Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The NFL Crystal Ball

Things are getting heavy in the NFL right now. All across the sports pundit landscape, passionate, informed people are writing deep analyses and detailed think-pieces about the pressing issues of the day. Some good ones are up on this very site, in fact, and I urge you to read all of them…. and then come back here, for some silliness. Here’s what I see happening in the next few decades. Like Nostradamus, I gazed into the flames of the Cowboys’ season and came up with the following predictions, all based on nothing more than money and my (enormous, beer-filled) gut feelings:

The NFL Crystal Ball

Disposable backs and receivers. informs us that there are 44 linemen in the SEC alone who weigh more than 325 pounds. In the 1980s, the average professional lineman weighed 272 pounds. That’s a fifty pound increase in two and a half decades. And players are bulking up across the board – linebackers are a lot bigger, too, and I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the Seahawks-inspired fad for gigantic defensive backs. With that much beef on the hoof, open running and passing lanes are getting much harder to come by. An obvious solution would be to stock up on small, quick guys on offense – pocket-sized Danny Woodhead types who can squirt through the cracks. It’s just as obvious, though, that those little dudes are going to get fustigated, so you’ll need a lot of them. Bottom line: It probably makes more financial sense to carry a bunch of itty bitty backs and receivers at the league minimum, rotating them on and off injured reserve, than to pay top dollar to one feature back or receiver who probably won’t be able to get open anyway (and who’s just as likely to get hurt when some 400-lb. monstrosity crashes into him over the middle). With that in mind….

More situational packages, including situational quarterbacks. The other way to beat the mammoths is simply to outrun them. In the time it takes a receiver to get open against, say, Richard Sherman – assuming that’s possible on a regular basis – a disposable ex-sprinter could be sixty yards downfield. The problem, of course, is that not all quarterbacks can get it there, and of those who can, not all of them can do it quickly enough to matter. Enter the situational QB, the mad bomber whose one job is to huck it as far and as fast as he can. Here again, the key factor is money. College programs are filled with QBs who are functionally illiterate when it comes to reading defenses, but can heave it from endzone to endzone. JaMarcus Russell as a regular starter is waste of $68 million; at league minimum, throwing four or five well-timed bombs per game, he’s a bargain. Along the same lines, small, quick, read-option QBs could work well in packages with disposable scatbacks – providing the QBs are themselves disposable.

Speaking of disposable (income)….

There will be no NFL team in London or L.A. The NFL keeps talking these up during the offseason, but that’s just to keep the league in the news cycle. The money simply isn’t right. California is perennially one of the worst business climates in America, and that’s before you factor in the zillion yards of red tape on new construction in the Golden State. Unless they can figure out some way to repurpose Angel Stadium or the Staples Center, there’s no place for a pro football team to play. London, meanwhile, has the stadium (or the pitch, or the green, or whatever you call a soccer game location), but it’s in an entirely different country. American players don’t want to mess with exchange rates and European taxes. The team CEO might like it – the United States has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world – but the players won’t, and without them, the CEO is out of work. Throw in the well-documented effects of time zone changes on athletic performance, and you’re asking fans to shell out a thousand bucks a ticket for a perpetually 0-16 team.

But there will be one in San Antonio. Whether or not that team makes money will depend on the success of the league’s Hispanic outreach efforts. The NFL is very admirably embracing diversity (this is an “NFL London” selling point, too), but it remains to be seen if diversity will embrace it. Football’s fan base is still overwhelmingly white (78% in 2013, according to athlete marketing site, but that’s probably changing. Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic group in America. San Antonio is majority Latino, and both the city and its Hispanic population are growing rapidly. There’s a lot of money to be made, in other words, and San Antonio – already the nation’s seventh-largest metro — is an ideal test case. Throw in Texas’s excellent business climate – it’s just about the only state adding jobs these days – and pro football there makes a lot of sense.

Are there enough players? Of course, all this depends on a steady supply of players. Youth football participation is already down, and the smart money is on massive structural changes in college football as well (you do know that student loan debt exceeds credit card debt these days, right? And that the unemployment rate for recent grads is 8.4%, and the “underemployment rate” is 16.8%?) Ironically, this might be how “NFL Europe 2.0” gets off the ground—as a legit minor league in the absence of bigtime college athletics. Either way, it’s going to be interesting. I look forward to all of y’all swinging back here in 20 years, to tell me just how wrong I was.


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