This year marks the 91st season of the National Football League. The season opened with the premier game on Thursday night but the majority of games kickoff on 9-11-11, the 10th anniversary of one of America’s greatest tragedies the World Trade Center and related terrorists attacks. It is also the season that almost wasn’t. In the eleventh hour in the year ’11 the NFL averted a shutdown to the season.
In the end only one game was cancelled due to stalled negotiations, the Hall of Fame Game with the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams. The ratified collective bargaining agreement guaranteed football until the year 2021.
So who won the battle of the billionaires and the millionaires? The short answer to a complicated question is that all sides won, the owners, the players and even the fans. There were concessions and compromises on both sides and in the end all walked away feeling relatively good about the agreement.
The segment of the players that did take a big hit was the rookies. No doubt spawned by deals gone bad from unproven rookie players like that of quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Drafted number one overall in 2007 by the Oakland Raiders Russell signed a $61 million contract, $32 million guaranteed. In 2010 Russell was released with a record of 7-16 and is currently out of the league.
In 2010 rookie quarterback Sam Branford was selected first overall and signed a $78 million dollar with the St. Louis Rams. In comparison, quarterback Cam Newton was selected first overall in 2011 becoming the first overall rookie drafted and signed under the new collective bargaining agreement. Newton signed a $22 million contract with the Carolina Panthers.
Ironically, the CBA was voted-in by a vote of 31-0 with one team abstaining – it was JaMarcus Russell’s former team the Oakland Raiders. The players also settled for a 48% share of the revenue, down from the 53% sought; but a restructured salary cap distribution and a reduced rookie salary will insure that veteran players will get a bigger piece of the pie. The proposed 18-game regular season was postponed and will be brought to the table for a vote by the players in 2013.
One of the most noticeable rule changes for 2011 is the spot of the football from the 30 yard line to the 35 yard line for kickoffs. The change was made to reduce injuries but detractors say it removes a key element from the game – the kickoff return. Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester is the all-time leader in return touchdowns.
The season opens with a Thursday night game with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers hosting the previous Super Bowl winners, the New Orleans Saints. The Packers have the majority of their starters returning including three that were not on the Super Bowl roster due to injury. In the 2010 regular season the Packers finished 10-6, in second place behind the Chicago Bears, then won four road playoff games to claim the title.
Who’s Where and Why: Old faces in new places for 2011 starts with the oldest face Brett Favre – missing from any NFL roster for the first time in 20 years. The Indianapolis Colts, who will be without Peyton Manning for the first time in 227 games. Manning was just behind Favre’s streak of 331 on the consecutive games streak. The 35 year-old Manning has not fully recovered from neck surgery performed in May of this year. The Colts signed 16-year veteran free agent Kerry Collins to start in Manning’s absence.
Favre finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings who now have Donovan McNabb, last with the Washington Redskins. The Redskins named Rex Grossman as their starter.
Vince Young, the disgruntled former Tennessee Titans quarterback is now the backup for the Philadelphia Eagles under Michael Vick. In his third year now with the Eagles Vick signed a contract extension for over $100 million. Vick earned his starting position after Kevin Kolb went down with a concussion in week two last season. Kolb was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie.
Cornerback Ndamdi Asomugha, the most highly coveted free agent in the shortened offseason, was also signed by the Eagles. With the series of signings, trades and extensions, the Eagles were dubbed “The Dream Team.” While the team did not embrace the nickname itself the Eagles did get a dream schedule for 2011. Five of their first seven opponents had a losing record in 2010, and four of the last five opponents for 2011 also had a losing record last season. The Eagles will still have to get past the Green Bay Packers who beat them in route to their Super Bowl win last season.
The Packers are set at 6-to-1 favorites by odds-makers to win the Super Bowl and the Eagles are next at 7:1; both teams trail the New England Patriots at 5:1 odds. Other teams of note include the Pittsburgh Steelers at 8:1, San Diego Chargers at 10:1, Indianapolis Colts at 20:1, The Chicago Bears at 40:1, The Denver Broncos at 75:1 and the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers both last at 200:1 odds to win the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XVLI will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on February 5, 2012. Indianapolis along with New York City in 2014, are two cold weather cities the NFL awarded Super Bowls to coinciding with the construction of new stadiums in each city. The two cities will contrast greatly in actually hosting the big event based on the vast difference in the related attractions each town offers. With quarterbacks named Manning in both cities (Peyton and Eli), still no city hosting a Super Bowl has had their team playing in it.