Now that I’m back from Phoenix and the annual NFL owners meetings, it’s time to clean out my notebook.
First, here are the major stories from covering the meetings. Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson all spoke during the week.
OK, now that we got all that out of the way, now it’s time to get to some other notes and observations that are left over. Sometimes leftovers are the best.
1. The Eagles submitted a proposal to change the tradition that has the Cowboys and Lions hosting Thanksgiving games every year. The proposal, which was withdrawn before the owners meetings kicked off, would have still allowed the Cowboys and Lions to play every Thanksgiving, but would make them alternate between home and away games.
Lurie explained they submitted the rule not to tinker with tradition but on the terms of competitive balance. It may have been viewed as petty for the Eagles to submit a rule that would hurt the Cowboys, but Lurie is right. That’s a decided advantage that those two teams don’t have to travel on short weeks like the teams who have to go to them. The Eagles have played in Detroit and Dallas on Thanksgiving in recent years and there are rumors they’ll be in Minnesota this coming Thanksgiving.
“There wasn’t enough support at this point, but you have to start the conversation somewhere,” Lurie said. “On behalf of our fans, we start that conversation.”
2. The biggest rule change to come out of these meetings was to make pass interference reviewable whether it was called or not. This rule change proposal wasn’t even on the docket, but things moved quickly and Lurie was at the forefront of getting it passed. He spoke to the group of owners and stressed the importance of integrity and getting the big-impact plays correct.
“You’re asking people to devote their heart and soul,” Lurie said. “You’re asking your players, your coaches and your fans to devote [their] heart and soul to it. … If you’re asking people to deliver their emotions to the product you’re presenting, then you owe it to everybody you’re presenting it to, to be as accurate as humanly possible.”
I didn’t realize how big of a proponent Lurie is of expanding replay. He said he even supported Bill Belichick’s proposal a couple years ago that would have expanded it to every play.
It also seems like Lurie is well established as an influential leader among the owners. He’s owned his team for just about 25 years and the organization is one of the most respected in the league. He isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.
3. This is the second year in a row that the biggest rule change to come out of these meetings wasn’t even a proposal going in. Last year it was the helmet rule; this year it was replay. Lurie said he thinks the two pillars of the NFL should be player safety and integrity. Based on how quickly coaches and owners worked to get these two rules accepted in consecutive years, he’s not alone in that belief.
4. Got a chance to chat with Frank Reich on Monday night. To let you know how humble of a guy he is, I congratulated him on his team’s success last season and he responded, “Thanks … we got off to a slow start.” They did. The Colts were 1-5, but finished with a 10-6 record and then beat their division rival in the wild-card round. Nothing against Mike Groh, but I think the Eagles just miss having Reich around.
Before the Colts played the Titans on Sunday night in Week 17 for a chance to get into the playoffs, Reich said he was watching the Eagles’ situation, hoping for his former team to get in first. Both ended up getting into the playoffs and winning a game.
5. When asked about players who might not be ready for OTAs, Pederson mentioned that it will be a chance for younger players to get more reps. He named a few: Matt Pryor, Sidney Jones and Tre Sullivan.
• Pryor —> Brandon Brooks
• Jones —> Jalen Mills/Ronald Darby
• Sullivan —> Rodney McLeod
6. Something Lurie said in his lengthy opening statement caught my attention. He said Pederson’s coaching job in 2018 was “as impressive as the year we won the Super Bowl.”
Lurie has been impressed by Pederson’s resiliency and stoicism in the face of adversity. There has been plenty of it in his three years as head coach.
7. But Pederson wasn’t perfect in 2018. In fact, he admitted he probably wasn’t as aggressive in certain situations as he might have been the previous year. I’d expect that to change in the coming season.
8. Since the meetings ended early again this year, the commissioner’s press conference and the competition committee press conference got molded into one. It was convenient if the league would have rather talked about a rule change than one of its most influential owners’ getting arrested for soliciting prostitution. But maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me. Anyway, eventually Roger Goodell was asked about Robert Kraft and said Kraft will be subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy but not until all the facts are gathered.
9. Pederson was asked about hiring women for coaching positions in the NFL and said he’s totally on-board. It came up because Bruce Arians was very outspoken about gender not mattering and the Bucs recently hired two female assistants.
“If someone’s qualified, if a woman is qualified to handle a position, then I would be all for it,” Pederson said. “Right now, my staff is full obviously. But I’m encouraged by the direction in which we’re going.”
This is going to be a slow progress. The NFL has been a boys club for a long time, but it’s encouraging to see two of the top coaches in the league speak out in favor of hiring women in the NFL.
10. It’s encouraging that the Eagles are still completely committed to their approach with analytics. Lurie said they’re “obsessed” with it. But he also mentioned it’s not enough to just have raw data — the important part of the puzzle is understanding how to use it. I also like that he wants more of that data accessible to the public. He also (wisely) mentioned the rise of legal gambling in that explanation. It’s so refreshing to hear professional sports leagues and teams acknowledge that gambling is a big part of fandom.
11. Lurie seemed to like the idea of the NFL’s international expansion. The Eagles played in London in 2018 and he is open to playing in Mexico and even China in the future … but he won’t give up a home game.
12. When talking about the Michael Bennett trade, Pederson mentioned that new defensive tackle Malik Jackson will play on third downs. That’s an important development because it means the Eagles will keep Brandon Graham at defensive end in those situations. The Eagles’ starting defensive end can also be their best on third downs.
13. The Eagles have been in a unique quarterback situation in the last couple of seasons, but maybe this is the year they start drafting QBs again. Pederson once said he’d like to draft quarterbacks every year and develop them. Lurie this week seemed to be on board with that idea. Pederson said the Day 3 crop of quarterbacks is “really good.”
14. My favorite part of the owners meetings, and I think I say this every year, are the families who just happen to be on vacation at the same resort while it’s going on. The resort is almost always near-full with NFL folks, but imagine being poolside and John Elway just strolls by. Has to be a little confusing.
15. You’ve probably already seen plenty of images of Pederson and his Roll-A-Bout in Phoenix. He had a surgery to get a bone spur shaved on his left ankle. It had been rubbing his Achilles and the surgery was preventative before a more serious Achilles tear. He’s in the boot for 10 weeks total but has just four more weeks of non weight-bearing. He says he’ll be good to go for OTAs, but he’ll have to be careful when he’s on the field. At the owners meetings reception, I sat next to Pederson for a short chat. Poor guy couldn’t get away.
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