2019 NFL Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

footballsThe NFL Season is almost here once again as the biggest league in North America continues to roll on.

It has been the powerhouse of North American sports for decades now and as they celebrate their 100th season they continue to be on top.

That is not necessarily the easiest thing to do for the NFL though as they have been hit hard in recent years with scandals and controversy.

Whether it comes from the concussion issue or the controversy regarding Colin Kaepernick and freedom of expression the NFL has quickly become a typical big business.

It has been the players against the owners for a long time but recently there seems to be a bigger divide than ever before.

That is also creating a divide between the league and the fans as the fans are seeing this division and taking sides.

Meanwhile, the fans are having a tougher time seeing players get hit in the head and walking off with a better understanding of what that means for them.

These factors are making the NFL’s growth begin to suffer as other leagues are starting to gain ground.

Leagues like the NBA where players are left to be themselves more than any other league and where injuries can be bad but not life-altering.

As other leagues begin to grow the NFL is looking to keep their hold on top and continue to make progress in other areas.

The London Series will be back for another year while this will be the final year where teams will be playing in stadiums that don’t match the level of the league.

With the Chargers and Rams set to open Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park next year and the Raiders set to open the Allegiant Stadium the same time the NFL seems healthier than ever.

There are some serious issues brewing as the NFL continues to churn and continues to be the biggest things in North American Sports.

As the fans begin to weigh how much they truly love the game and love seeing the NFL the players are beginning to fight against what they feel is poor treatment.

It is only now adding to the problems that fans are seeing with the league as a whole.

Like anything the bigger it gets the more people look at it and the more people look at it the more the cracks begin to show.

With issues like the franchise tag and no guaranteed money becoming more commonplace in the league, fans are starting to wonder how these players are being treated.

Some will say that is the price you pay for being a multi-millionaire by playing a game while others see the 2.5-year career average as reason enough for players to get more.

As the division grows between players and owners so too does the gap between the fans and the league.

It is a challenge that the NFL has both fallen short on and have exceeded expectations in other aspects.

They continue to try to make better decisions and keep the league on top this season as they celebrate a milestone that not many leagues can boast.

Players Fighting Back

Last year the biggest story heading into the season was about one of the star running backs taking a stand against what he determined to be unfair treatment. That unfair treatment was the use of the Franchise Tag and the man standing up to the treatment was Le’Veon Bell. He was the best running back in the league but for three straight years, the Pittsburgh Steelers had kept him around using the Franchise Tag. Essentially that franchise tag was a chance for a team to keep a player on their roster without allowing them to go to free agency. The money that the player gets is an average among the best players at that position and was meant to reduce player movement while allowing the team and the player to extend their negotiations beyond the usual time. The way it is being used currently is to keep a team’s best player on the team at what is usually a discount. Bell could have been the highest-paid running back in the league but the Steelers continued to keep him on the roster at a discount never letting him negotiate with other teams where he could get the contract that he deserves. After the second straight year with the tag he decided to sit out until a new contract was negotiated but came back just in time for the season. Last year was different as he took an even bigger stand and sat out an entire year refusing to play under the franchise tag. He left for New York in the offseason but his impact seems to be running through the league. His willingness to sit out has shown other players that it can be a possibility to pressure teams into negotiations. This year it is Ezekiel Elliott who has taken that step refusing to report to the Dallas Cowboys Camp until he gets a new contract. This time it wasn’t about the franchise tag but rather the team option on his contract which the Cowboys picked up. Elliott wanted a more permanent extension and decided to take the Bell strategy to get it. Elliot’s stand is the latest in an ongoing battle between players and owners as the rift is getting bigger and more intense. Bell took a stand and with Elliott the next in line taking a year off might become a more common weapon.

Are the Browns for Real?

The Cleveland Browns were the surprise of the season last year and they became the darlings of the league. The once proud and great franchise has been sputtering for more than a decade ever since they returned to the league. In 1995 one of the founding AFL member teams was moved to Baltimore leaving Cleveland without a team. In 1999 the Browns returned as a part of expansion but since that first season of the new Browns, there has been little to cheer about. They have gone through massive amount of quarterbacks, coaches and management without much to speak off in terms of success. They were constantly the joke of the league and never had the organization to make an impact. That seemed to shift last season when the team brought in John Dorsey who had just recently turned the Chiefs around and drafted Baker Mayfield. He was a QB with a lot of questions as many wondered if his size would prevent him from being successful at the next level and if he was going to be able to get a team behind him with his cocky attitude. It turned out that the cocky attitude he brought was exactly what the Browns needed to get some swagger back. Along with the signing of Jarvis Landry and another draftee in Nick Chubb, the Browns began to look like a competitive team. They weren’t the best team in the league and they have a lot of work to do but the Browns got over their biggest hurdle, they weren’t the joke of the league anymore. They were a team who could legitimately compete with other teams and if they can compete they can win. It was the best season they have had in years and so they have become the talk of the league this season. With a new coach and a trade to add Odell Beckham Jr. the Browns made progress towards being a real playoff team. They will be watched the entire season as Browns fans have seen this type of hope before. The team has had blips of success in their terrible stretch but usually that hope falls far short the next season. That could all change this time around as they can prove that they are legitimately a team that is building towards something. It could be the greatest comeback in NFL history or just another false hope narrative for a team with a long history of false hope.

CBA Dealing

The NFL’s CBA isn’t set to expire until the end of the 2020 season but it will be a major talking point through the year. The CBA has always been a major talking point as the expiration of the deal usually leads to threats of lost seasons. The last few CBA deals have always led to a threat of strike or lockout and have only been solved in the final days. That is becoming less of a chance this time around as the rift between players and owners has only grown in recent years. Neither side will be willing to give up much this time around as the players are looking to gain some traction on important issues. They have argued for years to get more guaranteed money as well as to gain more relief for issues of retired players. There is always the issue of the split of revenue between the two sides while things like the franchise tag are sure to be hot button topics. The main negotiations will happen throughout the 2020 season and into the offseason when the deal is finally made. That will hopefully avoid any lost time but the danger is the fact that the rift might be too big. The layers and owners do not see eye-to-eye on almost any subject. The players believe they are being treated poorly for what they do on the field and the amount of money they make for teams and owners. The owners have much of the same reactions as they’ve had for years seeing the players are just complaining despite making millions of dollars to play a game. The players are having trouble with the fact that the owners seem to be taking a bigger piece of the pie while they struggle in retirement and have no voice for the major issues that they want to speak out on. A new generation of players isn’t happy with simply shutting up and towing the company line, they want to be themselves and get compensated for a profession that lasts an average of 2.5 years. The good news for right now though is that the two sides are talking and are having negotiations. It is a good sign as this season could come up with a clearer picture of what the new CBA will look like and whether or not it will save the drama that seems to inevitably come with CBA negotiations.

Gambling on the Future

A big part of the upcoming CBA negotiations will be a brand new revenue generator that is only now coming into focus. As the league celebrates 100 years the stance on gambling is beginning to shift and that is largely because of the laws now being passed. In the 100 years that the NFL has survived gambling on sports has largely been seen as a moral issue that never worked with the family-friendly image of major sports leagues. That moral issue led to it being illegal in every state except Nevada making every league shy away from the use of gambling in any of their leagues. Yet sports mean the biggest business for casinos in Nevada and the illegal bookies around the USA. As views on gambling began to soften sports betting continued to be the aspect of gambling that stayed illegal. That was until May 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the law banning sports betting. This effectively made it legal to gamble on games in any of the major leagues with states being able to pass their own laws on the issue. As more and more states begin to pass legislation allowing their citizens to gamble the story is beginning to shift from the major leagues throughout North America. With the legality no longer in question, the fact is that these leagues are seeing a brand new way to make money. The NFL is beginning to get into the gambling business and this season will begin to take their first steps towards allowing the world of gambling into the league. They signed a multi-year deal with Sportsradar AG who will be the official distributor of stats to gambling sites for the NFL. They also signed a deal with Caesar’s to use their branding although the deal doesn’t include rights to sports betting. It only seems to be a matter of time until that deal comes though and with the NFL being the biggest player in professional sports every company is after them. A deal could come this year as companies are looking to be in on the NFL betting world and with the money that both sides can make a deal seems imminent. What that brings up though is the question of the sharing of that money in the new CBA and the hypocrisy it sheds light on after years of the league saying that they would never allow that into the game.

Evolution of the Youth Movement

There is a movement taking over in all sports as players are coming into the league more prepared than ever to make an impact. No league is safe from this youth movement as there are young players making waves in every league for every sport. The NFL has been aware of this youth movement far longer than most leagues as young players have had an impact for a long time. First rounders often found their way into the lineup right away and many did make an impact. It has only grown over the last few years though as young players are now the reason for the success or failure of a team. This year there is a new aspect to the youth movement though as the players are no longer the only young faces. Over the last decade, the NFL has attempted to bring in new coaches that will bring new ideas in a league that is looking for ways to surprise. Those new ideas often come with younger coaches but there was always a wariness about young coaches. They didn’t bring experience and often couldn’t command the respect of the veteran players who were the same age or older than their young coaches. The experiments continued with mixed results but when Sean McVay was hired to lead the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 things began to shift. At 30 years old, McVay was the youngest coach ever but his innovative offensive mind led to success on the field. Teams began to realize that a new generation of players didn’t need someone older they needed someone they could relate to and if that person brought new and fun ways of playing the game teams can find success with players buying in. The Success of McVay brought a new wave of coaches with 10 NFL head coaches now under 45 years of age. Some of the newest hires are among the youngest like Kliff Kingsbury (40) in Arizona, Zac Taylor (36) in Cincinnati, Freddie Kitchens (44) in Cleveland, Matt LaFleur (39) in Green Bay and Brian Flores (37) in Miami. It is a new evolution in the youth movement as that movement is headed to the sidelines and is no longer limited to the field. The youth movement is continuing this year but not everyone will have success but that youth movement is making its way through the league.

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