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NFL experts reveal one thing they’d like to change about the sport

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The idea: ask smart people, 25 of them, in and around football, what they’d do if they could change one thing about the sport of professional football.

Below is a handful of the responses I received. 

Read all 25, as well as the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America, here

Ron Wolf: Cut Down On Flags

Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager

I spent 38 active years in professional football. I came in not knowing anything at all about pass interference, and guess what? After those 38 years, I left without knowing what pass interference is. I think that the officials have responsibility in too many areas nowadays. The rule that drives me batty is “players in a defenseless posture.” The thing I fail to understand is throughout the ages when hasn’t a receiver been in a defenseless position? Interestingly, football has always been a game of blocking, tackling and kicking. It is supposed to be a spartan game and necessary roughness was a huge part of its attraction and still is. It’s my firm belief that the game should go back to the coaches and players to determine the outcome of a contest. There are way too many flags flying in today’s game. It takes away from the spectacular aspect of the sport. People love the toughness, the dedication, the overall athletic skill of the performers on the field, and they should be the ones that determine the final outcome of any contest—not the officials.

Dean Blandino: Make Every Play Replay-Reviewable

FOX officiating analyst, former NFL vice president of officiating

Two thoughts:

• I have come full circle on this since I worked in the league, but I now think coaches should be able to challenge anything they want. Don’t increase the number of challenges. Put the onus on the coach to save his challenges. This would simplify the rule because you wouldn’t have to wonder what’s reviewable and what isn’t. Now that the leaguer has added pass-interference to reviewable calls, we’re going to see the creep begin. Next year, they’ll add something else. By not opening it up to all things being reviewable, all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.

• The league needs to put real resources behind officiating. Nothing the league does impacts the game more than officiating, and I believe it’s probably the area least valued by the league. I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes, because the NFL treated me great. But officiating in the NFL is treated almost as a necessary evil. You see on-field officials, good ones, moving to network jobs before the end of their careers. The NFL needs to be competitive and compensate the officials better, and also give them better resources in training.

Pete Carroll: Kill Instant Replay

Head coach, Seattle Seahawks

Get rid of—or at least decrease the use of—instant replay. I get all the reasons why we have instant replay, and technology has opened up a new world for us to get to this point. But I miss the human element of trusting the officials to make the calls in the moment and then the rest of us having to live with what they called. It was both fun and frustrating, but I really liked the game better when the officials were just as much a part of the game as the players.

Hunter Henry: Ensure That Each Team Gets a Possession in Overtime

Tight end, Los Angeles Chargers

I think both teams should have a chance to touch the ball in overtime, especially in the playoffs. The league should allow both sides of the ball to have a chance to be successful. Take Kansas City last year. I think it would have been cool to at least see them touch the ball in overtime after the Patriots went down the field and scored. Obviously, I think the Patriots earned it and that’s the rule, but it would be cool for the Patriots defense to go out and say, ‘Now, we have to stop these guys.’ Then, if they stopped them, the game is over. If not, the game continues.

Calais Campbell: Make Every Healthy Player Active on Game Day

Defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars

One rule change I’d like to propose is eliminating inactives on game day. If teams can dress and play all 53 guys on Sundays, it would help decrease injuries incurred during competition because it would allow more rest and substitutions. If players are aware that there are more guys on the team that can substitute in for a play or two, guys will be less inclined to remain in the game with an injury that could worsen with more time on the field. Overall, more players on the active roster would lead to better health for all players.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

It’s now or never for Seahawks to sign Russell Wilson to long-term deal

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I don’t think signing a boilerplate contract averaging $34 million a year—something Wilson never could have dreamed possible when he was the 75th player picked in the 2012 draft—will be enough for him, and for his representative, Mark Rodgers, a baseball agent with one football client, Wilson. I think Wilson actually would be content playing out his current contract and then working under the franchise tag for the next two seasons rather than taking a typical mega-millions contract. Playing year-to-year, Wilson would average $27.8 million a year over the next three years, rather than a solid $34 million a year over five or six.

That seems ridiculous. There’s a few reasons why it’s not.

But first, this deadline agent Rodgers has given Seattle. Today’s a big day in the Pacific Northwest if you take Wilson and Rodgers at their word, that—according to a source close to the talks—they say they won’t do a long-term deal with the Seahawks if it’s not done by tonight. Read that last sentence again. I didn’t mean they’d put off further talks on a new contract till 2020 if it’s not done by tonight. I meant Wilson and Rodgers don’t plan to negotiate further with the Seahawks, period. My source says they’ve told GM John Schneider it has to be done now, or not at all.

That’s why, with this being what Wilson likely believes is his last chance to get a truly market deal in Seattle, I would be shocked if he leaves this all to Rodgers, regardless how much he trusts his agent. Wilson’s an activist. I would bet he wants Schneider and/or Carroll to hear from him directly about why he wants to get this deal done now, and he wants to get it done differently than other quarterback deals have been done. I’ve known Wilson since training camp of his rookie year, and he’s one of the ultimate hands-on players I’ve met. He has never struck me as the type to hand a job this big to his agent and say, Good luck. Call me when it’s done.

If it does get done, my source says the contract would likely include devices to adjust future years of the deal based on how high the cap goes up year to year, or based on new revenue streams (gambling revenue, for example, or a TV contract that explodes). If it is not done, it means the Seahawks have determined Wilson isn’t worth setting such a precedent. (No NFL player’s contract fluctuates based on cap increases or increases in the league’s bottom line unknown at the time of signing.) That would be understandable, but would it be the right call for the Seahawks? It could be a potentially career-altering risk for Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.

Of course, there’s no real reason why a deal couldn’t be done July 15 or Dec. 15 either. But waiting would be calling Wilson’s bluff. Maybe you win, maybe you lose. It’s a risk. Normally, talking about hard negotiations, I’d say big deal. Quarterbacks—all except Kirk Cousins—might play a year on the franchise tag, but they eventually sign long-term and stay with their teams. I think there’s a good chance Wilson could be different.

Like Cousins was, Wilson is not afraid to play year-to-year: this year at $17 million, and then as many as two years on the franchise tag, at $30.3 million in 2020 and $36.4 million in 2021. If the Seahawks chose to franchise Wilson a third time, the cost would rise to $52.4 million for 2022. Which would be a very difficult one-year salary for any team to digest, unless the cap skyrockets in 2021, when a new CBA is due to take effect.

Most players want the assurance of guaranteed money and long-term security. They’ll take significant guaranteed money in exchange for fighting for what Cousins got (a fully guaranteed three-year, $84-million contract) or what Wilson presumably wants (a fluctuating contract, based on the league’s future success). But from what I hear, Wilson and Rodgers feel the league could be on the precipice of major new revenue streams. Recently, Bills co-owner Kim Pegula said she wanted to have the opportunity to provide sports betting inside their stadium. What might the NFL’s take on in-stadium gambling be, and how would that be divided with the players? Could Facebook or some digital brand bid an unheard-of sum for the rights to part of the TV deal in 2022?

Because the game is so injurious, you don’t see many players going year-to-year. But Wilson’s durability is a big part of his football appeal. Since the day Wilson was drafted in 2012, the Seahawks have played 125 regular-season and postseason games. Wilson has started them all. Last year, he was the only NFL quarterback to take every offensive snap for his team. In the last two years, he has played 2,186 of Seattle’s 2,191 offensive snaps. That could change in an instant, of course. But Wilson is fine gambling on himself, and on his durability.

For those who would not put Wilson in the same stratum as Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees, it’s understandable. But Wilson is the second-highest-rated quarterback in history (100.3). He has 83 career wins, regular-season and postseason, in seven years, an average of 11.8 a year.

Schneider, of course, has to worry about 53 players, not just one. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is due to hit free agency after this season, and he’s had the kind of career that one day will merit Hall of Fame consideration. If Wilson, the offensive leader, gets a precedent-setting contract, then what of the unquestioned leader of the defense, Wagner? He certainly wouldn’t get quarterback money, but Wagner might want to push for the kind of financial incentives Wilson gets.

A few other things, counter to the current rumor mill. I do not believe Wilson is pushing for a trade right now, to the Giants, or anywhere. I believe he wants to work out a deal with Seattle. I believe Wilson wants to know where he stands with the Seahawks long-term, which is one of the reasons why he is pushing hard for a deal to be done now. I believe if the Seahawks do not do a deal by midnight tonight, it doesn’t meant they don’t want Wilson to be their quarterback for the next decade—it just means they’re not willing to set a contractual precedent like tying his contract to how fast, and how high, the cap rises over the life of the deal.

Pragmatically, if I’m Wilson, everyone around the league views me as an Eagle Scout type, and as long as I step on the field, I’ve got to be all-in, and a team guy all the way. That is the only way he can maximize his value long-term, and perhaps post-Seahawks. And if I’m the Seahawks, I know the kind of person I have in Wilson, so maybe I feel: Let’s go year-to-year over the next three years, for reasonable money for a franchise quarterback, and hope at some point in those three years there’s a thaw and we can re-visit this contract.

Whatever happens, this is a dramatic day in Seattle. I don’t know which way it’ll go, but I don’t think it’s time to shred the “3” jerseys yet. Gut feeling: At the very least Wilson plays in Seattle three more years. And a lot can happen in those three years.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Cowboys, Texans betting favorites for NFL wild card Saturday

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The law of averages would suggest one betting favorite covers during the first set of NFL wild card playoff games this weekend, but it won’t be easy.

The Dallas Cowboys are 1.5-point favorites against the Seattle Seahawks on the NFL odds for Saturday with a 43-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. While host teams are 11-3 straight-up in the last 14 wild card games, last season the favored team went 0-4 against the spread while the road team was 4-0 ATS.

The Seahawks, who are 10-6 SU and 9-5-2 ATS, are 11-2 ATS in their last 13 prime-time games as an underdog, as well as 22-5-1 SU in prime-time games with Russell Wilson as their quarterback. The Seahawks’ league-leading rushing attack will face a Dallas defense that allows the fifth-least yards per carry (3.8) in the NFL, but it shapes up as a more favorable matchup in the passing phase for Seattle with Wilson working behind a healthy offensive line that has guards DJ Fluker and JR Sweezy back.

The Cowboys are 10-6 SU and 9-6-1 ATS, including a record of 7-1 SU and 6-1-1 ATS over the second half of the regular season. Dallas will need a pass-run balance, through quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, in order to move the ball consistently against Seattle’s defense, especially since Dallas allowed the second-most sacks (56) in the NFL.

The total has gone OVER in seven of the Seahawks’ last eight games, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, with an average combined score of 53.88 points. The total has gone OVER in five of the Cowboys’ last seven games at home, with an average combined score of 45.0 points.

Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are 1-point betting favorites against the Indianapolis Colts with a 48.5-point total in the earlier Wild Card Weekend matchup on Saturday.

The Colts, 10-6 SU and 8-7-1 ATS this season, have some contrasting trends – 3-1 ATS in their last four games against Houston, but 1-4 SU and ATS in their last five playoff games on the road.

Andrew Luck was sacked a league-fewest 18 times and maintaining that protection will be critical against the Texans, who count on pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt to make up for middling coverage. Indianapolis enters the playoffs near the bottom of the Super Bowl odds at sportsbooks.

Houston allowed the fewest yards per carry (3.4) in the league so Luck might face a lot of long-yardage situations that push the game toward the UNDER.

The Texans, who went 11-5 SU and 7-7-2 ATS to win the AFC South, will be trying to shed the baggage that is being 1-3 SU and ATS in their last four playoff games. What might give bettors pause with the Texans is the 62 sacks and 126 quarterback hits, both league worsts, that quarterback Deshaun Watson took in the regular season.

If Houston can patch the protection issues in a matchup that is not shaping up to be an offensive shootout, then Watson and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins should have success against a Colts defense that, like the Texans, is more generous against the pass (7.4 yards per pass, 15th) than the run (3.9 yards per carry, eighth).

The total has gone UNDER in four of the Colts’ last five games against the Texans, with an average combined score of 44.8 points. The total has gone UNDER in five of the Colts’ last seven games, with an average combined score of 39.71 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.