The NFL is seeing shrinking rankings, which coincides with a decline in the product that is becoming too hard to ignore.
There are quite a few things that could be done to help out the league as a whole. There are also a couple things that the league has done that can be tossed into the waste bin.
The NFL can do some simple things to address these declining quality and should at least consider each of the following suggestions.
Don’t relocate a team to England… or any other country except maybe Canada
One of the most ludicrous things that is being floated out there is that the NFL might be expanding the league to add a team in England (more on that here).
The idea of expansion is just a bad one — the product is already diluted. But the idea of relocation seems to be hot since, over the past couple of years, the Rams have landed in Los Angeles and the Raiders appear to be headed to Las Vegas.
But this idea that a team — long rumored the Jaguars — should move to England is a bad idea. The English love American football, but there isn’t enough incentive to have their own team because of all of the hassle that comes with cross Atlantic travel every week.
The only move that could make some sense is a potential move of the Buffalo Bills to Toronto. And even then, it doesn’t make too much sense considering how loved they are in Western New York and how well they sell tickets. The NFL would be wise to get rid of this idea of having a team outside of the continental United States and Canada.
Feature 17-game schedule with three preseason games
Now, if the NFL really has to do these international games, it might as well change the schedule up to 17 games during the regular season and get rid of the fourth preseason game. The league should have the international showcases as a yearly rivalry between a pair of teams from the AFC and the NFC.
For example, the Atlanta Falcons could play the Miami Dolphins every season as their rivals in Havana, Cuba for a yearly Cuban classic. There would be games every year for these AFC-NFC rivalries similar to the interleague rivalries created by Major League Baseball.
The NFL could play a total of 16 international series games. And of those, eight of them can be in England and Scotland so that they get the equivalent of a home team. There would easily be enough interest to have a game in Toronto and a game in Montreal every year. The other six could include games in Mexico City, Havana, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona.
The idea of international play for every team doesn’t seem like a horrible idea because it’d be an even playing field. And the idea that neither team would lose a home game due to there being 17 games makes life a lot easier for schedulers. The only real issue that comes in is the loss of the fourth preseason game.
NFL teams could look at the first game as a combination of both the first and second game for cursory evaluations. The second game would be the dress rehearsal while the third game would be the game right before roster cuts to allow for the teams to get a better look at their players.
Have two bye weeks — one before the Thursday game and one after an international game
The NFL should have two byes. The first one should be the week after the international game, whenever that is in the season. The second one should be before every team’s Thursday night game. This piggybacks onto the idea of a 17-game season and 16 international games. It also plays into player safety.
Instead of short rest for a Thursday night game, it essentially gives a team a trio of byes. They get 10 days before the Thursday game, nine days after the Thursday game and at least 13 days after their international series game. So Thursday night games would be better quality due to more time to prepare, more rest time, which could impact the amount of injuries as well.
The additional rest will also help the players heal up during the middle of the season instead of the brutal stretches of 10-13 straight games that exist now. The NFL is a great league when players are healthy and can perform at their best. The additional bye will only help that.
Expand rosters to 63 with 53 active on game days
One of the biggest issues facing teams stems from how few players are on the roster. When the cap is at $170 million next season, there is no reason why NFL teams can’t afford another 10 minimum deals on their roster to go along with their practice squad guys. It would help the NFL, the NFL Players Association could lessen injuries around the league to have bigger rosters.
The NFL would benefit because each team would have seven more active members on game day rosters and 10 more players per normal roster. This would help with practice reps throughout the weeks and take some of the brunt off of the starters. It would also allow NFL teams more depth throughout the season when faced with injuries.
It could also help with player development and stashing guys away who are projects. For example, a sixth-round linebacker a team takes because its current starting middle linebacker is two years from retirement could be stashed on the roster. He would learn from him, play special teams and grow within the scheme without being forced out there too early improving the quality of play.
The NFL Players Association would love this too. They would have another 320 players in the union every season and could get more money out of the NFL owners’ pockets by having these additional roster spots occupied. Considering the camp rosters expanded to 90 from 80 in 2012, the thought of increasing the regular rosters from 53 to 63 isn’t that far fetched.
The biggest benefit of this would be for in-game injury situations, though. Instead of some teams having just seven offensive linemen or two quarterbacks on gameday, they could keep three quarterbacks or nine offensive linemen active. This would prevent situations like what happened in the 2014 Vikings-Falcons game where Levine Toilolo was playing right tackle that day.
It would have been safer for Matt Ryan and Toilolo to have Ryan Schraeder come in that day at tackle. But the Falcons didn’t have the ability to do that, and it basically cost the team that game. This would remedy situations like that while also helping teams keep players safe.
Allow teams to wear an alternate jersey as well as a throwback jersey and color rush jersey
One of the coolest things in the NFL today is the concept of the alternate jersey. Not only do some teams have a color rush jersey as seen below, teams also have throwbacks or throwback-inspired jerseys like what the Falcons will be wearing against the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. Teams should also be allowed to have an alternate in the same season for a total possible of five.
What do you think of the Color Rush uniforms, Packers Nation? pic.twitter.com/MlYFebmdBK
— Packers Nation (@PackersNationCP) September 13, 2016
The current NFL rules only allow for two games of alternate (throwbacks can be alternates) jerseys to go along with one game of the color rush jersey. The rest are the standard home or away jersey. Teams should be allowed to have two games of an alternate, have a home-and-away throwback jersey day with a rival team set before the season and their color rush game.
We will be wearing black uniforms this Sunday against the Chargers. #BringOutBlack
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 19, 2016
Essentially, this would give teams a chance to embrace their history for two games a year with their rival. They could also have their color rush for the Thursday night or potentially their international series game. And the alternate would be an option, of course.
— Carlos Dunlap (@Carlos_Dunlap) September 29, 2016
But for a team like the Falcons who would want to do the black-on-black alternates, it would give them the option to do it twice a season in addition to the other three games. They could coordinate with a team for an away option on that as well. The jersey variation for each team would help the NFL become fun again, and that’s something that’s been sorely missing for a while.
Move divisional rivalries to first and last three weeks of the season
Rivalries give us some of the best games out there in the NFL. And for the most part, divisional games are all rivalries. Starting the season with the division games will give teams a good idea of where they stand before heading out and playing their schedule.
It could definitely allow a team a shot at getting ahead of the rest of the division if they can dominate the first three weeks. But the biggest thing that needs to happen is ending the season with division games. That’s already something that NFL schedulers try to do for the final two weeks of the season, but if they did it for the final three, it would make a bigger impact.
What would be scarier for a pair of 9-4 teams than heading into the last three weeks knowing that they had to have a trio of tough divisional games? These not only would affect their playoff standings, but could potentially guarantee a playoff home game.
The NFL needs to take advantage of these easy storylines that always exist within division games and give fans what they want early on. There are very few teams that would balk at the opportunity to play rival teams early, and fans would love watching these games at the end of the year.
Fix the refereeing issues by hiring full-time crews
Even if the NFL didn’t fix the first seven things on this list, they need to fix this. Referees shouldn’t be deciding the impact of the game. An obvious pass interference call at the end of the game in the Falcons-Seahawks games highlights the obvious need for full-time referees.
What was this ref looking at??? pic.twitter.com/Dp38jq5lal
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 17, 2016
Good referees don’t miss those calls the way that Tony Corrente’s crew did. The Falcons lost a shot at even winning the game because of the missed call. Even former head of NFL officiating Mike Pereira would agree.
No question that was PI. They're all tough, but you have to make that call. #ATLvsSEA
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) October 16, 2016
When the refs control the outcome of games like this, it’s unacceptable. Plays like this need to be reviewable in the final two minutes of the game — something New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton heartily advocates.
Fans get frustrated when their team has a shot at winning but the run at a victory gets cut short because of a missed call.
Hiring full-time referees forces accountability and allows the referees to become masters of their craft. It would allow for more consistency across the NFL and turn all of these gentlemen into rules experts who wouldn’t miss obvious calls in crucial game situations.
Want to make the NFL quality what it was? Make the refs full-time employees who’d have the time and incentive to become excellent at their jobs. Fire bad refs like Jeff Triplette who have no business calling NFL games, and ensure sure the refs call games fair and down the middle.
If that’s not a possibility, they could just be forced to answer to the press, as former NFL head coach Mike Nolan suggested.
You want to improve officiating? Put the referee on the podium post game prior to HC's. Let them answer officiating questions. #MNF
— Mike Nolan (@MikeNolanNFL) October 18, 2016
Fixing the refereeing would allow the NFL to be more watchable because the games wouldn’t be decided by people who do this as a part-time job. It’d be decided by someone who is a true professional, just like the guys catching passes, blocking, throwing and playing defense.
Make the “No Fun League” fun again — allow celebrations!
One of the biggest things that’s been making football not as fun to watch at times are the penalties players incur for basic touchdown dances that are simple but make the game fun. For example, Antonio Brown’s touchdown dance here should have never been penalized.
.@AntonioBrown left one-on-one?
— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2016
But it was. The thing that makes the NFL fun isn’t just the scoring; it’s the fun celebrations after the touchdowns. The NFL depriving us of some great celebrations because they deemed these as unsportsmanlike. The thing that makes these so fun is it’s the kind of thing fans would do as kids while playing the game.
If the NFL wants to be fun again, they’re going to have to bring back the celebrations after touchdowns. Because right now, the “No Fun League” is living up to its name.