Toronto’s NFL dream is not dead. It’s just not imminent. Or remotely easy. 3 power owners tell Sun Media why

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The NFL-in-Toronto dream is not dead. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for the “We’re coming to Canada!” news conference.

That’s the maple-flavoured takeaway from the league’s annual meeting, which wrapped here Wednesday morning.

We all thought, for all the world, that new Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would fiercely fight any attempt to ever again bring an NFL franchise to Canada’s largest city.

What with having dropped $1.4 billion on the nearby Bills. And what with Ontarians now accounting for 22% of the crowd at Bills home games, a number that continues to rise.

But we thought wrong.

“I don’t think I would have a problem with it if they could support the team,” Terry Pegula told me exclusively on Tuesday, on Day 2 of the annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore resort.

“I believe I was asked that question when I was approved as an owner, and it was an affirmative answer to the league. I said I would support it if Toronto had a franchise.”

That was no less a bombshell takeaway: that the league wanted to ensure Toronto remains a new-market possibility, for down the road.

But how far down the road? And how can all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles ever be cleared to make it happen?

I asked commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday at his meeting-closing news conference to comment on Pegula’s surprise statement, and where Hogtown might stand on the NFL’s list of future market priorities.

“Terry is exactly right,” Goodell said. “He was asked (about Toronto) during the (sale) process, when he met with the finance committee, and he had the exact answer he told you. He doesn’t see that as an issue for him. His focus is on Buffalo … And he is incredibly focused on that and not concerned about Toronto.

“We continue our international development. We spend a great deal of time talking about our global opportunities here at this meeting. Toronto is an important market, but all of Canada is. And Mexico and the globe. So we’re aggressively marketing ourselves on a global basis.”

To delve deeper into the NFL’s thinking on Toronto, I interviewed three of the most prominent owners on Wednesday, all of whom are on the power-broker committee overseeing which team, or teams, relocate to Los Angeles.

All three said it’s not whether the league would like to have a team in Toronto. Rather, it’s how.

“I know everybody is interested in that market — the Toronto market,” said Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who’s also chair of the NFL’s finance committee.

“But at the same time, we’re not inclined to move from markets that really support their team. That’s the question. If a market gets a little tired and just can’t do it, then you have to look at other opportunities.”

Indeed, down the road — once LA is figured out, and all the dominos from that fall into place — it would be a matter of which owner of which bottom-tier franchise wants a greener pasture?

Because expansion is not a possibility in the short-term, and perhaps not even in the league’s long-term future. Every owner of note underscored that again this week, as did league executives. They think 32 teams is the perfect size. It works on the field and off — mathematically, financially, competitively.

“We haven’t had any discussion about expansion at this point,” New York Giants owner John Mara told me. “Whether that could happen in the future? Who knows.”

Just don’t count on it.

So Toronto would have to acquire a team via relocation.

The biggest obstacle — of many obstacles — is the same one Los Angeles experienced over the past 20 years in its quest to reacquire an NFL team, after the Rams and Raiders bolted in 1995.

That is, no one’s going to build a new stadium unless they’re sure the NFL will come, but the NFL won’t come unless they’re sure they’ll be a new stadium.

It’s a circular conundrum, about which the NFL’s decision-making owners are fully aware.

“It is circular,” McNair said. “(You) wouldn’t have to go out and build a stadium, and then try to get a team. But you’d have to be assured that the opportunity exists. And that’s just like Los Angeles, you know. You’ve got to be sure, No. 1, that you’re going to have a stadium.

“It’s fine to talk about it, but when it’s time to put the money up, will it really be there?”

Toronto’s Rogers Centre — where the Bills played their disastrous once-a-year games from 2008-13 — wouldn’t suffice. It becomes a baseball-only stadium when grass goes in by 2018, and in any event doesn’t meet NFL stadium criteria.

Further complicating the stadium matter is that the NFL no longer approves of third-party stadium builders — the first party being the team owner, the second being the public sector.

So if, for example, the Jacksonville Jaguars wanted to relocate to Toronto, owner Shad Khan would have to partner with governments in Canada — and no one else — to build the new stadium. Well, other than the NFL can kick in a loan for up to a couple hundred mil.

Rogers, nor MLSE, nor any other private company could build the new NFL stadium, unless the league makes a big exception.

Or maybe Khan, in the above example, could sell the team to Toronto billionaires and they’d buy the team and build the stadium all at once. For, oh, about three-billion. Yeah.

Could federal, provincial and municipal governments be convinced it would make economic sense for them to commit to devoting hundreds of millions to an NFL stadium? I’m told that argument can be made — but I doubt successfully.

Hell, the Toronto Argos — a Canadian sports institution founded in the mid 19th century — can’t claw even $10 million from the feds to help pay for a meagre-by-comparison expansion of Toronto’s MLS stadium to give them a place to play.

Among other hurdles:

  • What would happen to the CFL and the Argos, currently the three-down league’s wobblingest franchise?
  • The strength of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback at the time of a potential move could prove onerous.
  • And, as Mara pointed out, the league insists that numerous other relocation guidelines be met.

“It’s a long road, to be sure,” Mara said.

So why are we even addressing this?

Well, first there’s this. Toronto’s NFL owner actually could recoup 100% of his lion’s-share portion of a new stadium entirely through seat licences. I’m told that’s what Jon Bon Jovi’s “Toronto group” — which also included Canadian billionaires Edward Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum — planned to do if they’d got the Bills.

Secondly, consider what Clark Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, told me.

“The Canadian market is very important to us,” he said. “With the Buffalo series ending in Toronto, it gives us an opportunity to step back and really re-think what the NFL should be doing in Canada. And perhaps long-term maybe (Canada should get a team). Toronto obviously would be the obvious one based on its size, but I really think we have a blank slate, and can approach it from whatever angle we think is best, both for the city and the NFL.

“It’s like a lot of things. Sometimes you just need patience. Toronto is a dynamic sports market — a big market that can certainly support an NFL team. So you never say never. Maybe down the road something can happen.”

Added Mara: “I don’t think it’s impossible. Or out of the question.”

It’s just not imminent. Or remotely easy.

 

Statue of Ralph Wilson coming to
stadium that bears his name

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Exactly one year after Ralph Wilson’s death, the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday announced that a statue of the NFL team’s devoted founder has been commissioned.

And it will be placed outside the stadium in Orchard Park that bears his name.

Wilson died on March 25 of last year at age 95. He had been the team’s only owner over its first 54 years.

“Mr. Wilson was an icon in both the professional football world and in the Western New York community,” current Bills co-owner Kim Pegula said. “This is our opportunity to honour his legacy and to allow our fans to share the game-day experience with the man who brought professional football to Buffalo.”

The statue will be displayed in the new Founder’s Plaza, northwest of The Bills Store at Ralph Wilson Stadium.​

Exclusive: Bills owner Terry Pegula not opposed to NFL franchise in Toronto

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula told Sun Media on Tuesday he would not oppose an NFL franchise in Toronto.

And the NFL not only knows it, but asked him about it when he bought the club.

Pegula and wife Kim purchased the Bills in October for $1.4 billion, far outbidding rocker Jon Bon Jovi’s Toronto group, as well as billionaire celebrity mogul Donald Trump.

In so doing, the Pegulas scotched decades of worry in Western New York that the small-market franchise might be moved away — worst of all, to Toronto — by some carpet-bagging owner upon the death of franchise founder Ralph Wilson.

Wilson died last March 25.

PegulaPegula, a multi-billionaire, emphatically stated last fall that he and his family will see to it that the Bills remain in Buffalo for good.

That appeared to kill the dream of Torontonians who crave their own NFL team. Because, surely, Pegula would fight tooth-and-nail to block it, right?

Not so.

“I don’t think I would have a problem with it if they could support the team,” Pegula said after Tuesday morning’s sessions on Day 2 of the league’s annual meeting, at the Arizona Biltmore resort.

“It’s a big enough market. I don’t know how that works with the CFL, though.”

Really? Pegula does not possess a mindset of, ‘Hey, I’ve just paid all this money for the Bills, so the Toronto market’s out?’”

“No, no,” he said. “And I believe I was asked that question when I was approved as an owner, and it was an affirmative answer to the league. I said I would support it if Toronto had a franchise … There are a lot of people there.”

Indeed, six million people live in the Greater Toronto Area. About 8.5 million reside in the “Golden Horseshoe” that stretches from the eastern Toronto suburbs, around the western end of Lake Ontario, and through the Niagara region.

Only the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas are more populous on this continent.

About 3 million alone live between Toronto-proper and Buffalo. That’s a population larger than the metropolitan centres of nearly half the NFL’s teams.

Pegula’s comment that the NFL sought his opinion on a co-existing Toronto franchise seems to jibe with what a high-placed source told Sun Media not long ago: that the NFL has not stroked Toronto off the list of potential new markets down the road.

Prospects of a future Toronto franchise aside, Pegula said the number of fans at Bills games who drive in from Central Ontario continues to rise, echoing what Bills president Russ Brandon told Sun Media on Monday.

“Yeah, 12% of our season-ticket holders and 22% of our receipts are from Ontario,” Pegula said. “We’re big into embracing Southern Ontario even more.”

Brandon said two years ago that the percentage of ticket-buying Bills fans from Ontario had grown to 18%, from 15% a couple of years before that — and that for the first time, Ontario fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium outnumbered those who drive in from Rochester, the club’s other major nearby support market.

Pegula agreed that more corporate boxes perhaps could be sold to Toronto corporations if a new stadium were built in downtown Buffalo, a half-hour’s drive closer to Toronto than the team’s current venue: “the Ralph” in the southern suburb of Orchard Park.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “And (Central Ontario) is such a big part of our market area, because as you know, a big part of our market area is water. You draw a circle around Buffalo and you hit a lot of water (Lakes Erie and Ontario).”

NFL Canada conducted a survey four years ago that found the NFL is the second most popular sport, after NHL hockey of course, in all major Canadian cities, including Toronto.

I mentioned to Pegula that, unlike the Bills’ heavy fan following in Ontario’s Niagara Region, in Toronto-proper there probably now are as many fans of high-profile other teams — such as the Cowboys, Packers, Steelers and Patriots — as there are that root for the Bills. NFL Canada’s empirical research bears that out.

It’s a big reason the Bills-in-Toronto series failed, in my opinion, as I’ve argued.

Pegula cited what he sees at home games of the other pro-sports franchise he owns, the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.

“The Sabres have hockey fans in Ontario also, but there’s also that brand of Toronto fan that comes to Sabres-Maple Leaf games and roots for the Maple Leafs, so they can take over (First Niagara Center) at times.

“But in football, all of our Canadian supporters support the Bills. The people that come to the game are Bills fans, so it’s a little different breed than we see at the hockey games.”

To be clear, the NFL has no plans to expand. Executive vice-president Eric Grubman and powerful owner Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots both reaffirmed that to Sun Media on Monday. Three clubs — the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders — are vying to relocate to North America’s second largest market, L.A.

The league has made no secret that it covets international brand extension, and one day would like to have a franchise in Europe — probably London, England, where three regular-season NFL games a year are now played annually.

 

Owners Terry and Kim Pegula
deeply involved in Bills decisions
in ‘management by committee’ model

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Terry and Kim Pegula have been deeply involved with every move the Buffalo Bills have made this off-season.

So said Terry on Tuesday at the NFL annual meeting, in a rare interview.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rex Ryan pointed to the team’s husband-and-wife co-owners as the primary reason he chose to become the Bills’ head coach.

BILLSThe couple, who have generously spearheaded both a business and cultural renaissance in downtown Buffalo, not only come across in public as polite and humble, but, well, almost too kindly.

Don’t be fooled, Ryan said. They’re fiery competitors who want to win. Badly.

“They’re way more polished than I am,” Ryan said. “But there’s that burning desire, and they want it not just for themselves but they want it for their community. It’s just great to see and witness.

“But believe me, it’s there. That fire is there.”

Pegula explained to Sun Media how he and his wife funnel that passion as NFL owners.

“Yeah, we got involved in the free-agency stuff and the trades,” said Pegula, and oil-and-gas multi-billionaire. “We sat with the whole football department — coach (Ryan), GM (Doug Whaley), (president) Russ Brandon and (VP) Jim Overdorf.

“I’m one of these guys whose management style is ‘management by committee.’ We’re all stronger together than alone. It seemed to have worked in my life. It works well in sports too, if you have the right people.”

So if they are that involved, who ultimately is making final decisions on roster moves?
“Obviously, as the owner I guess I make the final decision,” Pegula said. “But if somebody feels real strong about something, we all sit and talk about it. That person can win, and it’s his call. That’s how we like to operate.

“We’re big on positive energy. Nobody’s thinking about the past. It’s all about the future. I know we’re excited, the coaches are working very well together, even though they sorta came from two different directions. The players seem to be genuinely excited too, so that’s a good thing.

“Now we’ve got to play.”

 

CFL’s defensive-pass interference rule wrongly portrayed at NFL meeting

PHOENIX, Ariz. – St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher on Monday mischaracterized the both status of CFL’s defensive pass-interference video reviews, and the number of successful overturns.

Fisher, the de facto co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, told a news conference at the NFL’s annual meeting that only 49 of 55 reviews last season in the CFL were initiated by coaches, that only six were overturned (11%), and that it was just a one-year experiment.

Not so.

In a phone interview Tuesday morning the CFL’s vice-president of officiating, Glen Johnson, said 17 of 55 reviews were overturned (31%). That’s what Sun Media colleague Kirk Penton reported months ago.

It broke down like this, Johnson said.

All 55 were coaches’ challenges. Forty-nine were to appeal for a flag when one was not thrown, and 15 of those non-calls were overturned into DPI calls. The other six challenges disputed the called DPI, and after review two of those flags were picked up.

Johnson furthermore said the CFL’s new rule last year expanding replay to include DPI calls and non-calls “wasn’t experimental in nature. We passed it as a firm rule.

“What I think Jeff meant — not to put words in his mouth — but it was just the first time that we did this … But our rules committee did not pass it as a one-year trial. They’d have to vote it out now.”

Johnson said the CFL rules committee meets Thursday to nail down this year’s rules, and there is no proposal to repeal the DPI replay rule. It’s staying.

It’s even possible the rule might even be expanded in 2015 to include offensive pass-interference calls and non-calls as well, Johnson said.

“It’s a possibility, yes.”

Johnson said coaches and teams were happy with the first-year result.

“We declared it a modest success. When you’re inventing something new there are always bumps in the road along the way. One of the things we struggled a bit with was getting to a consistent standard.

“You did one, so you had a standard. You did two, so now you’ve got two standards. Ultimately it took some time to get to a spot where it was becoming more predictable for coaches what our decision would be. It took some time to get there, but we’re in a good spot.”

CFL reviews are decided at the league’s centralized video-replay centre in Toronto, much like the NHL’s.

In the NFL, reviews ultimately are decided by the on-field referee, with help from the league’s centralized video operation in New York City. So in that regard, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

“We working pretty closely with those guys (in the NFL),” Johnson said. “We’ve been sharing our data. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with (NFL VP of officiating) Dean Blandino, talking about this and just being completely cooperative and transparent with our data.”

‘Major war’ is on regarding NFL’s return to Los Angeles

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The NFL’s Battle for LA is on. Only “battle” might not be the right word for it.

“It’s a war — a major war,” one plugged-in source said.

But you’d never get that impression from the smiling, polite tones of owners and executives on Monday at the Arizona Biltmore resort.

At a late-morning session on Day 1 of the NFL annual meeting, a presentation by NFL executive vice-president Eric Grubman updated owners on where things stand with regard to Los Angeles.

Returning a franchise to LA finally is a front-burner matter. Three clubs have expressed a desire to relocate there, tied to competing stadium plans.

In January, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke partnered with Stockbridge Capital Group. The Los Angeles Times on Sunday reported that Kroenke and Stockbridge have schematic plans for a futuristic, privately financed, 80,000-seat, $1.86-billion stadium in Inglewood.

Kroenke is the NFL’s third richest owner according to Forbes, with a net worth of $6.3 billion.

In an attempt not to be outdone, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders announced last month they’re in cahoots to relocate to a snazzy new stadium planned for the LA suburb of Carson, with that city’s hearty backing.

Commissioner Roger Goodell last month formed a committee on LA that includes power owners Robert Kraft (Patriots), Bob McNair (Texans) and John Mara (Giants).

The last time LA had an NFL team was 1994, after which the Rams and Raiders relocated to their current homes.

Both the Chargers (owned by Alex Spanos) and Raiders (owned by Mark Davis, son of Al) play in stadiums built in the 1960s, the oldest in the AFC.

Both teams for years had got nowhere trying to convince local authorities to commit significant public-sector funding to either replace or significantly upgrade their outdated stadiums. Ditto with the Rams in St. Louis with their 20-year-old stadium.

But now — tada! — politicians in all three markets are mounting rushed, invigorated efforts to keep their NFL clubs, dangling promises of a shiny new stadium.

No one knows the league’s preference. No club has the right to relocate to without approval of at least 23 other owners.

“I really believe that within the next year we’ll have two teams in this market,” Kraft told a scrum of reporters, re LA. “We have some real good options. Now we’ll see what happens with the end game.”

Kroenke and his dazzling stadium would seem to have a substantial leg up.

“The Rams are flying high right now,” a source in the franchise-relocation business told Sun Media recently, “but I guarantee you the Rams will not fly high all the way through.

“I’ve never seen anything go so far, so smoothly, as Kroenke’s plan with Inglewood. But at some point it’s going to get ugly — guaranteed.”

No decision on LA is expected before the fall.

In an interview with several reporters after Monday’s meetings, Grubman told Sun Media the league has informed politicians in St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego they don’t have until next Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 (the usual window for NFL teams to file relocation intentions).

But giving the locals up to another half-year to mount credible counter-offers could make a messy situation (of one or two franchises relocating) even messier. Grubman said he doesn’t look at it that way.

“I would take that all day long,” Grubman told Sun Media, “because our job is to do everything we can to make a team successful, and give everybody all the tools necessary, to make it successful in its home market.

“Our job is to not rip teams out. It’s to keep them there and make sure they can be successful. It’s also to develop new markets that have substantial potential. So that is a really high-class problem that we’ll figure out how to navigate through.

“It means someone’s not going to get exactly what they want, but it also means there are healthy markets — and that’s the name of the game.”

Kraft said the league is determined not to proceed recklessly.

“I think we have to be very careful and responsible to different markets that step up (with new stadium plans),” he said.

And if one is St. Louis?

“I think we have a responsibility to make sure we have a team in that market,” Kraft said.

“From my point of view, if they come up with a plan that looks pretty good and a strong financial package, I think we the NFL — in my opinion — have to have a team in St. Louis … But they have to be able to support the team.”

Grubman said the league will now investigate over the next 6-8 weeks exactly what the St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland markets plan to offer.

But, as I asked Kraft, what if all three markets step up? Is there any chance no team relocates to LA?

“Somehow, I feel that we’ll have at least one team in LA,” Kraft said.

Perhaps what’s most intriguing about the process behind the scenes is that the owners’ decision might come down to a popularity contest: Kroenke vs. Spanos/Davis. Insiders say the notoriously aloof Kroenke has a helluva lot of work to do in that regard.

However the LA dominos fall, the vacated market(s) won’t acquire a new team via expansion. Grubman said as much, as did Kraft.

“I don’t see expansion being an option,” Kraft said. “So any community that’s privileged to have a team? Love ’em up.”

 

Davis ‘cautiously optimistic’
Raiders can stay in Oakland

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Owner Mark Davis told Sun Media on Monday he’s “cautiously optimistic” a deal can be struck to keep his Raiders in Oakland, to scotch a relocation to Los Angeles.

I asked Davis if he’s now optimistic a deal can be done with local municipalities to replace five-decade old O.co Coliseum.

“I’m always optimistic — cautiously optimistic, let me put it that way,” he said.

The Raiders are in league with the San Diego Chargers in a plan to jointly relocate to Los Angeles and play at a new stadium in Carson. The St. Louis Rams aim to relocate to Inglewood and play in a planned new stadium there.

“Well, there are two great sites, there are three teams,” Davis said. “And all three teams are still working in their current markets trying to get something done, and we’ll see what happens.”

 

NFL rubs out TV blackout rule

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The NFL’s despised TV blackout rule has faded to black.

On Monday the league announced the rule is toast — ostensibly just for 2015, but probably for good.

Since the early 1970s, the league has “blacked out” local telecasts of games within 75 miles of a team, if it does not sell out all non-luxury-box seats 72 hours before kickoff.

Last year no league games were blacked out — a first.

You’d think lower-market teams that struggle to sell out games — such as the Buffalo Bills late each season — would be displeased by the development.

But Bills president Russ Brandon gave no such indication in an interview on Monday.

“We continue to always work within the rules of the league,” he said.
“And it doesn’t change our focus at all — selling out every game.

“It doesn’t alter our business strategy. Our job is to make sure we have a compelling product for people to come watch, and a great experience at the stadium, and that doesn’t change whatsoever.”

Bottom line: Canadians from coast to coast who live within 75 miles of an NFL team don’t have to worry about TV blackouts in 2015.

 

FIRST NFL WEBCAST:

The league announced that the Bills-Jaguars game played at Wembley Stadium in London, England, on Oct. 25 will be the league’s first to be seen over a “worldwide digital platform.”

That is, over the Internet.

The game will be televised only to the local Jacksonville and Buffalo (and presumably, by usual extension, Central Ontario) markets.

 

BILLS TICKET SALES UP:

Brandon said Bills’ season-ticket sales are up about 4,000 over last year — from “47 and change” to “now close to 51,000.”

The club record is just over 57,000, Brandon said.

The increase is not attributable to big-name player signings this month, Brandon said.

“We’ve been pacing very well, actually, since the conclusion of last year. Selling ‘seasons’ is a year-round business … and we still have a lot of work yet to do.”

 

CATCH RULE INDEED REWORDED:

As Sun Media reported Sunday night, the NFL’s competition committee on Monday announced that the controversial “complete the catch to the ground” rule remains in place, but with altered wording.

“In order to complete a catch,” NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino told a news conference, “the receiver has to have control, both feet on the ground and he has to have it after that long enough to clearly establish himself as a runner.”

Dez Bryant did not do as much, Blandino said, on his controversial overturned catch in the Dallas Cowboys’ divisional-playoff loss at Green Bay.

I’ll say it again: the NFL should draft a rule that makes Bryant’s catch a catch — because, for all the world, it was.

 

COMPENSATORY PICKS:

The NFL awarded 32 compensatory draft picks to 14 teams Monday night.

Denver, Kansas City and Seattle led the way with four apiece. Baltimore and Houston got three each.

A team that loses more — or better — free agents than it acquires in the previous league year is eligible to receive such compensatory draft picks, by a complicated, undisclosed formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honours.

Again this year, the additional draft picks are positioned between the third and seventh rounds, based on the net value of free agents lost.

This year’s recipients for the April 30 to May 2 draft are (with number of compensatory picks in parentheses):

  • Denver, K.C., Seattle (4)
  • Baltimore, Houston (3)
  • Carolina, Cincinnati, Green Bay, New England, San Francisco (2)
  • Arizona, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis (1)

 

KROENKE MUST SELL:

A source told Sun Media that St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has been given a Dec. 15 deadline to sell the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and NBA’s Denver Nuggets. The NFL disallows owners from owning major pro-team franchises except in their NFL team’s market, so these moves have been inevitable. Now there’s a deadline attached. It’s believed he’ll just sell the Avs and Nuggets to his son, Josh Kroenke, despite the enormous tax hits.

 

A.P. WANTS OUT:

Ben Dogra, agent for RB Adrian Peterson, told USA Today that “we want out of Minnesota.” The Vikings don’t seem to be budging on wanting him back. Yet trade speculation continues to swirl.

 

NEW DISCIPLINE CZAR:

Commissioner Roger Goodell formally punted responsibility for disciplining players and league employees over incidents of misconduct.

Todd Jones, former director of the U.S.’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is joining the league as a special counsel for conduct, owners were told Monday.

Lisa Friel, the former New York DA’s office prosecutor for sex crimes, will oversee misconduct investigations in the NFL.

 

EXTRA POINTS:

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams won’t happen this year. The buzz remains, however, that the move is inevitable and will go into effect once owners can agree on what day on wild-card weekend to play the fifth game … The Miami Dolphins extended the contract of head coach Joe Philbin by one year, through 2016 … The league is considering staging a Pro Bowl in Brazil, FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez reported … Saints GM Mickey Loomis told USA Today the club has no intention to trade QB Drew Brees. Similarly, Chargers GM Tom Telesco told ESPN “it’s not even on our radar” to trade their veteran QB, Phil Rivers … The Cardinals signed WR Nathan Slaughter, the first and only player so far scooped up after Sunday’s less-than-impressive combine for unattached former NFLers … The competition committee officially announced it has not endorsed any of the 13 rules proposals to expand the scope of video replay.

 

 

The threshold for ‘completing a catch to the ground’ in NFL is changing, and Packers prez tells Sun Media how

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The threshold for what constitutes a catch when a receiver falls to the ground is changing, a member of the league’s competition committee told Sun Media on Sunday.

In a conference call last week, the committee announced that the controversial “complete-the-catch-to-the-ground” rule will stay, with different wording revealed to owners on Monday, when the league’s annual meeting kicks off here at the Arizona Biltmore resort.

Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy explained in an interview with Sun Media how the wording — and threshold — will change.

“It’s really putting an emphasis on if you can establish yourself as a runner,” Murphy said, as owners, executives, GMs and coaches continued to arrive for the annual meeting, which concludes Wednesday.

“If you can establish that you’re a runner, then by definition you’re not going to the ground.”

New York Giants co-owner John Mara confirmed what Murphy said in a scrum with a handful of reporters.

“You’ve got to have at least two feet on the ground and clearly demonstrate that you’re a runner,” Mara said, per Jim Corbett of USA Today.

Murphy raised the example of the NFC divisional playoff game in January by which his team, the Packers, benefitted by the rule — when replay overturned what looked for all the world like a catch by Dez Bryant, that might have set up a late go-ahead touchdown by Dallas.

“Dez Bryant was falling to the ground,” Murphy said. “He couldn’t establish himself as a runner.”

Um, even though Bryant took three steps, switched the ball to a different hand and lunged toward the goal line?

“Well, if you watch it — and we’ve got video on it — there’s a real difference between being able to run, and what the rule used to be: ‘make a football move,’” Murphy said.

That suggests that the current addendum to Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 — often referred to as defining “a football move” — is toast.

That addendum states that when a receiver falls to the ground upon making a catch attempt, it’s a reception only if the receiver “maintains control of the ball long enough … to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.).”

The apparent new wording of the rule would be both a conceptual improvement and a victory for brevity. Even though the rule still is stupid, it says here.

Bryant caught that ball. Figure out a rule that makes it so.

What’s more, isn’t changing a threshold in a rule tantamount to changing that rule? Shouldn’t it have been included among the proposed rules changes?

“I think it’s really just a clarification, not a rule change,” Murphy said.

As for other matters at the annual meeting, the most impactful will be the discussion about Los Angeles. That is, whether one, two or perhaps even no clubs will eventually relocate to Los Angeles.

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has joined up with an investment group to privately finance a futuristic $1.86-billion, 80,000-seat stadium on obtained property in Inglewood. The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are in cahoots to build a different stadium in Carson.

No resolution will come here, nor likely not before the fall. But you can bet that behind the scenes, huddled discussions will take place as to which initiative owners might ultimately back.

Meantime, owners will vote by midday Wednesday whether to approve, reject or table the official 28 playing-rule, bylaw and resolution proposals.

These include expanding video replay in myriad ways, lengthening the extra-point kick by 13 yards, minimum two-possession overtimes, eliminating the 75-man roster cutdown, and experimenting in the preseason with possible nine-point touchdowns.

Murphy echoed other competition-committee members in saying the 13 video-replay rules proposals have little chance of passing.

“I know there’s a sense that the rules that have been proposed are taking replay beyond what it was originally intended to be,” Murphy told Sun Media.

“The argument for change is, Why don’t we use this great technology to improve the game? But I think our view is, Let’s improve the on-field officiating, rather than changing — quite dramatically — instant-replay rules.”

At least 75% of owners must endorse any change. That means 24 of 32. So if all nine members of the competition committee (who are from different teams) are unanimous in opposing any rule change, and so long as their voting owners agree with them, then there’s mathematically no chance of approval.

We’ll learn on Monday or Tuesday which teams have been awarded compensatory draft picks this year, essentially for having lost more or better free agents in 2014 than they signed.

As for the various league investigations into alleged shady behaviour by team personnel, don’t expect any judgments or punishments to be handed out here. A cynic would predict that it’ll happen soon afterward.

The investigations: Deflate-gate; the admission by Cleveland Browns GM Ray Farmer that he texted a coach during a game (forbidden by NFL bylaws); the charge that the Falcons piped in recorded crowd noise at home games (also forbidden by NFL edict); and the tampering charge against New York Jets owner Woody Johnson for publicly saying in December he’d like to have star cornerback Darrelle Revis back, when he was still under contract with the Patriots.