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National Football League
Current season or competition:
2010 NFL Season
National Football League 2008.svg
National Football League
Sport American Football
Founded August 20, 1920
Commissioner Roger Goodell
Inaugural season 1920
No. of teams 32
Country(ies) United States
Most recent champion(s) New Orleans Saints (1)
Most championships Green Bay Packers (12)
TV partner(s) CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, NFL Network
Official website NFL.com

The National Football League (NFL) is the highest level of professional American football. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing its name to the National Football League in 1922. The league currently consists of thirty-two teams from the United States. The league is divided evenly into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC), and each conference has four divisions that have four teams each. The NFL is organized as an unincorporated association of its 32 teams.[1][2] The NFL is by far the best attended domestic sports league in the world by average attendance per game, with 67,509 fans per game in the latest regular season (2009).[3]

The regular season is a seventeen-week schedule during which each team plays sixteen games and has one bye week. The season currently starts on the Thursday night in the first full week of September (the Thursday after Labor Day) and runs weekly to late December or early January. At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the championship game, known as the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team. Selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, which in 2010, took place a week prior to the Super Bowl, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The current Super Bowl champions are the New Orleans Saints, who defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV 31–17.

Contents

History

Major leagues in North America
National Football League (NFL) Sport football.svg
Major League Baseball (MLB) Baseball.svg
National Basketball Association (NBA) Basketball Clipart.svg
National Hockey League (NHL) Ice hockey puck.svg

The history of the National Football League began in 1920, as representatives of several professional American football leagues and independent teams met at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio. The league they formed, the American Professional Football Conference, would be mostly an informal agreement to play a common schedule and name a champion at the end of each season of play. Teams were allowed to play games outside of their league, and membership was fluid in the early years. Two years later, the league renamed itself the National Football League. Only two teams, the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) currently in the NFL were members of the league in 1920.

League membership gradually stabilized throughout the 1920s and 1930s as the league adopted progressively more formal organization. The first official championship game was held in 1933. Though the league stopped signing black players in 1927, the league reintegrated in 1946 following World War II. Other changes followed after World War II; the office of league President evolved into the more powerful Commissioner post, mirroring a similar move in Major League Baseball. Teams became more financially viable, the last team folding in 1952. By 1958, when that season's NFL championship game became known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played", the NFL was on its way to becoming one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States.

A rival league, known as the American Football League, was founded in 1959. It was highly successful, and forced a merger with the older NFL that resulted in a greatly expanded league and the formation of the Super Bowl, which has become, annually, the most watched sporting event in the United States. The league continued to expand throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s to its current size of 32 teams. A series of labor agreements during the 1990s and increasingly large television contracts has helped keep the league one of the most profitable, as well as the only major sports league in the U.S. since 1990 to avoid a major work stoppage, though this may change if the league cannot reach an agreement for a new labor agreement by 2011.

Season structure

Since 2002, The NFL season features the following schedule:

  • a 4-game exhibition season (or preseason) running from early August to early September;
  • a 16-game, 17-week regular season running from September to December or early January; and
  • a 12-team Single-elimination playoff beginning in January, culminating in the Super Bowl in early February.

Traditionally, American high school football games are played on Friday, American college football games are played on Saturday, and most NFL games are played on Sunday. Because the NFL season is longer than the college football season, the NFL schedules Saturday games and Saturday playoff games outside the college football season. The ABC Television network added Monday Night Football in 1970, and Thursday night NFL games were added in the 1980s.

Exhibition season

Following mini-camps in the spring and officially recognized training camp in July–August, NFL teams typically play four exhibition games from early August through early September. Each team hosts two games of the four. The exhibition season begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, so those two teams play five exhibition games each. Historically, the American Bowl(s) were played prior to the NFL scheduling regular season games abroad and those teams faced this similar predicament.

The games are useful for new players who are not used to playing in front of very large crowds. Management often uses the games to evaluate newly-signed players. Veteran starters will generally play only for about a quarter of each game to minimize the risk of injury. Several lawsuits have been brought by fans, against the policy of including exhibition games in season-ticket packages at regular season prices, but none have so far been very successful.

Regular season

A sample scheduling grid, with a single team's (the Browns) schedule highlighted. Under this hypothetical schedule, the Browns would play the teams in blue twice and the teams in yellow once, for a total of sixteen games.

Following the preseason, each of the thirty-two teams embark on a seventeen-week, sixteen-game schedule, with the extra week consisting of a bye to allow teams a rest sometime in the middle of the season (and also to increase television coverage). The regular season currently begins the Thursday evening after Labor Day with a primetime "Kickoff Game" (NBC currently holds broadcast rights for that game). According to the current scheduling structure, the earliest the season could begin is September 4 (as it was in the 2008 season), while the latest would be September 10 (as it was in the 2009 season, due to September 1 falling on a Tuesday). Each of the thirty-two teams' schedules are organized in the following way:

  • Each team plays the other three teams in its division twice: once at home, and once on the road (six games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from another division within its own conference once on a rotating three-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from a division in the other conference once on a rotating four-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays once against the other teams in its conference that finished in the same place in their own divisions as themselves the previous season, not counting the division they were already scheduled to play: one at home, one on the road (two games).

Playoffs

The NFL Playoffs. Each of the four division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their W-L-T records. The two Wild Card teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded fifth and sixth (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the four division winners.

The season concludes with a twelve-team tournament used to determine the teams to play in the Super Bowl. The tournament brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league's two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC), following the end of the 16-game regular season:

  • The four division champions from each conference (the team in each division with the best regular season won-lost-tied record), which are seeded one through four based on their regular season won-lost-tied record (tie-breaker rules may apply).
  • Two wild card qualifiers from each conference (those non-division champions with the conference's best record, i.e. the best won-lost-tied percentages, with a series of tie-breaking rules in place in the event that there are teams with the same number of wins and losses[4]), which are seeded five and six.

In each conference, the #3 and #6 seeded teams, and the #4 and #5 seeds, face each other during the first round of the playoffs, dubbed the Wild Card Playoffs (the league in recent years has also used the term Wild Card Weekend). The #1 and #2 seeds from each conference receive a bye in the first round, which entitles these teams to automatically advance to the second round, the Divisional Playoff games, to face the winning teams from the first round. In round two, the highest surviving seed (#1) always plays the lowest surviving seed in their conference. And in any given playoff game, whoever has the higher seed gets the home field advantage (i.e. the game is held at the higher seed's home field).

The two surviving teams from the Divisional Playoff games meet in Conference Championship games, with the winners of those contests going on to face one another in the Super Bowl in a game located at a neutral venue that is either indoors or in a warm-weather locale. The designated "home team" alternates year to year between the conferences. In Super Bowl XLIV, the AFC Champion was the "home" team.

Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl, the league's all-star game, has been traditionally held on the weekend after the Super Bowl. The game was played at various venues before being held at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii for 30 consecutive seasons from 1980 to 2009.

However, the 2010 Pro Bowl was played at Sun Life Stadium, the home stadium of the Miami Dolphins and host site of Super Bowl XLIV, on January 31, the first time ever that the Pro Bowl was played before the championship game. The 2011 and 2012 games will return to Honolulu.

Calendar

Though the NFL only plays in the late summer, fall, and early winter, the extended offseason often is an event in itself, with the draft, free agency signings, and the announcement of schedules keeping the NFL in the spotlight even during the spring, when virtually no on-field activity is taking place. A typical calendar of league events is as follows, with the dates listed being those for the 2009 NFL season:

  • February 3 – Pro Football Hall of Fame Game opponents announced.
  • February 18–24—NFL Scouting Combine: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • February 19—Deadline for Clubs to designate Franchise and Transition players.
  • February 27—Veteran Free Agency signing period begins. Trading period begins.
  • March 22–25—NFL Annual Meeting: Dana Point, Calif. Usually accompanied by announcement of scheduling and opponents for first game and opening-weekend night games.
  • Early April: Teams begin voluntary workouts.
  • April 14: Rest of schedule announced.
  • April 25–26 – NFL Draft: New York City.
  • May 18–20—NFL Spring Meeting: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • June 28 – July 1—NFL Rookie Symposium, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
  • Mid-July (varies by team)-- Training camps open.
  • August 8 – Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Canton, Ohio, including Hall of Fame Game.
  • August 13–17—First full Preseason weekend.
  • September 1—Roster cutdown from 80 to maximum of 75 players.
  • September 5—Roster cutdown from 75 to maximum of 53 players.
  • September 10–14 – Kickoff 2009 Weekend (Week 1 of regular season)
  • October 25 – International Series game (Wembley Stadium, London, England).
  • November – Pro Bowl balloting, flexible scheduling for Sunday Night Football and the NFL Network's night game package all begin.
  • November 26 – Thanksgiving games.
  • January 3, 2010—End of regular season.
  • January 9, 2010 – Playoffs begin.
  • January 24 – AFC Championship Game and NFC Championship Game.
  • January 31 – Pro Bowl.
  • February 7 – Super Bowl.

Teams

Current NFL teams

The NFL consists of thirty-two clubs. Each club is allowed a maximum of fifty-three players on their roster, but they may only dress forty-five to play each week during the regular season. Unlike Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the league has no full-time teams in Canada, although the Buffalo Bills play one game per year in Toronto. Most teams are in the eastern half of the United States; seventeen teams are in the Eastern Time Zone and nine others in the Central Time Zone.

Most major metropolitan areas in the United States have an NFL franchise, although Los Angeles, the second-largest metropolitan area in the country, has not hosted an NFL team since 1994.

The Rams and the Raiders called the Los Angeles area home from 1946–1994 and 1982–1994 respectively. In 2005, some Saints games were played in San Antonio and Baton Rouge because of Hurricane Katrina. Also, there is talk of possibly bringing the NFL to Toronto, the largest city of Canada. The most frequently mentioned team for such a move is the aforementioned Buffalo Bills, who play 90 miles (140 km) south in Buffalo, play some of their games in Toronto's Rogers Centre, and are owned by a man now in his nineties (Ralph Wilson) who has no apparent plans to keep the team in his family upon his death.[5]

The Dallas Cowboys are the highest valued American football franchise, valued at approximately $1.6 billion[6] and one of the most valuable franchises in all of professional sports worldwide, currently second only to English soccer club Manchester United,[6] which has an approximate value of $1.8 billion at current exchange rates.[7] (Incidentally, the majority shareholder in United, Malcolm Glazer, also owns an NFL team of his own, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.)

Since the 2002 season, the teams have been aligned as follows:

Chart notes
An asterisk (*) denotes a franchise move. See the respective team articles for more information.
  1. The Buffalo Bills play one regular game each year and one preseason game every two years from 2008–2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
  2. The Jets and Giants will move into Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford in 2010.
  3. As the result of a relocation controversy in 1996, the league officially suspended operations of the Cleveland Browns while its players and personnel moved to Baltimore to become a new franchise called the Baltimore Ravens. As per an agreement with the two cities, the Ravens are officially regarded as a new 1996 team while the league's official history and records views the Browns as one continuous franchise that began in 1946, suspended operations from 19961998, and resumed play in 1999 with new players.

Former NFL teams

In its earliest years, the NFL was a very unstable and somewhat informal organization. Many teams entered and left the league annually. However, since the acquisition of the All-America Football Conference in 1950, the NFL has shown remarkable stability. The last NFL team to fold was the Dallas Texans in 1952; its remnants were salvaged to form what is now the Indianapolis Colts.

Media

Television

The television rights to the NFL are the most lucrative and expensive rights not only of any American sport, but of any American entertainment property. With the fragmentation of audiences due to the increased specialization of broadcast and cable TV networks, sports remain one of the few entertainment properties that not only can guarantee a large and diversified audience, but an audience that will watch in real time.

Annually, the Super Bowl often ranks among the most watched shows of the year. Four of Nielsen Media Research's top ten programs are Super Bowls.[8] Networks have purchased a share of the broadcasting rights to the NFL as a means of raising the entire network's profile.[9] The Super Bowl is so popular annually that many companies debut elaborate commercials during the game.

Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2006 season, regular season games are broadcast on five networks: CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. Regionally shown games are broadcast on Sundays on CBS and Fox, carrying the AFC and NFC teams respectively (the traveling team deciding the broadcast station in the event of inter-Conference games, presumably so that each network can show games from all the stadiums). These games generally air at 1:00 p.m. ET and 4:05 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. ET. (Due to differences between Eastern and local time, games played in the Pacific and Mountain time zones are never played in the 1:00pm ET time slot.) Nationally televised games include Sunday night games (shown on NBC), Monday night games (shown on ESPN), the Thursday night NFL Kickoff Game (shown on NBC), the annual Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day games (CBS and Fox), and beginning in 2006,all Thursday and Saturday games on the NFL Network, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Football League.[10][11]

Additionally, satellite broadcast company DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a subscription based package, that allows most Sunday daytime regional games to be watched.[12][13] This package is exclusive to DirecTV in the USA; for subscribers to Dish Network Verizon FiOS and Comcast, the NFL instead offers "RedZone," a less expensive single channel that launched in 2009 and airs "the touchdowns and most important moments during all the Sunday afternoon games."[14] In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket is available on a per-provider distribution deal on both cable and satellite.

Radio

Each NFL team has its own radio network and employs its announcers. Nationally, the NFL is heard on the Westwood One Radio Network, Sports USA Radio Network, the Dial Global-Compass Media Sports Network and in Spanish on Univision Radio. Westwood One carries Sunday and Monday Night Football, all Thursday games, two Sunday afternoon contests each week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, and all post-season games, including the Pro Bowl. Sports USA Radio and Dial Global-Compass each broadcast two Sunday afternoon games every Sunday during the regular season, by agreement with individual teams.[10] Univision carries Monday Night games, select games from the New York metro area, and all playoff games.

The NFL also has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio, which provides news, analysis, commentary and game coverage for all games, as well as comprehensive coverage of the draft and off-season on its own channel, Sirius NFL Radio.[15]

Internet radio broadcasts of all NFL games are managed through FieldPass, a subscription service. Radio stations are, by rule, prohibited from streaming the games for free from their Web sites; however, there are numerous stations that break this rule. All 32 teams, plus Westwood One, currently broadcast through FieldPass as of 2009; Dial Global-Compass and Sports USA do not. Also, FieldPass broadcasts are not available in Spanish, even though the Internet radio blackout rules apply to Spanish language broadcasts as well.

Internet/new media

In October 2006 the NFL announced the league would fully operate NFL.com, including the development of the technology, infrastructure and editorial content. Launching its first major redesign since 1999 in August 2007, the site had been previously produced and hosted since 2001 by CBS SportsLine. It is estimated that the contract cost CBS $120 million over a five year period. Prior to CBS, ESPN.com produced and hosted the NFL site.[16]

Brian Rolapp, senior vice president of NFL digital media and media strategy: “In a rapidly changing digital landscape, bringing NFL.com in-house provides us greater control of our valuable content and enables us to strategically build the site as a media asset. Fans can look forward to an even more entertaining, interactive and informative site built upon the expertise of the NFL and its other in-house media outlets such as NFL Network and NFL Films.”

Univision Online, Inc., the interactive subsidiary of Univision Communications Inc., and the NFL announced in January 2008 that they will jointly manage and operate NFLatino.com powered by Univision.com, the official U.S. Spanish-language website of the NFL. NFLatino.com is the only Spanish-language website in the United States to feature NFL video game highlights. In addition, the website includes live radio broadcasts, up-to-date stats, Hispanic player diaries, Fantasy Football and an insider’s view of all 32 teams.[17]

Announced in March 2009, NFL.com received its first-ever Sports Emmy nominations, which earned recognition for its NFL.com LIVE coverage of NFL Network’s Thursday and Saturday Night Football (Outstanding new approaches, coverage) and its Anatomy of a Play, a short-form 360-degree analysis of key plays of the week (Outstanding new approaches, general interest).[18]

Beginning September 2008, the NFL announced that it would simulcast all NBC Sunday Night Football games on NFL.com, located at nfl.com/snf. In 2007, they had provided an Emmy-nominated "complementary live broadcast" which included a partial simulcast of the NFL Network's Run to the Playoffs eight game package along with expanded NFL Network analysis.

The NFL offers a pay service allows fans to watch all NFL regular season, playoff, and Super Bowl games online. The service is updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and offers full DVR functionality with the ability to watch up to four games at once.

The NFL offers a pay service for NFL fans out side United States to watch live all regular season games and the playoffs game live. Only game not available live is the Super Bowl.

Player contracts and compensation

NFL players are all members of a union called the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). The NFLPA negotiates the general minimum contract for all players in the league. This contract is called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and it is the central document that governs the negotiation of individual player contracts for all of the league's players. The current CBA has been in place since 1993, and was amended in 1998 and again in 2006. The NFL has not had any labor-related work stoppages since the 1987 season, which is much longer than Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NHL. The current CBA was originally scheduled to expire at the end of the 2012 season, but in 2008 the owners exercised their right to opt out of the agreement two years early.[19][20]

Players are tiered into three different levels with regards to their rights to negotiate for contracts:

  • Players who have been drafted (see below), and have not yet played in their first year, may only negotiate with the team that drafted them.[19] If terms cannot be agreed upon, the players' only recourse is to refuse to play ("hold out") until terms can be reached. Players often use the threat of holding out as a means to force the hands of the teams that drafted them. For example, John Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1983 but refused to play for them. He had a fallback option of baseball, as he had played in the New York Yankees organization for two summers while at Stanford. The Colts traded his rights to the Denver Broncos and Elway agreed to play.[21] Bo Jackson sat out an entire year in 1986, choosing to play baseball in the Kansas City Royals organization rather than play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that had drafted him. He reentered the draft the following year, and was drafted and subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Raiders.[22]
  • Players that have played three full seasons in the league, and whose contract has expired are considered "Restricted Free Agents" (see below). They have limited rights to negotiate with any club.[19]
  • Players that have played four or more full seasons in the league, and whose contract has expired, are considered "Unrestricted Free Agents"(see below) and have unlimited rights to negotiate with any club. Teams may name a single player in any given year as a "Franchise Player" (see below), which eliminates much of that player's negotiation rights. This is a limited right of the team, however, and affects only a small handful of players each year.[19]

In the 2010 season, unless the CBA is extended, the rules will change so that players don't become "Unrestricted Free Agents" until they have played at least six full seasons in the league. They will be "Restricted Free Agents" if they have three–five full seasons in the league.

Among the items covered in the CBA are:

  • The league minimum salary
  • The salary cap
  • The annual collegiate draft
  • Rules regarding "free agency"
  • Waiver rules

Salaries

Minimum Salary for League Year[23]
Years of experience 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
0 $275,000 $285,000 $295,000 $310,000 $325,000 $340,000 $355,000
1 $350,000 $360,000 $370,000 $385,000 $400,000 $415,000 $430,000
2 $425,000 $435,000 $445,000 $460,000 $475,000 $490,000 $505,000
3 $500,000 $510,000 $520,000 $535,000 $550,000 $565,000 $580,000
4–6 $585,000 $595,000 $605,000 $620,000 $635,000 $650,000 $665,000
7–9 $710,000 $720,000 $730,000 $745,000 $760,000 $775,000 $790,000
10 + $810,000 $820,000 $830,000 $845,000 $860,000 $875,000 $890,000

A player's salary, as defined by the CBA, includes any "compensation in money, property, investments, loans or anything else of value to which an NFL player may be awarded" excluding such benefits as insurance and pension. A salary can include an annual pay and a one-time "signing bonus" which is paid in full when the player signs his contract. For the purposes of the salary cap (see below), the signing bonus is prorated over the life of the contract rather than to the year in which the signing bonus is paid.[23]

Player contracts are not guaranteed; teams are only required to pay on the contract as long as the player remains a member of the team. If the player is cut, or quits, for any reason, the balance of the contract is voided and the player receives no further compensation.[24]

Among other things, the CBA establishes a minimum salary for its players,[23] which is stepped-up as a player's years of experience increase. Players and their agents may negotiate with clubs for higher salaries, and frequently do.

Salary cap

The salary cap is defined as the maximum amount that a team may spend on player compensation (see above) in a given season, for all of its players combined. Unlike other leagues, for example the NBA (which permits certain exemptions) or Major League Baseball (which has a "soft cap" enforced by "luxury taxes"), the NFL has a "hard cap": an amount no team under any circumstances may exceed. The NFL also has a so-called "hard floor", a minimum payroll that each team is required to pay regardless of the circumstances.

The NFL salary cap is calculated by the current CBA to be 59.5% of the total projected league revenue for the upcoming year. This number, divided by the number of teams, determines an individual team's maximum salary cap. For 2008, this was approximately $116 million per team.[25] For 2009, it increased to $127 million.[26] As a result of the NFL owners opting out of the CBA two years early, in the absence of a new CBA 2010 will have no salary cap or floor.[20]

Teams and players often find creative ways to fit salaries under the salary cap. Early in the salary cap era, "signing bonuses" were used to give players a large chunk of money up front, and thus not count in the salary for the bulk of the contract. This led to a rule whereby all signing bonus are pro-rated equally for each year of the contract. Thus if a player receives a $10 million signing bonus for a five-year contract, $2 million per year would count against the salary cap for the life of the contract, even though the full $10 million was paid up front during the first year of the contract.[23]

Player contracts tend to be "back-loaded". This means that the contract is not divided equally among the time period it covers. Instead, the player earns progressively more and more each year. For instance, a player signing a four-year deal worth $10 million may get paid $1 million the first year, $2 million the second year, $3 million the third year, and $4 million the fourth year. If a team cuts this player after the first year, the final three years do not count against the cap. Any signing bonus, however, ceases to be pro-rated, and the entire balance of the bonus counts against the cap in the upcoming season.[23]

NFL Draft

Each April, each NFL franchise seeks to add new players to its roster through a collegiate draft known as "the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting", which is more commonly known as the NFL Draft.

Teams are ranked in inverse order based on the previous season's record, with the team having the worst record picking first, and the second-worst picking second, and so on. Regardless of regular season records, the last two picks of each round go to the two teams in the Super Bowl immediately preceding the draft, with the Super Bowl champion picking last.

The draft proceeds for seven rounds. Rounds 1–2 are run on Saturday of draft weekend, rounds 3–7 are run on Sunday. Teams are given 10 minutes in the first round of the draft, 7 in the second round and 5 in all other rounds.[27] If the pick is not made in the allotted time, subsequent teams in the draft may draft before them. This happened in 2003 to the Minnesota Vikings.[28]

Teams have the option of trading away their picks to other teams for different picks, players, cash, or a combination thereof. While player-for-player trades are rare during the rest of the year (especially in comparison to the other major league sports), trades are far more common on draft day. In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five veteran players and six draft picks over 3 years. The Cowboys would use these picks to leverage trades for additional draft picks and veteran players. As a direct result of this trade, they would draft many of the stars who would help them win three Super Bowls in the 1990s, including Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, and Darren Woodson.[29]

The first pick in the draft is often taken to be the best overall player in the rookie class. This may or may not be true, since teams often select players based more on the teams' needs than on the players' overall skills. Plus, comparing players at different positions is difficult to do. Still, it is considered a great honor to be a first-round pick, and a greater honor to be the first overall pick. The last pick in the draft is known as Mr. Irrelevant, and is the subject of a dinner in his (dubious) honor in Newport Beach, California.

Drafted players may only negotiate with the team that drafted them (or to another team if their rights were traded away). The drafting team has one year to sign the player. If they do not do so, the player may reenter the draft and can be drafted by another team. Bo Jackson famously sat out a season in this way.[22]

Free agency

General

As defined by the Collective Barganing Agreement (CBA), a free agent is any player who is not under contract to any team and thus has fully free rights to negotiate with any other team for new contract terms.[19][30] Free agents are classified into two categories: restricted and unrestricted. Furthermore, a team may "tag" a player as a franchise or transition, which places additional restrictions on that player's ability to negotiate. However, the ability to "tag" is quite limited, and only affects a handful of players each year.

Free agency in the NFL began with a limited free agency system known as "Plan B Free Agency", which was in effect between the 1989 and 1992 seasons. Beginning with the 1993 season, "Plan A Free Agency" went into effect.

Restricted free agent

A player who has 3 years of experience is eligible for restricted free agency, whereby his current team has the chance to retain rights to this player by matching the highest offer any other NFL franchise might make to that player. The club can either block a signing or, in essence, force a trade by offering a salary over a certain threshold. In 2006, these thresholds were as follows:

  • If a club tenders an offer of $685,000 per year for a three year veteran, and $725,000 for a four year veteran, the player's current team has "right of first refusal" over the contract at those terms, and may sign the player at those terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $712,000 or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year's salary, then the current club has both "right of first refusal" and rights to a draft pick from the same round (or better) from the signing club. Essentially, this means that the new club must forfeit the draft pick to the old club if they wish to sign the player under these terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $1.552 million or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year's salary, then the current club has both "right of first refusal"; and rights to the first round draft pick from the signing club.[30]

Unrestricted free agent

A player who has four or more years of experience is eligible for unrestricted free agency, whereby his current team has no guaranteed right to match outside offers to that player. This means that players in this category have unlimited rights to negotiate any terms with any team.[30]

Free agency changes in 2010

In 2010, unless the CBA is extended, the rules will change so that players don't become "Unrestricted Free Agents" until they have at least six years of experience. They will be "Restricted Free Agents" if they have three–five years of experience. There will also be limitations imposed on which clubs are allowed to sign free agents. This is part of a set of rule changes written into the CBA designed to encourage the owners and the NFLPA to negotiate a new CBA: the players lose some free agency rights, and the owners lose the salary cap.[19]

Franchise tag

The franchise tag is a designation given to a player by a franchise that guarantees that player a contract the average of the five highest-paid players of that same position in the entire league, or 120% of the player's previous year's salary (whichever is greater) in return for retaining rights to that player for one year. An NFL franchise may only designate one player a year as having the franchise tag, and may designate the same player for consecutive years. This has caused some tension between some NFL franchise designees and their respective teams due to the fact that a player designated as a franchise player precludes that player from pursuing large signing bonuses that are common in unrestricted free agency, and also prevents a player from leaving the team, especially when the reasons for leaving are not necessarily financial. A team may, at their discretion, allow the franchise player to negotiate with other clubs, but if he signs with another club, the first club is entitled to two first round draft picks in compensation.[30]

Banned substances policy

The NFL banned substances policy has been acclaimed by some[31] and criticized by others,[32] but the policy is the longest running in American professional sports, beginning in 1987.[31] The current policy of the NFL suspends players without pay who test positive for banned substances as it has since 1989: four games for the first offense (a quarter of the regular season), eight games for a second offense (half of the regular season), and 12 months for a third offense.[33] The suspended games may be either regular season games or playoff games.[33]

In comparison to the policies of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, the NFL has long been the most strict. While recently MLB and the NHL decided to permanently ban athletes for a third offense, they have long been resistant to such measures, and random testing is in its infancy.[34][35]

Since the NFL started random, year-round tests and suspending players for banned substances, many more players have been found to be in violation of the policy. By April 2005, 111 NFL players had tested positive for banned substances, and of those 111, the NFL suspended 54.[32]

A new rule is in the works due to Shawne Merriman. Starting the 2007 season, the new rule would prohibit any player testing positive for banned substances from being able to play in the Pro Bowl that year.[36]

Video games

There have been several football video games based on NFL teams created for various consoles over the years, from 10-Yard Fight and the Tecmo Bowl series for the NES to the more well known Madden series that have been released annually since 1988. The Madden series is named after former coach and football commentator John Madden. Prior to the 2005–2006 football season, other NFL games were produced by competing video game publishers, such as 2K Games and Midway Games. However, in December 2004, Electronic Arts signed a five-year exclusive agreement with the NFL, meaning only Electronic Arts will be permitted to publish games featuring NFL team and player names. This prompted video game developer Midway Games to release a game in 2005 called Blitz: The League, with fictitious teams and players. In February 2008, EA Sports renewed their exclusivity agreement with the league through Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.[37]

Commissioners and presidents

  1. Temporary Secretary Ralph Hay (1920)
  2. President Jim Thorpe (1920–1921)[38]
  3. President Joseph Carr (1921–1939)
  4. President Carl Storck (1939–1941)
  5. Commissioner Elmer Layden (1941–1946)
  6. Commissioner Bert Bell (1946–1959)
  7. Interim President Austin Gunsel (1959–1960, following death of Bell)
  8. Commissioner Alvin "Pete" Rozelle (1960–1989)
  9. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989–2006)
  10. Commissioner Roger Goodell (2006–present)

Main league offices

  • Canton (1920–1921)
  • Columbus (1921–1941)
  • Chicago (1941–1946)
  • Philadelphia (1946–1960)
  • New York City (AFL, 1960–1969)
  • New York City (1960–present)

Franchise owners

Unlike many professional leagues, the NFL forbids corporate owners. Ownership groups must contain twenty-four or fewer individuals, and at least one partner must hold a thirty percent or greater share of the team. The Green Bay Packers' are an exemption into the current policy, since they have been a publicly owned stock corporation since before the rule was in place.[39]

In recent years, NFL owners and the NFL itself have become politically active, donating millions of dollars to political candidates.[40]

Uniform numbers

In the NFL, players wear uniform numbers based on the position they play. The current system was instituted into the league on April 5, 1973,[41] as a means for fans and officials (referees, linesmen) to more easily identify players on the field by their position. Players who were already in the league at that date were grandfathered and did not have to change their uniform numbers if they did not conform. Since that date, players are invariably assigned numbers within the following ranges, based on their primary position:

  • Quarterbacks, placekickers and punters: 1–19
  • Wide Receivers: 10–19 and 80–89
  • Running backs and defensive backs: 20–49
  • Offensive linemen: 50–79
  • Linebackers: 50–59 and 90–99, or 40–49 if all are taken
  • Defensive linemen: 60–79 and 90–99
  • Tight ends: 80–89, or 40–49

Prior to 2004, wide receivers were allowed to wear only numbers 80–89.[42] The NFL changed the rule that year to allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10–19 to allow for the increased number of players at wide receiver and tight end coming into the league. Linebackers are allowed to wear numbers between 40–49 when all of the numbers 50–59 and 90–99 are taken. Prior to that, players were allowed to wear non-standard numbers only if their team had run out of numbers within the prescribed number range. Keyshawn Johnson began wearing number 19 in 1996 because the New York Jets had run out of numbers in the 80s. Oakland Raider offensive center Jim Otto wore a 00 jersey during most of his career with the AFL team and kept the number after the leagues merged. Devin Hester is a wide receiver/return specialist for the Chicago Bears but wears number 23 because he was drafted as a cornerback but transferred to wide receiver after his rookie year.

Occasionally, players will petition the NFL to allow them to wear a number that is not in line with the numbering system. Brad Van Pelt, a linebacker who entered the NFL in 1973 with the New York Giants, wore number 10 during his eleven seasons with the club, despite not being covered by the grandfather clause. In 2006, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush petitioned the NFL to let him keep the number 5 which he used at USC. His request was later denied.[43] Former Seattle Seahawks standout Brian Bosworth attempted such a petition in 1987 (to wear his collegiate number of 44 at the linebacker position which he used at the University of Oklahoma), also without success. The Seahawks attempted to get around the rule by listing Bosworth as a safety, but after he wore number 44 for a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL ruled Bosworth would have to switch back to his original number, 55.

To aid the officials in spotting certain penalties, such as "illegal formation" or "ineligible receiver", usually only offensive players with numbers 1–49 and 80–89 are allowed to play at the end or back positions or handle the ball in normal game situations. However, a player wearing 50–79 or 90–99 may play in an "eligible" position simply by reporting to the referee that he will be doing so. The NFL numbering system is based on a player's primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position on the field at any time, subject to the reporting rules described above. It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or even to have a large offensive or defensive lineman play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. Also, in preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.

Awards

Discontinued awards

Cheerleading

Almost every NFL team, with the exception of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants, is supported by a professional cheerleading squad who attend games and promote the team.

See also

Regular seasons

Postseasons

Records

Related football leagues

References

Notes

  1. ^ See corporate disclosure statement and statement of facts; Brief of NFL Respondents, in American Needle, Inc v. National Football League, et seq, Supreme Court of the United States, case no. 08-661, filed Jan 21, 2008
  2. ^ For example, "The Detroit Lions is a 'Professional' Football team owned by William Clay Ford, Sr., with a membership in the National Football League (NFL), which is an unincorporated association governed by its own constitution and bylaws." Detroit Lions v. National Football League, 41 < MI.4th 624, 629 (2007).
  3. ^ http://www.sportingintelligence.com/2010/01/04/nfl-maintains-massive-lead-in-attendance
  4. ^ NFL Tie-Breaking Procedures
  5. ^ Wawrow, John, Associated Press (October 18, 2007). "Buffalo Bills May Play Game in Toronto". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/19/AR2007101900608.html. 
  6. ^ a b Van Riper, Tom (2009). "The world’s most valuable pro sports teams". Forbes.com. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28801975/. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  7. ^ Gage, Jack; P. Maidment (2008-04-30). "The Most Valuable Soccer Teams". Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/2008/04/30/valuable-soccer-teams-biz-soccer08-cx_jg_pm_0430soccer_land.html. Retrieved 2006-09-28. 
  8. ^ "Nielson's Top 10 Ratings: Top 10 Network Telecasts of All Time". http://www.nielsenmedia.com/ratings/topnetworktelecasts.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  9. ^ "McKenna, Barrie "NBC hoping NFL, Internet will lead comeback", globeandmail.com, retrieved on October 30, 2006". http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060906.gtnbc06/BNStory/Technology/home. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  10. ^ a b "NFL TV and Radio Broadcast Partner Schedule, NFL.com". http://www.nfl.com/tvradio. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  11. ^ ""Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth to announce NFL Network games", NFL News, NFL.com, April 26, 2006". http://www.nfl.com/nflnetwork/story/9398370. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  12. ^ "NFL Sunday Ticket". http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/global/contentPage.jsp?assetId=900046. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  13. ^ "NFL Sunday Ticket". http://www.nfl.com/ticket. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  14. ^ "NFL RedZone". http://redzonetv.nfl.com/. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  15. ^ "NFL TV and Radio Broadcast Partner Schedule, NFL.com". http://www.nfl.com/tvradio. 
  16. ^ "NFL Ends Deal With CBS; Opts For DIY Model, PaidContent.org". http://www.paidcontent.org/entry/nfl-ends-deals-deal-with-cbs-opts-for-diy-model/. Retrieved 2006-10-24. 
  17. ^ "Univision.Com and National Football League Launch the Ultimate NFL Experience for Online Hispanics, Univision.com". http://corporate.univision.com/corp/en/pr/New_York_31012008-2.html. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  18. ^ "NFL Network, NFL Films and NFL.com garner Emmy nominations, NFL.com". http://www.nfl.com/nflnetwork/story?id=09000d5d80732b5f&template=without-video&confirm=true. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Collective Bargaining Agreement Between the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association, nflpa.org, As amended March 8, 2006". http://www.nflpa.org/CBA/CBA_Complete.aspx. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  20. ^ a b "NFL owners opt out of CBA". 2008-05-20. http://www.nfl.com/news/story?id=09000d5d80868b78&template=without-video&confirm=true. 
  21. ^ "The Life and Football Career of John Elway, johnelway.com". http://www.johnelway.com/bio.aspx. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  22. ^ a b "Flatter, Ron "Bo knows stardom and disappointment", ESPN.com Classic/Bio, March 6, 2006". http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/classic/bio/news/story?page=Jackson_Bo. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  23. ^ a b c d e "CBA". http://www.nflplayers.com/images/fck/NFL%20COLLECTIVE%20BARGAINING%20AGREEMENT%202006%20-%202012.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  24. ^ "Salary Cap FAQ, askthecommish.com, retrieved October 30, 2006". http://askthecommish.com/salarycap/faq.asp. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  25. ^ AskTheCommish.com
  26. ^ NFLplayers.com
  27. ^ ""NFL Draft Basics:Time Limits by Round football.about.com, retrieved November 2, 2006". http://football.about.com/library/weekly/bl_drafttimelimits.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  28. ^ "Black, James C. " Off-season Overview: Minnesota Vikings" May 29, 2003, ESPN.com, retrieved November 2, 2006". http://static.espn.go.com/nfl/overview/vikings2003.html. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  29. ^ ""The Herschel Walker Trade", Scout.com, Retrieved November 2, 2006". http://vikings.scout.com/2/11653.html. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  30. ^ a b c d "Free Agency 101, askthecommish.com, retrieved November 6, 2006". http://www.askthecommish.com/freeagency/. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  31. ^ a b NFL's Steroid Policy Gets Kudos on Capitol Hill (washingtonpost.com)
  32. ^ a b NFL Steroid Policy 'Not Perfect', House Committee Praises Tougher Testing Policy, But Still May Act – CBS News
  33. ^ a b NFLPA.org
  34. ^ USATODAY.com – MLB, players agree to update drug policy
  35. ^ CTV.ca | NHL unveils new drug testing policy
  36. ^ TV Station 7/39 KNSD (NBC in San Diego, CA) Broadcast 5:00 AM News on February 8, 2007. (Retrieved from the Global Broadcast Database on 9/17/2008)
  37. ^ EA Sports extends NFL deal through 2012 season – Xbox 360 News at GameSpot
  38. ^ "1921 Once more, with feeling". Professional Football Researchers Association. http://www.footballresearch.com/articles/frpage.cfm?topic=1921b. Retrieved 2006-10-18. 
  39. ^ NFL may drop ownership rules, The (Oklahoma City) Journal Record, September 1, 1998
  40. ^ Politicians Score Significant Cash From NFL Owners, Coaches and Players, Dave Levinthal, OpenSecrets.org, September 17, 2009
  41. ^ "NFL uniform numbering system". http://football.about.com/cs/football101/a/bl_numbersystem.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  42. ^ "2004 NFL Rules changes". http://football.about.com/od/nationalfootballleague/a/04rulechanges.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  43. ^ "Clayton, John "NFL will not change numbering system for Bush", ESPN.com, May 23, 2006". http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2455586. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 

Bibliography

  • 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book. Time Inc. Home Entertainment. ISBN 1-933405-32-5. 
  • Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. Harper Collins. ISBN 1-933405-32-5. 

External links


Redirecting to National Football League


Redirecting to National Football League


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

Initialism

NFL

  1. (American football) National Football League







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