirk Cousins in D.C. and Andy Dalton in Cincinnati), and in one of those cases actually did it with a rookie coming off the lockout, which is somewhat analogous to this situation. Also, D.J. Chark gives Minshew a strong No. 1 target, and Doug Marrone will use the run game to support him.

What I don’t like: It’s pretty clear where Jacksonville stands on Cam Robinson, and having an issue at left tackle isn’t great—particularly in a year when it’s going to be tough to work out offensive line issues on the fly. Also, the viability of the run game rides largely on Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t been the most reliable guy over his first three NFL seasons. And beyond Chark, there are question marks at receiver and tight end.

So all in all, it’s not a complete mess, but not really setup for Minshew to have a breakthrough sophomore campaign.

From Roberta Wears A Mask You Should Too (@AceandJasper): How will the teams take care of season ticket holders who won't get to sit in their front row seats even for a game or two?

Most teams are rolling payments over or refunding—and I can’t imagine any haven’t already given their season-ticket holders the choice to opt out and hold on to the rights to their seats in 2021. I think, at this point, we know that the season isn’t going to start with full stadiums anywhere. How will it end? That’s four months from now. And I think the last four months should be enough to keep anyone from making predictions that far ahead.

From Erik Ghirarduzzi (@eghirarduzzi): Given the circumstance around this season, currently known and ones yet to come, how legit would a SB winner be? There are teams at a competitive disadvantage, through no fault of their own, already and the season hasn't started.

Erik, this is a great question—I do believe this year will be remembered, if it’s completed, like the strike years of 1982 and ’87. In ’82, teams played nine games, the divisions were temporarily abolished, and a 16-team playoff was staged. In ’87, just six quarterbacks broke 3,000 yards passing, and just two backs reached 1,000 yards rushing. In both years, interestingly enough, Joe Gibbs led Washington to a championship.

Now, I don’t think the season necessarily will be cut to nine games (as ’82 was), nor will you have the oddity of replacement players en masse (like ’87 had). But I do think there’ll be aspects of the season that will go sideways, and the NFL, to its credit, knows it and is preparing for that.

So how are ’82 and ’87 remembered? I think most people who didn’t live it (I was way too young, 2, to remember the former, and have faint memories of the latter) probably wouldn’t look at championships or accolades from that year (John Elway was MVP and Reggie White DPOY in ’87) much differently. But it doesn’t take much Google acumen to discover how weird all the numbers from those seasons look.

To me, that feels like the likely result of this year.

From Dan Heiserman (@HeisermanDan): Has any player in history ever been on more teams than Josh McCown?

Speaking of Google, Dan, I didn’t know the answer to this and was legitimately interested, so I looked and found that legend-of-the-aughts J.T. O’Sullivan was on 11 (!) different NFL teams (Saints, Packers, Bears, Vikings, Patriots, Panthers, Lions, Niners, Bengals, Chargers, Raiders), which unbelievably matches McCown’s number (Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Dolphins, Panthers, Niners, Bears, Bucs, Browns, Jets, Eagles).

A little more bumping around the internet showed that kicker Bill Cundiff was, at one point or another, with 13 different NFL teams (Cowboys, Bucs, Packers, Saints, Falcons, Chiefs, Lions, Browns, Ravens, Washington, Niners, Jets, Bills). And I’m sure there are other backup quarterbacks and kickers—playing positions where careers are longer, which facilitates this sort of movement—out there like these guys.

All of them must have pretty cool jersey displays in their basements.

From SUPER BOWL SUPER BROWNS HELL YEAH!!! (@WAH3rd): Should I still go back to the party barn and start drinking at 7 a.m. and yell at people on Saturdays this fall like I used to?

This is a very specific message just for me and a lot of other people who were in legit mourning on Tuesday night—and this will be absolutely be one of the Lane Avenue casualties (right there with the Varsity Club) of the depressing news we all got. It’s hard to describe the Party Barn if you don’t know what it is already, so I won’t try.

And the answer is yes.

From Skeeter6265 (@skeeter6265): Do you think Ohio will beat Michigan?

I was very excited for Michigan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its last win in Columbus—that was in the fall of my junior year—this November. Maybe that team can have a Zoom reunion to commemorate it now.

From FootballFan64 (@FFan64): With college coaches out of the running for NFL openings since their season is moving to the spring, which NFL coordinators do you expect to be coveted for any newly vacated HC positions? Who is this year’s Matt Rhule?

Well, Football Fan, I’m not sure that colleges playing in the spring (if that even happens) would prevent NFL teams from making runs at coaches at that level. If, and again it’s a big if, college football goes in the spring semester, my guess would be the season would start in February (you can’t just start the season the minute kids get back to campus). The NFL coaching carousel is spinning at the beginning of January. So there’d be time.

The NFL coordinator names you’ll hear most are some of the usual suspects from the last couple cycles—Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Ravens coordinators Greg Roman and Wink Martindale, 49ers DC Robert Saleh and Saints DC Dennis Allen would be on that list. I’d also just keep an eye on Falcons DC Raheem Morris, Chiefs pass-game coordinator Mike Kafka and Titans OC Arthur Smith as names that could pop up.

As for the next Matt Rhule, the NFL will continue to have interest in Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, and Ohio State’s Ryan Day is beginning to be held in that sort of regard among those in the pros. But both those guys have jobs that are very well-paying and, in reality, better than the majority of jobs they’d find in the NFL. Stanford’s David Shaw and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald have long been on the radar of the league, but haven’t shown much appetite for leaving their alma maters. And Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck is a fun name to keep an eye on.

From Shawn Tangen (@SMTangen): How is Kevin Warren viewed within NFL circles?

Shawn, I’d say it’s pretty mixed. And I got some pretty strong reaction from certain corners of the NFL about the Big Ten commissioner (and former Vikings executive) after the conference canceled its season on Tuesday.

Warren was a polarizing figure inside the Minnesota locker room during the Adrian Peterson scandal of 2014—Peterson felt like Warren betrayed him to the point where Warren’s promotion to COO was a sticking point in the star’s contract negotiation. That was a situation that coach Mike Zimmer had to manage, and ultimately defuse, on the ground with the players, and it’s just one example in his NFL past where he’s rankled co-workers.

On top of that, many NFL people felt like Warren’s move to the Big 10 was with designs on eventually making a run at becoming NFL commissioner down the line. In that regard, the final result of his management of the last week (a result we won’t have for a while) will probably go a long way in determining whether those aspirations are realistic or not. I’d just hope his decisions here weren’t made with that in mind.

From Brycen Papp (@BrycenPapp): Do you think this season will be a massive shift in the way the draft process works? Will the NFL lower the requirements for college players to be draft eligible to two years instead of three?

Brycen, I think there will be a shift to the draft process to a degree, and we’re going to get into that in the GamePlan on Thursday. But I do want to get into your question on the NFL’s age requirement, because it’s a fascinating one—and something we covered extensively on the podcast this week.

I believe many of the best players in the Big 10 and Pac-12, from places like Ohio State, Oregon, USC, Penn State and Michigan, will sign with agents now, and go into draft prep. Because of that, and how the Big 10/Pac-12 shutdown devalues this college season, I think we’ll also see some attrition from the other conferences. That could lead to some players who only played two years of college football and skipped the required third year out of high school, going high in next April’s draft.

That, in turn, could open the door in the future for players with two good years on their resume skipping their junior year to protect themselves and prepare for the draft—in the same way Christian McCaffrey skipping his bowl game in 2016 gave others cover to do the same. At that point, the idea that players need three years of development to be NFL-ready gets broken down, and now you have guys taking a “gap year” instead.

Which isn’t good for the players, for college football or for the NFL.

It’s important to remember here too that it’s not college football keeping guys in school for three years. It’s pro football. The three-year rule is an NFL rule. And when Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams sued to become eligible for the draft in 2004, it wasn’t a school, a conference or the NCAA they sued. It was the NFL. So the ball would be in the NFL’s court on this one, if the situation comes to a head.

From Sam Perrone (@samjp33): Do you think the NFL would be willing to move the draft if the college football season bleeds into the spring?

I think, Sam, the NFL will do whatever it needs to in order to support the golden goose that is college football. Why? College football is very good for the NFL. And primarily for three reasons.

1) It’s a free minor league. The NFL, unlike the other sports, doesn’t have to fund a complex minor-league system to develop college-aged players. The expense of doing so in a sport like football would be astronomical and the opportunity to monetize it, as we’ve seen with other start-up leagues in the past, would be pretty limited.

2) It’s a marketing monster for star players coming in. Say what you will about Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel—they were legit sports-world celebrities before they lifted a single dumbbell in preparation for the draft. Everyone knows who Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovialoa and Chase Young are. Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley were household names as collegians. And all of that is great for the NFL on so many different levels.

3) College football is the foundation for the NFL’s tentpole offseason event. The draft is The Draft because of college football. We’ve been watching most of the top players for years. It marries two wildly popular entertainment entities. The draft itself wouldn’t be nearly the event it is without college football.

So, in order to protect the sanctity of a spring college football season (as much of a sham as it might be) would the NFL be willing to move the draft back a few weeks? Well, of course it would be.

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