The Browns might actually leave the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week one small step closer toward making the playoffs for just the second time since their expansion era kicked off in 1999.
When the owners gather for their spring meetings today through Wednesday, they’ll likely consider expanding the playoffs by two teams beginning in 2015. It’s uncertain whether the subject will be voted on during this set of meetings, but it’ll be further discussed.
“There will be a report on the potential of expanded playoffs,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said last week during a conference call. “It’s on the agenda. But we do not know if there would be any sort of vote at this meeting.”
The Browns haven’t made the playoffs since they went 9-7 in 2002, the same year the current postseason format of four division winners and two wild-card teams from each conference was adopted. The NFL competition committee supports increasing the number of playoff qualifiers from six in each conference, or a total of 12 teams, to seven in each conference, or a total of 14 teams.
Of course, adding two more postseason spots would mathematically increase every team’s chances of making it. It’s not unusual for a team to reach double-digit wins in the regular season and still fall short of a playoff berth. It happened to the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals last season. The Browns went 10-6 in 2007, but didn’t appear in the postseason.
The potential expansion of the playoffs will be just one of many topics discussed at the meetings, which will be attended by a Browns contingent composed of owner Jimmy Haslam, General Manager Ray Farmer, President Alec Scheiner, coach Mike Pettine, Chief Financial Officer David Jenkins and Executive Vice President Sashi Brown.
Haslam, a member of the business ventures committee, and the other owners will vote on several proposed rule changes and bylaws. Below is a breakdown of the issues at hand.
• The New England Patriots proposed moving the line of scrimmage for extra-point kicks from the 2-yard line to the 25 because the kicks have become virtually automatic. The success rate was 99.6 percent last season.
“The statistics are 1,267 extra points tried and 1,262 made,” said Rich McKay, the competition committee’s chairman and the Atlanta Falcons’ president and CEO. “So I think there is that thought that with the extra point you need to add a little more skill.”
The competition committee, though, supports a less radical idea than the one proposed by the Patriots. Competition committee member and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the committee would propose moving the line of scrimmage back for extra-point kicks to the 20-yard line during one of the preseason weeks to experiment.
Under any of the proposals, the line of scrimmage would remain the 2-yard line if a team chose to go for two points after a touchdown.
• The competition committee proposed that referees be able to consult with the NFL’s director of officiating, Dean Blandino, and his staff at the league offices in New York during replay reviews.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to make sure that every single review is correct, and we feel like this will speed up the instant replay process and timing,” Fisher said.
• The competition committee proposed to expand reviewable plays to include the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play. Fisher said it’s essentially the NaVorro Bowman rule. Bowman, a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, clearly recovered a fumble in the NFC Championship Game, but the officials incorrectly ruled that the Seattle Seahawks recovered. The bad call could not be challenged because, by rule, the recovery of a loose ball is not reviewable if it doesn’t involve a sideline or the end zone.
• The Patriots proposed extending the uprights an additional 5 feet above the cross bar.
“The reasoning for this proposal is definitive rulings cannot be made on many field-goal tries that cross over the top of the goal post,” Aiello said.
• The Patriots proposed positioning fixed cameras on the sidelines, end lines and goal lines. The cameras would guarantee coverage along those lines for replay purposes regardless of where network cameras are positioned.
• The Washington Redskins proposed moving kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 40, which would increase the amount of touchbacks.
• The Patriots proposed that teams be able to challenge any official’s decision except scoring plays and turnovers, both of which are automatically reviewed.
• The Redskins proposed that teams be able to have personal-foul penalties reviewed via replay.
• The Redskins proposed to eliminate overtime from preseason games.
• The competition committee proposed the game clock would remain running after a sack outside two minutes left in either half.
• The competition committee proposed that offensive players not only be prohibited from rolling up on the back of a defender’s legs, but also on the sides of his legs.
• The competition committee proposed to eliminate an unfair advantage for offensive players by eliminating a 1-yard boundary for pass interference.
“There are a number of plays that are occurring and involve either rub routes or kick routes and the intent of this is to move the pass interference line to the line of scrimmage,” McKay said.
• The competition committee proposed to enforce from the previous spot rather than the end of the run or the spot of the foul on defensive penalties behind the line of scrimmage.
Point of emphasis
• The competition committee will discuss how existing rules can be used to enforce stronger discipline for the use of racial slurs and verbal abuse.
“The officials will be empowered to call a foul if there are racial slurs or statements regarding another player’s sexual orientation, or even baiting and insulting with verbal abuse,” Fisher said. “It is going to be a very significant point of emphasis.”
• The Redskins proposed to increase the number of active-list players from 46 to 49 for regular-season games played on days other than Sunday or Monday.
• The Redskins proposed to increase the number of practice-squad players from eight to 10.
• The Redskins proposed to permit teams to trade players 14 days before the start of the league year. The 2014 league year began March 11 with free agency opening and teams being allowed to start trading players at 4 p.m.
•The Redskins proposed to eliminate roster cut downs to 75 players during training camp. Under the proposal, teams would just cut from 90 players to 53.
• The competition committee proposed that the deadline for the cut down to 53 players be 4 p.m. on the Saturday of the fourth preseason weekend rather than 6 p.m.
• The Redskins proposed that teams be allowed to let any player, instead of just one player, return to the active roster from injured reserve.
• The Philadelphia Eagles proposed to permit each team to time and test, at its facility, 10 players who attended the NFL Scouting Combine and to permit teams to attend any timing or testing at another club’s facility that involves three or more draft-eligible players.
• The Indianapolis Colts proposed to allow a home team to open a closed roof and/or wall at halftime.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.