BOSTON – The NFL calendar is in such flux right now that you're almost better off noting events in pencil instead of pen.
On Tuesday, the NFL awarded Super Bowls L and LI to San Francisco and Houston, respectively. What the league didn't do is attach an exact date to either one of those games. Both cities are preparing for the game to be on one of the first three Sundays in February in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Likewise, commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL draft will be held either May 8-10 or May 15-17 next year and indicated the event will stay in May for the foreseeable future, assuming it stays at Radio City Music Hall or New York, generally.
The NFL scouting combine may also move, along with the start of free agency each year, the structure of the playoffs, the regular season and the preseason. Be it the expansion of the playoffs, the possibility of an 18-game schedule or changes to the Pro Bowl, the NFL is entertaining any and all ideas.
Or as Goodell put it at one point, "All options are on the table."
That's because the NFL office right now is rife with ideas about how to make more money. The situation is so out of control that Goodell was hard to follow while giving answers during the one-day league meetings Tuesday.
For instance, there was the convoluted logic about the draft. Goodell said the NFL has a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall for 2014 and likely over the next few years. The venue is hosting an Easter-related event that will take up basically the entire month of April, Goodell said.
OK, but aren't there other places in New York where you could hold the draft? Madison Square Garden, the Javits Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel come to mind. Heck, even the Rainbow Room might do in a pinch.
"Not if we want to have the experience we've had so far and continue to grow the event the way we have in recent years," said Goodell, who has the authority to change the dates on the combine and the draft without consent of the NFL Players Association.
Again, the truth is that the NFL is doing what it can to stretch the calendar. Part of the point of having the draft in May is to take advantage of sweeps week for the television networks. That would eventually drive up the value of advertising, even if it's at the expense of the product on the field.
Dallas Cowboys executive Stephen Jones, son of team owner Jerry Jones, said he expected push back from coaches and personnel people on the schedule.
"The coaches are going to tell you that they want to get those guys in as early as possible to get them up to speed," said Jones, referencing offseason workouts. "Even if you have to send them home after that first week, the coaches want to have them as soon as possible."
Then there is the bigger issue of expanding the playoffs, an idea Goodell broached before last season, or expanding the regular season to 18 games.
"The feedback I get from our fans is that every NFL event is so valuable, but the quality of the preseason just isn't there," Goodell said. "Whether it's 18 games and two preseason games or 16 games and two preseason games, what our fans want is a better quality product on the field."
Changes in the regular-season schedule and the playoffs are another matter, requiring cooperation from the NFLPA. However, Goodell appears to have a strong bit of leverage when it comes to those talks.
With the salary cap essentially having been flat the past two years and expected to be that way for the next year or two, Goodell may have the leverage on the NFLPA to get significant increases in the salary cap as a tradeoff for more games.
"The union is in a bad position right now," one NFC team executive said. "With what happened this year – all the one-year deals and seemingly below-market contracts players took – you're going to see more and more anger from the players' side.
"To me, there's no question that the players are going to want more out of it soon. You increase the regular season, you're talking about a 10 to 15 percent increase in revenue. You increase the playoffs, you're talking about five or six percent, minimum."
In an industry that is making nearly $11 billion annually, that makes for a minimum increase of roughly $550 million and a maximum of $1.65 billion. That's no small chunk of change.
That's the kind of thing that starts to make sense, even at the most confusing time.
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