NFL Roundtable: Football in the 'New Normal'
The NFL season kicked off the 2020 season last night in Kansas City. This season is shaping up to be one like no other before with coronavirus protocols, new faces in different places, and the big cloud of reality looming overhead. With that being said, I have recruited three members of the club and myself to throw out our takes and ideas for the world to see.
1. Are you concerned that the season will not finish?
Trevor Goldstein: The MLB has shown us that playing professional sports in America right now comes with challenges and worries. It also is most likely to be completed at the current rate. The most important difference to me, which worries me, is that the players come into contact so much during a game that even one player playing with a missed case of Covid-19 can pass it to so many players. I hope the special helmets work.
Benjamin Drain: I am fairly optimistic that the NFL season will finish on time. From the testing data that has been reported in the previous weeks, and the frequency that players are being tested, it seems like the league has a pretty good grasp on the situation. I think the biggest issue that the NFL will face is travel, and with teams having their own private transportation, I don’t see the league facing any stoppage.
Isaac Chasen: If I hadn’t seen how determined MLB was to finish its season despite COVID cases on multiple teams, I would be concerned. However, with owners and league officials convinced that they can have a full season, combined with the monetary motivation for finishing the season, I believe the NFL will not cancel its season. Still, this won’t be a normal football season, not by a long shot. We might see many games postponed due to positive cases, and we might even see games on nontraditional playing days like Tuesday or Wednesday. How the Players Union responds to such changes will be interesting to watch.
Jordan Monaco: As long as they keep up testing, I believe that the NFL season will definitely finish. According to ESPN, the NFL tested 2,641 players and 5,708 other personnel between August 30th and September 5th. Out of those tests, only 1 player and 7 staff members tested positive. Since training camp began on August 12th, only 24 players/personnel have been confirmed positive. Lastly, the NFL isn't messing around and has "tested an average of 8,554 people over three testing periods" (ESPN). Considering only around 90 players on each team are invited to training camp, this means there's only around 2,880 players attending said camp. This means they've been testing these players frequently AND still have had the capacity to test "Tier 1 and Tier 2" level personnel.
2. How important is it to you that the players continue making themselves heard and take action regarding social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement?
TG: This is extremely important because the players have promised fans and citizens that they will be leaders in the community where their franchise plays. People look up to players, especially the superstars. This gives them a level of respect that can be hard to earn and can be translated into trust, and trust is hard to come by. I am sure the players are thinking very creatively about how to fulfill their public duty as leaders.
BD: I think it is a common belief that sports should be kept separate from politics since people use sports as an escape; however, for that very reason, players need to continue to speak out. The NFL has monopolized the entire country’s attention for one day a week and have one of the biggest stages to inform others of what they stand for. I feel like the NFL season will provide a great boost to the BLM movement coming off of the NBA’s strike.
IC: In this year of so much social change, it is crucial that players do not let up. From speaking out on social media to protesting on the football field, and even marching in the streets when possible, it is paramount that the Black Lives Matter movement remains in the consciousness of football fans. It is massively important that NFL players, especially those with large platforms, continue to amplify issues of racial and social justice.
JM: Personally, I think it is very important that the players continue making themselves heard and take action regarding social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over recent years, NFL players (and professional athletes in general) are starting to take advantage of the realized influence that they have. This may have to do with the recent (over the last decade) increased usage of social media. Just by speaking out during a post-game press conference, depending on the player, an NFL athlete can reach millions of fans with their preferred message. In terms of taking action, I believe there's two clear routes. One option is that NFL players can attend protests and attempt to reach politicians. The other option, which I think would be even more impactful, is if players (especially the higher-paid ones) attempted to donate a percentage of their salaries to wherever they saw fit (public education in lower-income communities, Black Lives Matter, etc.). Keep in mind players will receive 48% of the NFL revenue by the 2021 season, which means around $400 million could be donated to an organization/matter of their choice if they all gave up 10% of their salaries.
3. How important is it to you that Roger Goodell and the owners take action regarding social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement?
TG: This is also extremely important not only because they have failed in the past (the Kap saga), but because the owners of these franchises are the uber rich. The 30 owners and Goodell have more power to change the country than the players, and there are thousands of players, many of whom are millionaires.
BD: Roger Goodell handled Colin Kaepernick’s attempt to speak out wrong. Goodell has since come out and apologized, but this is now his opportunity to back up his apology with true action. If Goodell and the owners fail to enact meaningful attempts at change, I don’t see any way Goodell will be able to redeem his name or image to the players or the public.
IC: The NFL might ruffle some feathers this season. Many people, among them the president of the United States, have said they will change the channel if players engage in actions of peaceful protest such as kneeling for the national anthem. But that should not deter the NFL, its owners, or Roger Goodell. They should continue to make sure players have the resources they need to take the lead on issues of racial justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. As Alabama Coach Nick Saban said recently regarding BLM, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader; sell ice cream.”
JM: I think it is extremely important that Roger Goodell and especially the owners take action, including speaking out, regarding social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement due to their pure influence (financial, political, etc.). Additionally, the combined net worth of all of the NFL owners is a little under $100 billion (Radio.com), so donations could very easily make an astronomical impact on many communities in America and let the players know that their voice is being heard. Not to mention, they also collect 52% of the $8 billion yearly NFL revenue.
4. Who won the offseason and who lost the offseason (answer can be players, coaches, teams, etc.)?
TG: Winner: Tom Brady. He got out of New England before they got rid of him, and he is surrounded by weapons.
Winner: Cam Newton. He is finally healthy again and Bellichek can work his magic on him.
Loser: Green Bay Packers. I still have not forgotten that the Packers did not draft a WR for Rodgers’ twilight.
Loser: Matt Nagy. The Bears’ QB competition looks to have been a lame one. Nagy is out before the year is over.
BD: It’s hard to look past the Buccaneers as the biggest winners of the offseason. Bringing in Brady, Gronkowski, and Fournette is a dream for the marketing department, the coaching staff, and the city. The Jaguars should be the biggest losers with Yannick Ngakoue being willing to take a multi-million dollar pay cut to get out of Jacksonville and the excitement that Leonard Fournette had as he left, but I don’t feel bad for them, they are trying to tank and doing a fantastic job at it. My biggest loser is the Houston Texans. I wrote a blog post back in March breaking down their decision to trade away Deandre Hopkins for practically nothing. Any time Bill O’Brien is in the news, it’s safe to assume the Texans are losers.
IC: Winner: If you add Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, and Leonard Fournette to your team, I’d say you had a pretty good offseason. That’s what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just did. With a stacked offense, and a very good coach in Bruce Arians, the Bucs should be a fun team to watch this year.
Winner: Patrick Mahomes made a lot of money this offseason. But he's worth every penny of the $450 million the Chiefs will be paying him over the next decade.
Loser: The Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl appearance in 2019 seems like an eternity ago. After last year’s underwhelming season, the Rams had to unload Brandon Cooks, Dante Fowler Jr., and Todd Gurley this offseason for salary cap reasons. With a quality quarterback in Jared Goff, and a defense led by Jalen Ramsay, the Rams are still a formidable team, but it’s difficult not to be skeptical.
Loser: The Las Vegas Raiders have been promoting their relocation to the desert for a long time now, and they have finally made the move. But their move comes at possibly the worst time for the team. With billions having been spent on a new stadium, the Raiders will be feeling the pain of a lack of fans in seats more acutely than others.
JM: Winners: Patrick Mahomes ($); Ravens (Patrick Queen + Calais Campbell); Broncos (upgraded WR core, Melvin Gordon, AJ Bouye - but lost Von Miller to ankle injury); Buccaneers (Brady, Fournette, Gronk, drafted Wirfs, etc)
Losers: Washington Football Team (self-explanatory); Bill O'Brien (Deandre Hopkins trade)
5. How can teams connect with fans this season without the gameday experience?
TG: The NBA is winning with the virtual fans and the NFL just cannot replicate that, which sucks. I think the NFL has always been a TV sport, best watched from the comfort of your home, so things like the Spinny Cam and new innovations on the broadcast front will help to give fans a better experience. Also it turns out the Chiefs had fans??? That caught me extremely off guard, but 16,000 fans maximum is not insane for a stadium with 76,000 seats.
BD: One way NFL teams can connect their fans to the franchise is through fans ability to pay for special perks. Fans are ready and willing to pay for all kinds of merchandise, but how about paying for the ability to sit in on a team meeting or a Q&A with the players or coaching staff, or any other team events that are held. This will be an easy way to integrate fans into the ongoing events of the franchise in an online format while generating substantial revenue.
IC: From having fans on zoom cameras like the NBA did, having cardboard cutouts of fans like the MLB is doing, or posting clever messages on scoreboards like the NHL is doing, the NFL has plenty of options for fan engagement. The 2020 season could also be a good year for the league to experiment with television camera angles, or expand their options for Virtual Reality. The only thing they must do, however, is discourage fans from congregating outside stadiums and tailgating before games; while it is traditionally part of the NFL experience, in 2020 it will result in increased spread of Covid-19.
JM: Honestly, there's not much the NFL can do to connect with fans this season without the gameday experience. Somehow they could attempt to incorporate the virtual fan concept that the NBA is using and show them before commercial breaks potentially. I'm thinking maybe they could attempt to do more in-game player interviews after a highlight play happens (as utilized so effortlessly and incredibly by the PLL).