Owners Meetings Open

The NFL owners meetings are underway, and this year will be much more than watching rich fat guys eat lobsters and drink champagne.

Most people think of the NFL owners meetings as a chance for billionaires to get together and talk about their riches. This year, though, it looks to be a very different story. The owners have several key issues to discuss, and none of them will be slam dunks.

The meetings, which began yesterday and run through Thursday, will cover a variety of topics of varying interest to certain owners and teams. The Vikings, for example, have a keen interest in the anticipated vote to continue G-3 funding for another year. With the extension, the Vikings will have a chance to get $51 million in funding from the league to help finance a new stadium. But G-3 is just the tip of the owner's meeting iceburg.

Other potentially hot topics to be discussed include a decision expected today as to whether the league should go on as planned with NFL Europe. As regular readers of VU know, we've heard from a league source close to the situation that several players have expressed concerns over their safety as potential terrorist targets. The six-team NFL Europe is made of teams in Germany, Spain, Scotland and The Netherlands. The games aren't set to begin until April 5, but players would be leaving for Europe tomorrow if the games go on as planned. A decision to go ahead, postpone or even (although a remote option) move the games to Florida for this season is expected to be finalized today.

Other topics on the owner's meeting agenda include the following:
** Overtime. There is a growing sentiment among owners to allow both teams to get the ball at least once in overtime – a plan VU has come out in opposition to, but one that, like instant replay, may be getting more support before eventually passing.
** Playoff expansion. A proposal has been made to increase the number of playoff teams from each conference from six to seven. After realignment, eight teams instead of six in the 12-team playoff pool became division champions. The potential exists that, under the current scenario, a team with a 7-9 record could win a division title and a team with a 10-6 record could miss the playoffs. While many fans would like to see more teams make the postseason, it likely won't fly this year and will have to wait until something bad like a 7-9 division champ happens.
** Replay challenges. VU is strongly behind a proposal that wouldn't penalize a coach for a correct replay challenge. Under the current rules, a coach is allowed two replay challenges per game. If a call isn't overturned, a team is assessed a time out. If a coach is correct, however, he still loses one of his two challenges. The rationale behind the challenge rule is that, in theory, an officiating crew could mess up two calls early in a game, a coach could challenge, prove to be right on both, but be deprived of challenging another call later in the game despite not being wrong. While VU supports this rules change, we're being told its chance of passage is remote.
** Minimum selling prices. With the league looking to have more stability from the sale of franchises, a proposal is being brought forward to set a minimum sale price for a team – which could have an affect on the proposed sale of the Vikings by Red McCombs to Glen Taylor.
** Tampering. The current rule denies teams from speaking to assistant coaches while their teams are still in the playoff hunt. As a result, several top assistants have lost out on head coaching jobs, since teams that have fired their coaches want to get a replacement in as soon as possible. The league may relax those rules to give assistants from successful teams more of a chance to compete in the narrow window of NFL head coaching jobs.
** Diversity. The league continues to promise sanctions for teams that don't give minority candidates a fair shake in the hiring process. This offseason, the Cowboys and Lions were both accused of hiring high-profile coaches – Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci – without giving a legitimate opportunity for minority candidates to interview. Denny Green was mentioned in both job searches, but it seems clear that it was merely lip service.
** Expansion. Los Angeles remains an open market (the second-largest in the USA) and the league intends to discuss framing a policy of how and if to fill that open market. Rumors have swirled that the Vikings, Chargers and Colts could all be L.A.-bound.
** Expanding game-day rosters. Currently, 45 of the 53 men on a roster suit up on game day. A proposal has been made to increase that number and it has a decent chance of passing – since the owners pay 53 guys, why not play as many as you can?

So it won't be lobsters and hot toddies in Arizona this week. The owners have a lot to discuss, and what comes out of those meetings could have a big impact on how the NFL is played in 2003 and beyond.

** The Vikings continue to try to work out a contract with Oronde Gadsden. No contract has been reached yet, but the Vikings hope to have a final decision – good or bad – within the next couple days.
** In an interesting bit of NFL free agent news, the Packers got blindsided over the weekend. A couple of weeks ago, the Packers restructured a couple of deals and released a couple of players to free up cap space for an anticipated run by the Eagles after DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. While the Eagles are talking with KGB, the Lions slid in last weekend and signed restricted free agent Na'il Diggs to an offer sheet of four years, $11 million with a $2.8 million signing bonus. If the Packers match the offer – likely since they released Nate Wayne already to create cap space – it will greatly hinder their effort to sign KGB. The deal for Diggs includes a first-year cap number of $2.1 million.
** With the increase in off-season trades and bold restricted free agent offer sheets pouring out, it has greatly affected VU's mock draft. Version 5.0 of the VU draft will be released today and will include several key changes, but, with the Jets becoming yet another team with two first-round picks, the odds of trades at or near the top of the draft board is looking more and more likely.

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