Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Give the NFL credit for, at least this one time, genuinely putting the interests of its fans first. Or at least proposing to.

Among the matters expected to come before this week’s owners meetings in Arizona will be one from Washington that coaches have the ability to make unlimited replay challenges as long as the ones they make are correct. The idea is not likely to pass, in part because the NFL is endeavoring to improve the pace of its games, particularly for fans seated in stadiums, particularly outdoor ones. (If you’re watching at home, replay reviews are enough time to fill the chips bowl and grab a cold one.)

Along that line, the plan is for tablet computers to be run out to game officials for their review and consultation, while the final decision is reached at league officiating headquarters in New York, according to current proposals to be considered for votes this week. Additionally, a 40-second play clock is suggested after extra points when there is no commercial break scheduled, and halftime to be limited to 13 minutes 30 seconds.

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Actual in-game changes are also under consideration.

No one is likely to label it “The McClellin Rule” but a proposal is there to ban players leaping over offensive linemen (read: long snappers) to block field goals and extra points. Former Bears linebacker Shea, as a special-teams rusher with the New England Patriots, successfully vaulted Ravens blockers to knock down a Baltimore field goal try last season.

The proposal is likely to pass ostensibly as a player-safety measure, although cynics might suggest that the impetus behind the ban is general irritation that Bill Belichick’s group came up with with kick-block gambit.

More directly aimed at protecting players from gratuitous violence in a game that has enough violence just by its nature is a move to remind officials that players can be ejected for egregiously illegal hits. The situation is not considered dire because of frequency but the league clearly wants to send a message/reminder to not only officials, but players, something likely to be reinforced during officials’ tours of training camps in August.

David Montgomery could be facing make-or-break season in 2020

David Montgomery could be facing make-or-break season in 2020

Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery is entering just his second season in the league, and after a rookie year that included the usual ups and downs from a first-year player, the expectations are much higher for Year 2.

Montgomery ended last season with 889 yards and six touchdowns, but his 3.7 yards per carry left a bit to be desired. He ran hard; he ran determined. But in today's NFL, sub-900 yards just isn't good enough.

If he has another season with production like that, it could be his last in Chicago. Sure, that seems harsh. But take a look at the running backs who will be available in next year's free-agent market:

And it doesn't stop there. The 2021 NFL draft will provide teams looking to upgrade at running back with some pretty good options:

Montgomery will run behind an improved offensive line in 2020 with the addition of Germain Ifedi and the coaching upgrade through Juan Castillo. The quarterback play should be improved, too, even if Mitch Trubisky wins the job. The presence of Nick Foles will force him to bring his A-game every week. Those two factors will create bigger running lanes and a greater likelihood Montgomery will find his way to the second level of opposing defenses.

But if he doesn't? The Bears won't be hurting for options to replace him.

2020 Bears training camp preview: Which Nick Foles will show up?

2020 Bears training camp preview: Which Nick Foles will show up?

Let's chat a little bit about Nick Foles' Super Bowl run in 2017. 

After coming in for Carson Wentz – who tore his ACL in a 45-35 Week 14 win over the Rams – Foles proceeded to put together one of the NFL's most memorable playoff runs, going 5-1 (though he didn't really play in the one loss, a meaningless regular season game that Philly rested most starters for) on the way to a Super Bowl title and MVP. In three playoff games, Foles threw for 971 yards, had a 6-1 TD/INT ratio and completed 72 percent of his passes. After putting together one of the best passing performances in playoff history against the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, he went and dropped 373 yards and three touchdowns on the Patriots; the Philly Special touchdown catch he had is as entertaining as it is effective in making people forget that Tom Brady threw for 505 yards that night. 

Here are some other facts about 2017, in no particular order: the Eagles were an absolute juggernaut. So much so, in fact, that they had already clinched the NFC East by the time Foles actually started a game. Their offense finished the season ranked 8th in offensive DVOA, and their defense was even better (5th). Though they actually overshot their expected win total (11) by two games, the Eagles finished 3rd in points scored and 4th in points against. They weren't a great running team that season (15th in rush DVOA), but Foles benefitted from a flash of All-Pro level production out of running back Jay Ajayi, who turned it on for three games, averaging 98.5 yards from scrimmage during the team's run through the NFC. They had the 4th, 10th, and 31st best tight ends that season too, according to Football Outsider's Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement metric (DYAR). Does any of this sound like the 2020 Bears?

RELATED: Can Mitch Trubisky Save His Career?

None of this is meant to discredit Foles. What he's been able to accomplish, and his story in general, is incredible. He is, indisputably, a better option than 2019 Mitch Trubisky. But he's also, indisputably, never proven himself capable of playing a full NFL season. He lost a QB battle to 33-year old Michael Vick in 2013's training camp, was actually less productive than Philadelphia's other QB, Mark Sanchez, in 2014, and was benched for Case Keenum towards the end of the 2015 season; the Rams would draft Jared Goff first overall that offseason.

More recently, in his one ill-fated season with the Jaguars, Foles broke his left clavicle during Week 1 and was sidelined for 10 weeks. He would return for three games before losing his job to Gardner Minshew. 

The point is, Nick Foles is not going to solve the Bears' problems. That being said, there are absolutely parts of Matt Nagy's offense that will look better with Nick Foles under center. Foles makes good reads, gets the ball out quick, and thrives in the short-to-intermediate passing game – all of which are cornerstones in Nagy's scheme. To his (and Ryan Pace's) credit, Nagy's offense looks more well-equipped to help Foles succeed this year. Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet offer Foles the big targets at tight end that he's historically loved throwing to, and adding speedsters Ted Ginn Jr. and Darnell Mooney should help free up Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller to improve their YAC's. 

This is a lot of wishful thinking, though. But that's exactly what Foles provides: wishful thinking. With the new QB at the helm, there's a level of short-term success that feels marginally more attainable – or, at least, more possible – than it does with Trubisky. Keep in mind, however, that the Bears didn't trade for Foles to replace Trubisky, at least not right away. They made the trade for competition's sake, which is an important distinction to note (though if you want to call me naive for believing anything the Bears say publicly, that's probably fair). *That's* what the Bears are getting in Nick Foles: someone who's neither good enough to inherit the job from Mitch Trubisky, nor bad enough to concede it. Where that gets the Bears, much like the career of their new quarterback, is a dice roll.