Eagles

The XFL is the NFL's dystopian future if expanded schedule becomes reality

The XFL is the NFL's dystopian future if expanded schedule becomes reality

After tuning into the XFL over the weekend, my initial reaction is this is probably the best attempt yet at establishing a new professional football league in the U.S. The rule changes and presentation all worked -- some of it, like the kickoff, the NFL should strongly consider "borrowing" -- and the TV deal will keep the games on prominent networks at least for this year.

There was only one problem, but it was a biggie: I didn't know or have any sort of emotional attachment to 98% of the players on the field, so inevitably I wound up turning the channel because... who cares? By Sunday, I already stopped seeking out the games.
 
It felt like a predictable win for the NFL. The XFL has a slim shot at carving out a niche, but is nowhere near anything resembling competition. 

Provided the NFL's talent pool doesn't come to one day resemble the XFL's.

As it turns out, the XFL isn't a rival, nor a minor league, nor anything in between. It's the NFL's dystopian future, one the 100-year-old league could be accelerating toward if its bid to implement a 17-game season is successful.

Sound extreme? Look no further than the 2018 and 2019 Eagles for evidence. This is a legitimate concern.
 
*** 

Just to make sure everybody is up to speed, the NFL and its players union are currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. Reportedly, the major hang-up is the league's insistence on adding a 17th game to the schedule -- a reduction from previous attempts to jump to 18, but a tall ask. There's also been some discussion about altering the playoff format to allow two more teams.

The NFL's position is simple enough: more games equals more revenue. The players' position is the added profit isn't worth the toll a longer season will take on their bodies.

Meanwhile, few fans are clamoring for an expanded schedule. In fact, one recent poll shows nearly two-thirds are opposed. There is a strong desire for a reduction to the preseason, but only to owners charging full ticket prices for glorified scrimmages does that equate to a demand for more regular season games or an expanded playoff field.

*** 

How many players that suited up for the Eagles in 2019 would otherwise be on XFL rosters right now?

Ever year, numerous star players fall victim to injury. Comes with the territory. Still, it hurts the quality of the game when in any given season something like half the league's starting quarterbacks miss time -- and that's just the most prominent position on the field. Many, many more will go down, some with non-contact injuries in training camp before so much as a preseason kickoff, others through attrition over the course of 17 weeks plus playoffs.

As the Eagles can attest, some teams get bit worse than others. In the last two seasons, a whopping eight Pro Bowlers suffered significant injuries on the offense alone: Carson Wentz, Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Jason Peters, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson. On defense, Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Cre'Von LeBlanc, and Rodney McLeod all went under the knife at some point -- an entire unit's worth.
 
Look at some of the names that appeared in their place in 2019. A couple panned out, like Boston Scott and Greg Ward. Most were completely forgettable, like Robert Davis, Deontay Burnett, and Albert Huggins.

Few fans, if any, stopped watching, especially when the team came together and went on a run. But ask yourself: would as many people continue watching the Eagles religiously if that was the product the team put on the field every year? What if that was the caliber product most of the league was putting out there?

Surely, there would be some decline in interest if the entire NFL were this unrecognizable from year to year.

***

No, the NFL isn't going to shutter and die simply because there are more games. People have been predicting the league's demise for decades. If the concussion scandal couldn't even put a dent in the sport's popularity, giving fans more of the thing they love certainly isn't in itself going to destroy the spot.

What the league should be concerned about is the impact adding games will have on its stars and how, over time, that will impact viewership.

Not could. Will.

More games means more injuries. More injuries means more backups and practice squad players under center and all over the place. More fringe talents means more ugly, hard-to-watch football. Add the rise in athletes choosing to retire when they still have years left, or in some cases, are right in the thick of their prime, and consider the likelihood more will follow as the demands on their body increase, further reducing the number of stars and name players over time. And consider how fewer youths are playing the sport today, which means there will be be less up-and-coming talent in the pipeline altogether.

Maybe the NFL, because it is an institution, will withstand this for a period. Maybe being an Eagles fan trumps whether or not the players and sport are as good as they used to be. Maybe it only makes fantasy football more interesting to guess which unknowns will break out. Maybe there are so many great athletes trying to make careers in football, the league will create new stars simply by virtue of their being on the gridiron. All plausible.

Also plausible is when the NFL reaches a point where it's reliant on XFL-caliber talent, the league will need XFL-style gimmicks like the three-point conversion to hold casual fans' interest.

***

I don't like the thought of a 17- or 18-game season or expanding the playoffs for a number of reasons. I don't like that it's bad for player safety, which will increasingly drain a shrinking talent pool. I don't like that it will devalue every other regular season game ever so slightly. I don't like the way it will end the symmetry of the current scheduling system -- two games against division opponents, one against each team from an AFC division and an NFC division, one each against the remaining conference opponents based on corresponding division ranking. I don't like adding teams to the postseason, making it easier to get in and cheapening the whole thing. I don't like changing the current playoff format with its bye weeks for the four top teams.

And don't kid yourself. It's 17 games this collective bargaining agreement. It will be 18 the next. It's two more playoff teams this CBA, then two more the next, increasing the field to 16. All of this on the table -- an inevitability, really, if the players agree to more now.

I'm for commonsense solutions here. I think if the NFL wants to add football, a much more reasonable approach is to keep the same number of games, but add an extra week to the schedule and give each team two byes. Hell, start a Tuesday Night Football slate if more TV money is that important.

More games will only hurt the sport, if not right away, certainly over the long haul. Surely, the owners know that too, but see the time as now for a cash grab, with the league's popularity as high as ever, a strong economy and both of those situations likely to change before the next CBA negotiations.

Chances are they'll get their 17 games too, because we'll all tune in to every one of them. But after watching the Eagles field a practice squad as their roster this season and struggle to keep a franchise quarterback healthy, I don't find it hard to believe the drop-off in the NFL's quality will become noticeable before too long.

More on the Eagles

Alshon vs. Thrash in Roob's 10 Observations!

Alshon vs. Thrash in Roob's 10 Observations!

Alshon Jeffery vs. James Thrash, Henry Ruggs’ 40 time, the Gin Blossoms and Mark Duper all found their way into this weekend’s edition of Roob’s 10 Random Offseason Eagles Observations.

I’m guessing that’s never happened before!

ALSHON VS. JAMES THRASH: Forget all the Carson stuff. Forget about the injuries and the terrible body language and the awful contract and the dropped passes that turned into Nick Foles interceptions in the Super Bowl and the playoff loss to the Saints. Let’s just focus on production, and Alshon Jeffery in three seasons in an Eagles uniform has 165 catches, 2,122 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Let’s do a little comparison of three WRs. These are averages based on their years when they were regulars on the Eagles:

Todd Pinkston: 44 catches, 659 yards, 15.0 ypc, 4.0 TDs

James Thrash: 55 catches, 675 yards, 12.4 ypc, 5.0 TDs

Alshon Jeffery: 55 catches, 707 yards, 12.9 ypc, 6 TDs

Jeffery did have a big 2017 postseason, but for the most part he’s been a pedestrian receiver since he’s been here. He’s the 14th-highest-paid WR in the NFL, but since 2017 he’s 37th among WRs in yards per game (54).

He’s an underachieving, overpaid, injury-prone 30-year-old James Thrash clone. Howie’s gotta find an exit strategy.

HOW FAST WILL HE RUN? I’ve never been a huge Combine fan, but I'll be glued to the TV Thursday when the wide receivers run the 40. How fast can Henry Ruggs go? In a way, Eagles fans should hope he doesn’t put up a 4.23 or something absurd because that might move him up too high for the Eagles to even trade up for. But I just want to see this kid run. It’s been a long time since one player made so much sense for the Eagles.

GET THIS MAN A CONTRACT: Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are both scheduled to speak at the Combine on Tuesday, and it will be the first time we’ve heard from them in about six weeks, since Doug assured us that Mike Groh and Carson Walch weren’t getting fired. I’m most interested to hear what Howie has to say about Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles need to resolve this situation quickly because the last thing they need this offsaeson is a growing impasse between the franchise and one of their best players and the drama and distraction it would bring. Jenkins deserves a new deal. They have the money. Get it done.

NICK AND DENNIS: It’s hilarious to me that the two players the Eagles took in the 2012 draft who’ve caught postseason touchdown passes are Nick Foles and Dennis Kelly.

WHO'S AFTER MILES AND DALLAS? I was going to make a list of the top 5 Eagles 25 or younger but after I jotted down Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert I got stuck. Who else would you put on that list? Derek Barnett? Nate Gerry? Jake Elliott? Avonte Maddox? Boston Scott? Greg Ward? Cre’von LeBlanc? Andre Dillard? Sidney Jones?

I guess I’d go:

1. Miles Sanders

2. Dallas Goedert

3. Derek Barnett

4. Avonte Maddox

5. Jake Elliott

MARK DUPER'S BRIEF EAGLES CAREER: History has forgotten it, but Mark Duper was briefly with the Eagles during 1993 training camp. You won’t find it mentioned on his Wikipedia page or his Pro Football Reference page. None of his on-line bios mention it. But after spending 1982 through 1992 with the Dolphins – he was a three-time Pro Bowler and had four 1,000-yard seasons – Duper signed in the summer of 1993 with the Bengals. It didn’t go well. They released him a couple weeks into training camp. Rich Kotite, desperate for more old broken-down players who couldn’t play anymore, immediately signed the 34-year-old Duper. He arrived at training camp in West Chester late in the day on Aug. 19, and a group of us grabbed him walking into the dining hall:

“The biggest mistake I ever made was going to the Bengals,” he said, adding, “I feel like I still have a few good years of football left.”

Turned out he didn’t even have a few weeks of football left. Duper was 34, which made him a typical Rich Kotite favorite. Not surprisingly, he couldn’t run anymore. We saw it in his first practice. The Eagles released him a couple weeks later, and he never played football again.

FOUND OUT ABOUT YOU: Anybody remember when the Gin Blossoms played the Eagles’ 2004 pep rally in the Headhouse Plaza outside the Linc? It was Sept. 9, 2004, three days before the 2004 Super Bowl season began. Did you know that gig was the first time several songs from their next record, Major Lodge Victory, were ever played live? And the next night the entire band was at the TLA on South Street to see the late, great Tommy Keene, a long-time Gin Blossoms collaborator, open for Guided by Voices?

1-FOR-62: The Eagles have selected 62 defensive players in their last 14 drafts, and one has gone to a Pro Bowl. Fletcher Cox, naturally. The rest of the league has drafted 171 Pro Bowl defensive players over the last 14 years.

BEING GREG LEWIS: How about Greg Lewis’s career. As a player, he made little impact in his five years with the Eagles – he averaged just 25 catches and 339 yards per season – but he caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl on what may have been the best pass Donovan McNabb ever threw. Then he goes to Minnesota in 2009, playing for Brad Childress, and in his first game with the Vikings makes that insane miracle 32-yard TD catch in the back of the end zone with 2 seconds left against the 49ers that wins him a freaking ESPY for Play of the Year. Then he becomes Eagles WRs coach in 2016 and gets fired after one year. Then he goes to the Chiefs in the same role and wins a Super Bowl.

WHAT ABOUT THIS GUY? So maybe there’s hope for Carson Walch, too!

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Four reasons the NFL's CBA proposal is bad for the players

Four reasons the NFL's CBA proposal is bad for the players

If you're a football fan, you've probably read about ongoing negotiations on a new CBA between the NFLPA, which the union representing the players, and management council, which represents the 32 NFL owners.

The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season, but negotiations have been ongoing this offseason.

The NFLPA executive committee voted 6-5 to not recommend the current proposal to the members, so negotiations continue.

The complete proposal hasn’t been made available to the public, but enough details have leaked over the last two days to get some sense of what’s included.

The NFLPA released this fact sheet outlining key points in the CBA proposal.

And there are a lot of positives for the players. It expands pension eligibility and improves insurance benefits for retired players and raises minimum salaries, eases drug testing and reduces fines.

All good.

But there are plenty of red flags, enough that numerous high-profile players have been tweeting against the proposal.

Here are four reasons the deal as currently proposed is a bad one for the players:

1. The proposal calls for a 17-game regular-season schedule while also calling for an increase in player revenue from the current 47 to 48.5 percent. That’s about a 3.1 percent revenue increase for a 6.3 increase in games played. How is that fair? The owners are going to be raking in massive TV revenue increases, especially with the expanded playoff schedule, but the players won’t be receiving an equivalent share of that money.

2.  All players under contract when the league goes to a 17-game schedule — presumably in 2021 — will be paid only $250,000 more for that 17th game game. So anybody with a base salary over $4.25 million in 2021 will essentially be taking a pay cut. The Eagles have 10 players with 2021 base salaries of at least $5 million. Carson Wentz is on the books at $15.4 million. That’s $905,882 per week based on a 17-week schedule. So his weekly salary would go down to $869,440. That’s a $36,000 pay CUT per week. He’ll essentially be making less money per week. Now multiple that pay cut by several hundred players. The NFL will be raking in billions more dollars by increasing the regular season from 256 games to 272 - and eventually more with expansion - and increasing the postseason from 11 games to 13. While essentially asking the players to earn less per week.
 
3.  The proposal does shorten the preseason from four games to three, but there is apparently no second bye week included. So the players are being asked to play 17 regular-season games in an 18-week span in an era where the NFL loves blabbing about player safety. Add to that the likelihood of increased international travel and the wear and tear that takes on a player as the league explores more and more international games. This is just pure greed on the NFL’s part. It’s clear that everything the league says about player safety is just lip service if they are so desperate to add a 17th regular-season game in an era with increased focus on concussions, injuries and player health after football.  

4. The NFL is way too eager to get a deal done now when the current CBA doesn’t expire for another year. It definitely benefits both sides to have a deal hammered out and guarantee labor peace for a decade. But you just get the feeling the owners want to get this done before the NFLPA really has a chance to digest the full proposal and its long-term financial implications for the players. The owners over the last few days have embarked on a carefully strategized PR campaign to make this proposal seem like a good one for the players and try to rush a vote through before everybody knew what the implications were. Nobody wants a strike. Nobody wants a lockout. But the players are what makes the league work. Without them there is no NFL. They deserve more than what this CBA proposal calls for.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles