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The NFL’s 32 owners spent four days in South Florida this past week instituting new rules for the 2016 season.

They were, frankly, rules that no one in the NFL asked for, outside of the owners and the competition committee.

The coaches were squarely against the new rule that calls for an automatic ejection for any player who gets two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game. No player or coach was clamoring for kickoff touchbacks to be moved up to the 25. Many coaches and offensive linemen are firmly against the removal of the legal chop block.

And the owners and competition committee either ignored or rejected the changes that actually need to be made to improve the game, both from a fan perspective and a competitive standpoint.


Here are the changes that the NFL should make:

■ More contact with players in the offseason.

The NFL’s hands are a bit tied on this one, because the rules of the offseason were collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association, meaning the league would need the union’s approval to make any changes. But the sides need to put aside their mutual dislike and find a way to let coaches and players have more contact in the offseason.

Under the current system, coaches can’t talk football or work with their players between the end of the team’s season until April (April 4 for teams with new coaches, April 18 for everyone else). Players are allowed to work out at the team facilities, but only under the supervision of the strength and conditioning and medical staffs. No contact with coaches is allowed, and a quarterback isn’t even allowed to throw with a receiver on team property.

Bill O’Brien cannot give Brock Osweiler his playbook for another three weeks.
Bill O’Brien cannot give Brock Osweiler his playbook for another three weeks.Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

The purpose is to give the players some downtime to let their bodies recover and prevent coaches from demanding year-round participation. But giving players as much as three months away from football is not a good way to develop young players.


Texans coach Bill O’Brien, for example, can’t even give new quarterback Brock Osweiler his playbook for another three weeks.

“When I first started, nine or 10 years ago, in the league we had quarterback school,” O’Brien said at the owners meetings. “I was quality control, I was working with Josh McDaniels at the Patriots. Here came [Tom] Brady and [Matt] Cassel, we had Vinny Testaverde, we had Matt Gutierrez. We had some good guys there and they would come back and we would have quarterback school. We don’t even do that anymore. Why not? Why can’t at least the quarterbacks come back a little bit early so we can start teaching them?”

Instead, players disband for three months. Some of them train on their own in Atlanta, Miami, and Phoenix. Some do nothing.

“You have a gap between preparation and competition level,” Bill Belichick said in 2013. “We get a lot of situations that players just aren’t as prepared as they were in previous years, in my experience anyway.”

There’s little supervision, and many player arrests happen during this period. Shortening the offseason would help keep players out of trouble, if nothing else.

“I believe if you talk to the majority of players in this league, the majority, they want to come back to work earlier than April 18,” O’Brien said.

■   Allow more contact in offseason workouts.


Padded practices and full contact have been outlawed from the nine-week offseason program, turning these practices essentially into 7-on-7 passing camps. That’s all well and good for the quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive backs, but key elements of football do not get practiced in the offseason — offensive line play, defensive line play, and blitz pickup by running backs.

“Offensive linemen and defensive linemen can’t get better in shorts,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said at the owners meetings. “Those guys aren’t getting any better practicing soccer.”

Considering that two-a-days have also been eliminated from training camp, the guys in the trenches aren’t getting nearly enough coaching and development. There needs to be a way to allow a little more contact in the offseason for the big guys.

■   Expanding the roster.

We wrote an entire column about expanding rosters to 57 a couple of weeks ago, so we won’t rehash it all here. But adding roster spots would enable more injured players to return during the season, and allow teams to pick up players a few weeks earlier and acclimate them to the offense or defense instead of having to plug-and-play guys picked up off the street.

And considering that most teams finish the season with 10-15 guys on injured reserve anyway, it won’t cost the owners much, if anything, to expand the rosters.

General managers and coaches have been in favor of this for years. Former longtime Raiders executive Amy Trask said last week that she’d expand the rosters all the way to 60. But competition committee chairman Rich McKay said last week that “right now we’re pretty satisfied with where the system is.” The guess here is that the owners hear “roster expansion” and incorrectly think “higher costs.”


Bill Belichick started the campaign to expand instant replay three years ago.
Bill Belichick started the campaign to expand instant replay three years ago.Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

■   Expanding instant replay.

Three years ago Belichick started the campaign to expand instant replay, and for three straight years the owners and competition committee have shot down any and all suggestions, including several proposals this year.

They don’t want to slow down the game with too many challenges, or undermine the officials and make them hesitant to make calls.

Sorry, but that train has already left the station. The advent of high-definition TVs and slow-motion replays have put every official’s call under an intense microscope, leading to controversial rulings and hesitant officials. And if coaches still get only two challenges per game, I don’t see how it would slow down the game any more than the current system does.

Given the subjective nature of many calls — late or low hits on quarterbacks, pass interference, defensive holding — and the significant impact those calls can have on the game, it’s time to expand instant replay.


Compensatory picks punishing

Speaking of changes that need to be made, the NFLPA should fight hard to end the compensatory draft pick system in the next CBA, which will be negotiated in the spring of 2021.

It’s a system that was originally designed to help teams that are picked apart in free agency, but instead has become a tool that significantly works against veteran players as they attempt to find a new team and extend their careers.


Vince Wilfork’s departure from New England helped the Patriots land a compensatory draft pick.
Vince Wilfork’s departure from New England helped the Patriots land a compensatory draft pick.Bob Levey/Getty Images

In the current system, the NFL takes all of the free agents a team lost in one offseason, balances them against the free agents the team signed, and awards compensatory draft picks for any team that winds up on the negative side of the equation (based on playing time and production). Compensatory picks are awarded at the back end of rounds 3-7 in the draft.

Several teams are mindful of the compensatory pick system — most notably the Ravens, Patriots, and Packers — and make sure they lose more free agents than they sign to ensure that they get extra draft picks. This offseason, the Packers haven’t signed one free agent who played elsewhere last year.

Players who are cut don’t factor into the equation, but players who had declined option bonuses do. That’s why the Patriots include option bonuses for many of their players, including Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner last offseason. All three helped the Patriots land compensatory draft picks — players who are younger and locked in at a lower cost than veteran free agents for at least three years.

Longtime NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus lamented the current system in an interview last week with Miami radio station WQAM.

“I literally had teams say to me, ‘Look, we’re not going to be able to sign this guy because we’re mindful of where we are in the compensatory pick calculations. We don’t want to be upside down on that,’ ” Rosenhaus said. “I will tell you that the Green Bay Packers, they won’t sign a free agent. Period. They’ll sign guys that were cut, that won’t count against the draft picks. They’re so mindful of getting extra picks.

“So one of the things that I’ve said to the union is, can we get rid of the compensatory picks? Because it really does affect free agency. You know, if we’re going to have free agency, let’s do it where teams aren’t holding back because they want to collect on draft picks.”

Rosenhaus is 100 percent correct, and the NFLPA needs to fight hard to change the system.


Dealing with a few contracts

A few thoughts on player contracts around the NFL:

■   Robert Griffin III inked a two-year, $15 million deal with the Browns, with a $3.5 million signing bonus and the opportunity to make an extra $3.5 million each year in incentives based on playing time, passing yards, and passer rating.

But realistically, it’s a one-year, $7.5 million contract, with nothing guaranteed past 2016. The contract has a $750,000 option bonus on the third day of the 2017 league year (next March), and even if the Browns trigger it, they could easily release Griffin before the start of the regular season, when his $6 million salary becomes fully guaranteed.

One year and $7.5 million is still pretty good for a quarterback who was inactive for 16 games last year and fell out of favor with two coaching staffs. The Browns are still going to draft and groom a young quarterback, and Griffin should look at 2016 as an audition for the other 31 teams.

■ The Patriots gave an incentive-laden deal to Shea McClellin, which can be worth as much as $12 million over three years but also protects the team in case he doesn’t fit in.

The Patriots gave McClellin a $2.5 million signing bonus and $1 million guaranteed salary in 2016, but no guarantees beyond this year. Otherwise, it’s pay-per-performance.

McClellin will get $25,000 for every game he is active over the three years (up to $400,000 per season), a total of $500,000 over the three years for participating in the offseason programs, and up to $2.75 million in incentives over the three years for playing time and the Pro Bowl.

McClellin never lived up to expectations after the Bears drafted him 19th overall four years ago, but he has the versatility to play 4-3 defensive end, 4-3 strongside linebacker, and 3-4 inside linebacker. He can fill in for Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins at linebacker, or rotate with Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long at defensive end.

■   One of the worst — and certainly costliest — losses of the offseason came last Tuesday when the Chiefs announced that star pass rusher Justin Houston would miss 6-12 months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in February.

Houston had 22 sacks in 2014, signed a monster five-year, $101 million contract with $52.5 million guaranteed last summer, then produced just 7.5 sacks in 2015 while struggling with the knee injury.

Although Houston’s 2016 season is in doubt, the Chiefs are still on the hook for his $14.9 million base salary, plus $8.5 million of deferred signing bonus due April 1. That’s $23.4 million for a player who might not see a snap in 2016.

Story seems credible

The most interesting story of last week was dropped by longtime NFL reporter and St. Louis radio voice Howard Balzer, saying the Rams drafted Michael Sam in the seventh round in 2014 as a favor to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and in return were excused from participating in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” program.

Jeff Fisher and the Rams vehemently denied it, and it’s hard not to think that the story is borne at least a little by ex-Rams employees who are sour about the team leaving for Los Angeles. Sam’s complaint Friday that the Rams kept undrafted pass rusher Ethan Westbrooks over him also rings hollow considering Westbrooks is still with the Rams.

But I have little doubt that the story is accurate, at least in spirit. Sam going undrafted would have been a tough PR battle for the NFL, Fisher has close ties to the league office via the competition committee, and the NFL basically revolves around these types of backroom politics.

Extra points

The most shocking revelation of the owners meetings may have been Bill O’Brien acknowledging that he hadn’t even met Brock Osweiler before the Texans decided to give the quarterback $37 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. This move has owner Bob McNair’s signature all over it, and you have to wonder how comfortable O’Brien is with his owner making football decisions . . . Thursday felt like Bizarro World when the NFL released a 1,000-plus-word press release defending itself against the New York Times report on the league’s faulty concussion data and ties to the tobacco industry, then later in the day released a 2,500-plus-word epic entitled, “More to the Story.” Patriots fans had to either laugh or cry at the NFL blasting the Times for having “no direct evidence” and publishing “pages of innuendo and speculation for a headline with no basis in fact.” The NFL choosing the Patriots’ “Wells Report In Context” tactic is nothing short of astounding . . . Roger Goodell said he’s personally going to hear the Chiefs’ appeal of their penalty for tampering with Jeremy Maclin last offseason — a third-round pick, a sixth-round pick, and a $250,000 fine for the organization. Good luck, Chiefs . . . Free agent guard/center Ryan Wendell, who started 49 games for the Patriots, including 12 in their most recent championship season, is rehabbing a knee injury that ended his season last year but still wants to play in 2016 and could be a decent low-risk signing by the Patriots right before training camp . . . Don’t be surprised if you see the recently retired Logan Mankins around town. Mankins’s wife and children remained in their North Attleborough home while he played for Tampa Bay the last two years, and Mankins also has a 125-acre “farm” in the area.

The ties that bind

In the NFL, there are a handful of teams with coaching staffs that contain family members. Here’s a look at those relationships:

Compiled by Michael Grossi

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.