The recent NFL owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., created a few stories of note here in New England. The NFL changed its overtime procedures for the postseason to ensure that both teams get the ball. Robert Kraft said he’s bothered that the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game in three seasons. And Bill Belichick said, well, not much.
The meetings lacked the fireworks of past years — no controversies over instant replay, or deflated footballs, or protesters from Oakland and San Diego — but a handful of interesting news items emerged at the three-day meetings:
▪ Everyone is upset at the Browns. Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam may have underestimated how upset everyone — their fellow owners as much as the fans — was going to be over the Deshaun Watson trade and contract extension.
Certainly a negative reaction from the fan base had to be anticipated by the Browns when they made their big trade March 21 — three first-round picks, plus a $230 million contract for Watson, accused by 22 women of sexual harassment and assault. A sizable portion of Browns fans expressed anger and frustration, and the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center received more than 1,000 donations after the trade was announced.
But if the Browns were hoping the initial furor would die down, they may have a problem. Since the trade, Andrea Thome, the wife of Hall of Fame slugger Jim Thome, has become an activist against the franchise. She canceled her season tickets, demanded a refund from the team, and is leading the charge on social media, sharing a letter she received from a sexual assault victim among other messages. Her prominence in the community and the Browns’ questionable handling of this situation has the potential to be an issue for the Browns moving forward.
The Haslams also may have underestimated how much their fellow owners would be upset. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti gave voice to what a lot of owners are probably thinking about the five-year, $230 million contract that is fully guaranteed, a record in the NFL. The previous record was Kirk Cousins’s three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed deal with the Vikings.
“It’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,’ ” Bisciotti said Tuesday. “I don’t know that [Watson] should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”
The Haslams got their star quarterback, but they are probably getting a lot of cold shoulders these days.
▪ Dan Snyder skips meeting, is still a major problem for the NFL. The Commanders’ owner was a no-show in Palm Beach, and the team was represented by his wife, Tanya Snyder, as part of the “punishment” from last summer’s sexual harassment and assault investigation.
“Dan Snyder has not been involved in day-to-day operations. I don’t believe he’s been at the facility at all,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. “Tanya has represented the team as the CEO both on a day-to-day basis, but also here at the league. She represented the club [at the annual league meeting]. That will continue for at least the foreseeable future. Dan and I will talk about that at some point.”
Of course, Snyder was present at the team’s Sean Taylor Day last October, an event that was shamelessly thrown together at the last minute to distract from the sexual harassment scandal. Coach Ron Rivera also casually mentioned in a radio interview in October that he spoke with Snyder “oh, probably once or twice a week.” And Rivera said in January that he “talked with the owners” after the season to discuss the plan moving forward.
Goodell continues to stand by Snyder for some strange reason, but they still have major problems. The congressional investigation of the Commanders now has two tentacles, per Front Office Sports — one looking into the two decades of sexual assault and harassment allegations made against the team, and another looking at whether Snyder’s team used two sets of books and other deceptive financial practices.
If fostering a degrading, sexist workplace environment for two decades can’t bring Snyder down, perhaps a financial scandal can.
▪ The Rooney Rule was enhanced — again. This is almost a yearly occurrence, thanks to the NFL’s troubling record on diversity hiring, at least at the team level.
The NFL announced that all 32 teams must have a minority assistant coach on offense for the 2022 season. The minority coach can be a woman or an ethnic or racial minority.
“We clearly have a trend where [head] coaches are coming from the offensive side of the ball in recent years,” said Steelers owner Art Rooney II. “And we clearly do not have as many minorities in the offensive coordinator [job].”
The NFL also added women to be included by the Rooney Rule for all coaching and front office roles. Women are not required to be interviewed but are now part of fulfilling the requirements.
▪ The Bills are getting a new stadium (probably). Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., is a terrific place to watch a game. It has plenty of parking and tailgating, and there’s not a bad seat in the house.
But it will be hosting its 50th NFL season this fall, and doesn’t have many of the suites and luxury amenities that create revenue. Using a vague threat of relocation and franchise viability, the Bills were able to secure a record $850 million in public funds from the state of New York to build a new stadium, on the site of the current one, that would be ready to open in 2026. The Associated Press reported that the state’s total bill will exceed $1.1 billion when factoring long-term maintenance costs.
The Bills will be responsible for cost overruns, and will have to pay rent of $900,000 per year. But between the $750 million the Raiders got from Nevada and the $850 million the Bills got from New York, a few NFL owners have probably started thinking about getting a new stadium of their own.
▪ Big week for the Lions. They were mostly an afterthought in 2021 with a 3-13-1 record, but the Lions had a nice week at the owners meetings. Detroit was named host for the 2024 NFL Draft, and the Lions were named as this year’s team for the “Hard Knocks” television show in training camp. While most teams prefer not to do “Hard Knocks,” it should be a nice promotion for coach Dan Campbell and his team as they try to win back the fan base.
Since leaving New York after 2014, the NFL Draft has been awarded to: Chicago (twice), Philadelphia, Dallas, Nashville, Cleveland, Goodell’s basement (no in-person draft in 2020), Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Detroit. The Patriots haven’t made a big push to host it in Boston, Providence, or Foxborough, but that could change.
▪ Belichick participates. Belichick was noticeably more engaged than in previous years, and seems to be in a good place with the league. He showed up to his media availability on time — three minutes early, actually — and participated for the full 30 minutes. He went out of his way to introduce himself to Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and Jets coach Robert Saleh. He socialized with his peers at the cocktail party. And he stayed at the meetings until they wrapped up Tuesday. Belichick, who turns 70 in two weeks, didn’t look like someone ready to slow down.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
OT rule change an overreaction?
The big item from the week was the NFL changing its overtime rules for the postseason to guarantee each team a possession. The rule change came in response to the Bills’ loss to the Chiefs in last season’s playoffs, and a stat that was put at the front of the discussion: In the last 12 postseason overtime games, the team that won the coin toss is 10-2, with seven wins on the opening possession.
“It’s a statistic that many of us were not willing to live with moving forward,” Giants owner John Mara told me.
The owners are concerned that a random coin toss is too much of a factor in the outcome of postseason games. Except I’m not sure that A) the new rule will fix it, or B) that there really is a problem anyway.
First of all, if seven of the 12 games were won on the opening possession, that means in five of the 12 games, both teams got the football. I’m not sure 5 of 12 (42 percent) represents a major problem. In last season’s AFC Championship game, the Bengals beat the Chiefs despite losing the coin toss.
Second, the new rule doesn’t negate the advantage gained by winning the coin toss. The 10-2 statistic suggests winning the coin toss is significant, even if a team doesn’t score a TD on the opening possession. For example, if the teams begin overtime by trading punts, the first team could potentially begin their next possession at their own 40-yard line, needing just 20 yards to get in range for the winning field goal.
The new rule does nothing to address that. If the Bills had matched the Chiefs’ touchdown in overtime, the Chiefs still would have only needed to drive a handful of yards to get into range for the winning field goal.
Third, 12 games aren’t a big enough sample size. In the 164 overtime games since 2010, when the NFL instituted its modified sudden-death OT rules, the team that won the coin toss only won 52.4 percent (86-68-10), per NFL Research.
It’s good that the NFL only changed the rule for the postseason. And fans will be happy to see Josh Allen get the ball next time in overtime. But the new rule may not accomplish much.
Blame it on the weather
One reason the Browns had to guarantee Deshaun Watson every penny of a $230 million contract — Cleveland’s notoriously crummy weather.
Watson is a Georgia native who played at Clemson and then in a dome in Houston. In his one game in Cleveland, a 10-7 loss in 2020, the game was delayed for 35 minutes by rain and hail, and Watson threw for just 163 yards in 25-mile-per-hour winds.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said he and Watson talked about the weather “a lot” in their March 15 meeting.
“He’s thinking, ‘How am I going to play in that? I’m a quarterback, I want to throw the ball 40 times,’ ” Haslam said. “We had a little bit to overcome. Check that, a lot to overcome.”
Irsay not giving mixed signals
Colts owner Jim Irsay made a couple of interesting comments at the owners meetings. First, when asked about trading Carson Wentz to the Commanders after one season in Indianapolis, Irsay kicked Wentz when he was down, referring to him as a “mistake” and blaming him for the season-ending loss to the Jaguars.
“The fit just wasn’t right,” Irsay said. “A lot of times you don’t know why, but you know it isn’t, and it was important for us to move in a different direction.”
A day later, Wentz posted a sponsored Instagram ad for a tractor company with the caption, “Building a higher road.” The connotation was obvious.
Irsay also made a poignant comment about the team’s quarterback situation. Matt Ryan will be the Colts’ fourth opening day QB in as many years since Andrew Luck retired in August 2019.
“I don’t think people understand [the impact] of Andrew stepping away,” Irsay said. “I’d like to see how any other franchise could possibly survive a generational talent at 29 years old who walks away in the middle of preseason. Just gone.”
It looks like excuse-making when coming from Irsay, but he’s right. The Colts have done OK for themselves in finding Philip Rivers and Ryan as stopgaps. But not only was Luck’s retirement a huge blow to the franchise, but the timing of it was brutal, as the Colts were unprepared for Luck to step away.
After two decades of stability with Peyton Manning and Luck, the Colts are now wandering the QB desert, unable to find the next guy.
Mary Jo White, the former US attorney in New York and chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, will be plenty busy with the NFL in 2022. The NFL has tabbed her to investigate the allegation from Brian Flores that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered $100,000 per loss in 2019 in order to get the No. 1 draft pick. White is also investigating the new claim of sexual harassment against Dan Snyder by a former Commanders employee. The NFL hired White to investigate sexual harassment claims against then-Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in 2018; and White investigated the Saints’ Bountygate scandal in 2012. It was later revealed that she grossly mischaracterized video evidence in that case, and the player suspensions she recommended were overturned … GM John Lynch said this past week that the 49ers have the budget for Jimmy Garoppolo’s $25 million salary this year, and coach Kyle Shanahan said, “We’re not going to just get rid of a good quarterback.” But let’s see what happens if Garoppolo, recovering from shoulder surgery, is still on the roster by mid-August. Trey Lance needs room to grow into the job, and he can’t do that with Garoppolo looming as his backup. And Garoppolo’s $24.2 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed for Week 1 but can be wiped clean before then. A smart team might want to wait the 49ers out to see if they will release Garoppolo … Another moderately priced receiver the Patriots apparently didn’t want — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, whose three-year, $30 million deal with the Chiefs is really just one year and $9 million guaranteed. The Patriots hadn’t made any additions to Mac Jones’s receiving corps until taking a flier on the Dolphins’ DeVante Parker on Saturday. “I think we have a lot of talent. Some wonderful young men from last year, and a couple in the weeds from before,” owner Robert Kraft said this past week … The Bears signed Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian, and the Saints signed Bears quarterback Andy Dalton … After the Patriots’ 33-24 loss at Miami in Week 18, safety Adrian Phillips surprisingly broke out in tears to start his postgame news conference. His college teammate, Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, had suffered a gruesome ankle injury that day, right before he was set to hit free agency. “I hate this so much, but I love you, bro, and I’m just praying for you,” Phillips said. But the story has a happy ending. Diggs, a Pro Bowler the past two seasons, signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Seahawks this past week that guarantees him $14 million this season. Diggs said this past week that he is on track for a five-month recovery and is already doing back flips and cartwheels.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.