NFL owners brace for busy meetings
With the specter of "Spygate" still looming over the NFL -- not to mention Sen. Arlen Specter, who still is questioning the New England Patriots' illegal videotaping activities -- integrity of the game will be the unofficial mantra of the upcoming owners' meetings.
"I don't believe there's a problem," Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay said Wednesday in regard to cheating. "I do believe that because of the situation that occurred, we owe it to our game and our fans to try to make sure people are comfortable that this was an isolated incident and that it is behind us."
To help safeguard against teams trying to gain an unfair advantage, commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to enact measures such as random checks of NFL facilities and stadiums and guaranteeing confidentiality for anyone, particularly an insider, that turns in a team for cheating.
The owners, meanwhile, will discuss and vote on several changes that deal with issues regarding fair play during their annual meetings, which start Monday in Palm Beach, Fla.
One proposal by the NFL's competition committee that figures to pass: the use of a radio in a defensive player's helmet.
Offenses, and quarterbacks specifically, already enjoy this advantage. Allowing defenses to have one designated player wear a helmet with a signal would nullify the need for hand signals -- and all but eliminate the chance of a team getting its signals stolen.
The proposal previously has been voted on twice by owners, and it fell just two votes short of passing last year.
"I think the issue the last couple of years was really how to police it because there's so much substitution on the defensive side," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "As long as they can work through all of that, I think it's a good move."
McKay, co-chairman of the NFL competition committee, said a revision made to the proposal this year should allay any concerns owners have about it.
If it passes, he said, teams will designate two defensive players before a game that are allowed to wear helmets with a radio, but neither can be on the field at the same time.
If both leave the game because of injuries, McKay said coaches will have to use hand signals to communicate with players on the field.
A proposal that deals with competition away from the field also will be presented to the owners.
In an attempt to eliminate free-agent tampering, the NFL competition committee is pushing for a moratorium of five to seven days prior to the start of the free-agent signing period.
During this time, teams are only allowed to talk to accredited agents and are prohibited from meeting with or having any contact with prospective free agents.
The change ostensibly would end the practice (or at least reduce the number) of players cutting deals with teams before free agency officially has started.
"There's no question there are issues with people jumping the gun now so maybe something like this makes sense," Rooney II said.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's vice president of football operations, is a former agent, and he said a change to the start of free agency is needed to ensure fairness.
"My experience was that this moratorium makes sense," Anderson said, "because there was quite a bit of activity in the agent community, which frankly had to get some cooperation on the other end to accomplish those communications."
NFL owners will have plenty to talk about when they convene for their annual meetings next week in Palm Beach, Fla. Here are some of the proposals they are expected to vote on (24 out of 32 votes are needed enact a new rule).
• Hair rule -- What could be unofficially called the "Troy Polamalu Rule," this would prohibit hair covering a player's last name on the back of his jersey. It was proposed by the Kansas City Chiefs, not the NFL competition committee.
• Eliminate the force-out -- Ruling whether a receiver would have gotten a second foot down in bounds had he not been pushed is a judgment call. The NFL competition committee is proposing that a receiver has to get both feet down in bounds for a pass to be completed even if he is pushed out of bounds.
• Playoff seeding -- In a proposal that the Steelers staunchly oppose, division winners with the two best records in each conference would get the top two seeds in regard to the playoffs. After that, seeding would be determined by overall record and without regard to whether teams did or did not win their division.
• Eliminate the 5-yard facemask penalty -- If this passes, referees will have to make the call whether any touching of the facemask is incidental conduct or an infraction deserving a 15-yard penalty.