By the year 2020, and the end of the current NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, what will the NFL look like? A panel of ESPN experts were asked the same question and they came up with some very interesting answers.
There are at least five things these experts believe will happen and are imminently on the three-year horizon. Conversely, there are at least five things that seem to be a bit more of a stretch.
Below is a bit more detail on each side of the argument.
Will Happen: Elimination of Kick-Offs
This one is more in the might happen category, but is working its way towards happening. The rules had already been changed to encourage touchbacks, but the NFL is a series of injuries away from changing the rule again. If players are exposed to more and more injuries over the next three years, you can bet the league will look at a more drastic change.
Won't Happen: Guaranteed Contracts
Even though NFL players statistically average the shortest careers among professional athles - and a high probability of injury - the likelihood that owners will offer guaranteed contracts is slim to none. Players have long agreed to these terms during individual negotiations and will continue to do so. The owners are under no real stress to change the circumstances under which these contracts are offered.
Will Happen: Helmet Overhaul
In an effort to reduce concussions, the NFL will look at new helmet designs. The league committed $100 million to research remedies for all sorts of health issues and near the top of the list was ensuring helmets did more to limit concussions and not just stop skull fractures. 75 percent of teams had players trying a new helmet design and by 2020, the area should see major advancement.
Won't Happen: International Franchise
There is money for the NFL in international revenue streams, but that doesn't require that such revenue come from having a team outside the United States. Owners aren't interested in expanding beyond 32 teams and with attendance doing well in all the NFL markets and the ability to hold single games in other countries, a smart marketing plan should be enough.
Will Happen: Supplement Officiating Tools
The NFL is usually well ahead of the game when it comes to many other sports and the trends to grow the game. The technology used to help officials is not one of them. The league is slow to react on advances like GPS chips in footballs, goal posts or the goal line, but they are examining ways to help the officials make better calls while still keep the human element of officiating in the game. Over the next three years, they'll be gains, but it won't be overnight.
Won't Happen: Reduction In Broadcast Revenue
The sheer massive amounts of revenue the NFL makes from selling its television rights to the cable companies is outrageous. The recent dip in ratings and the viewer's trends to move more away from basic cable has a few people concerned. Even if the NFL comes up with a way to fix the potential problem, it won't be in the next three years.
Will Happen: "Ghettoization" Of Football
A phrase coined by author Malcolm Gladwell, he says what's coming is a "ghettoization of football". Basically, what he's suggesting is that with the dangers associated with concussions, a trend that seems to be already occurring is the decline in participation in football at a young age. Affluent parents are prohibiting their kids from playing, while less well-to-do families are seeing football as an opportunity. As less rich families get their kids involved, the size of the pie for poorer families gets bigger.
Won't Happen: Eliminating Goodell as Judge, Jury and Executioner
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell maintains control over most aspects of discipline as prescribed in the 2011 CBA. This isn't likely to change. The players want discipline moved to neutral arbitration, but Goodell is never going to give up his authority to make changes as he sees fit. This, along with the fact that the decisions Goodell needs to make affect a vast minority of the players, the players union likely won't give up anything major to make the change.
Will Happen: Logos on Jerseys
The NFL already allows teams to sell sponsorship on practice jerseys (which is odd because most practices are closed to the public) but it's only going to be a matter of time before the NFL realizes there's real revenue to be made by allowing logos on game jerseys. The NBA will be doing this in the 2017-18 season and when it's proven to increase the bottom line, the NFL will jump on board.
Won't Happen: Development League
This one right now is a won't happen, but mainly because there are other alternatives to a developmental league that would see NFL quarterbacks and young players get the extra offseason work they're craving. A quarterback "academy" or expanded practice squads are more likely. Perhaps the CBA will relax team-based offseason training restrictions. This could change if someone can come up with a system that works for all parties involved.