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Hub Arkush: NFL owners meetings open quietly

March 26, 2019

PHOENIX – NFL owners actually meet a lot.

There are spring meetings that take place in late May, fall meetings in late October and winter meetings in December.

But the get-together of the most exclusive billionaires club in the world that kicked off Sunday here in Phoenix at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa are the big boys of all the owners confabs, these are the NFL’s annual league meetings.

This is where league policy is most often set, rules changes are either made, excused or advanced and all of the league’s committees meet, for the most part setting the tone for all things NFL for the coming season.

How much do the NFL owners love committees? There are 34 of them in all set up in seven different categories including, Football Operations, Health and Safety, Finance, Stadium, Media, Business and Labor.

While we hear a lot about what comes out of the Competition and Player Safety Committees – each subcommittees of Football Operations – because that is where rules changes and as a result officiating discussions are abundant, there is actually very little that occurs in most of the other meetings that is made public.

Every once in a while there is a special event that takes over the three-day news cycle of these meetings, such as last year in Orlando, where Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ attempted coup de’ ta of the Roger Goodell regime crashed and burned, and next year is certain to be all about the pending expiration of the CBA following the 2020 season.

But, for the most part, these meetings are off to a very tame start with the bigger topics yet to come.

The early focus has been New England-centric with the surprise announcement that Rob Gronkowski has decided to do more than just think about retirement, and that due to his pending legal issues, Robert Kraft — almost always one of the most visible owners here — won’t be speaking.

There was some disappointment from the New England media contingent with the announcement Monday that the Patriots won’t get the traditional Super Bowl winner’s right to host the Thursday-night opener this season, as that “honor” will go to the Chicago Bears, who will host the Green Bay Packers in the league’s oldest continuous rivalry to mark the NFL’s and Bears’ 100th anniversary seasons.

The Pats will open on Sunday night this year against an as-yet-to-be-determined opponent with a new, TBD tight end.

We’ve learned that the owners have approved the Raiders lease to play at least one more season in Oakland in 2019.

And we’ve learned that the competition committee has had a near-unanimous vote to offer an option proposed by the Broncos to the onside kick rule, giving teams a choice in the fourth quarter only to run fourth-and-15 play from their own 35-yard line in lieu of an onside kick.

Giants owner John Mara cast the lone dissenting vote, and the full group of owners will now vote on that proposal for approval Tuesday, along with a number of other potential rules changes.

Saints coach Sean Payton has continued to whine about the non-pass interference call in last year’s NFC title game, while it appears there will be no rules change to address it. Jon Gruden has told us Derek Carr is his quarterback for this year – until he isn’t — and super agent Drew Rosenhaus says Gronk is really just retired until he isn’t, saying Gronk hasn’t told him this but he thinks there’s still a chance he could un-retire ala Jason Witten.

All that’s left for the first full day of these meetings is the annual Monday evening soiree at which owners, general managers, coaches and all their families comingle with the media at an expansive dinner on the lawns of the beautiful Biltmore.

While there is an unwritten rule it’s a no-news-event, I’ve learned over the years that much can be gleaned by hanging around the single malt scotch sections of one of the many open bars.

Stay tuned for some of what we’re not supposed to know tomorrow.

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