Player Safety Be Damned! Amazon Flexes Its Power Over NFL

Roger Goodell

Getty Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee.

In the real world, Amazon might be the most powerful retailer on the planet. In the sports world, on May 22, the streaming giant proved itself the most powerful entity in sports.

After colossal pushback from owners, including the New York Giants‘ John Mara back in March, 24 owners voted to ratify a proposal allowing the NFL to flex up to two games after Week 13 of the season from Sunday night to Thursday night.

“What a horrible decision,” a current NFL coach told Heavy, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely on the situation. “Player safety, my ass!”

Amazon Prime Video is obviously the biggest winner, with the chance to get a premium game added to its slate. The coaches, players, and fans, well, that’s another story entirely, according to several agents, players, and coaches who Heavy spoke to to get a feel for how the change is playing inside the league.

“I hate it,” a prominent agent who represents several star players across the league told Heavy.

Prior to the 2022 campaign, Amazon paid $1 billion annually for the Thursday Night Football package. With the games primarily available via streaming through Prime Video, approximately 400 million fewer fans watched the games last season, that were largely duds.

In a league where games tend to go down to the wire, only 9 of Amazon’s games were decided by one score in 2022.

“It’s a desperate attempt to improve ratings,” the agent suggests. “And just tosses player safety and the whole fan experience out the window.”

This season, the league is required to give 28 days notice to the teams, and the fans, while players’ and coaches lives are thrown into tumult with an unexpected short-week in the stretch run of the season.

“Injuries at that point of the season can be catastrophic,” a current starting offensive lineman told Heavy. “But, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. If a team can win without a major injury, it can be somewhat of an advantage going into the playoffs. Flexing games that late in the season is just wild.”

Concerns about player safety were unanimous among league sources. But, there may be a hidden benefit for contending teams.

“I’m sure sports science departments for every team across the league are freaking out about it,” suggested an NFC tight end. “Operations staffs are absolutely freaking out about it.

“But, as a player, I enjoy Thursday night games. There’s negatives physically for starters who are playing a ton of snaps. But, you walkthrough the entire week [of practice], and with the mini-bye week, sometimes a team needs that to regroup physically. Especially if they have an early-season bye week, flexing into a Thursday could help.”

Meanwhile, the ripple effect will be felt by those outside the NFL, the fans, the stadium workers, the security staff, who with less than two months planning will need to rearrange lives if they want to attend the game.

“They’re just doing it for the money,” the offensive lineman said.

Mark Davis was one of the loudest no-votes in the room, and the Las Vegas Raiders‘ owner picked up the flag for the fans who may have made plans to attend a game scheduled for Sunday afternoon, months in advance.

“If you have a Raiders-Chargers game in Las Vegas scheduled for a Thursday,” Davis told USA Today, “and all of the fans driving from Los Angeles – the Raiders fans and all three Chargers fans – buy their tickets and book their hotels, how in the hell do you schedule it and now say, ‘Sorry, it’s now on Sunday?’ How in the hell do you do that?”

The fans will, because they love the game.

The players will, because the league is chasing every last dollar.

Matt Lombardo Column

Quote of the Week

“The league is trying to jam through a rule that all players and coaches are against.” – NFL special teams coach told Heavy Sports about new rule placing the ball at the 25-yard line for all fair catches and touchbacks

Has there been a week in the history of the NFL, where the league and its owners have been more tone-def to the wishes of its players and coaches?

This week, owners approved Rule Proposal 16A, and the proposal was met with staunch opposition from special teams coaches and players.

Sure, the rule in theory will make the game safer. Fewer kickoff returns mean fewer opportunities for severe injuries on one of the more dangerous plays in the sport.

But, how does the league justify taking another significant step towards legislating kickoffs out of the game in the name of player safety, only to turn around and alter the schedule by allowing games to be flexed from Sunday into a shortened week for Thursday Night Football in the season’s stretch run, in the name of capitalism?

The NFL has had its share of off-the-field controversies. But, this is as out of touch with the actual competition of the sport as this collective ownership has been in recent memory.

Final Thought: Jordan Love … Aaron Rodgers’ Understudy, No More

Aaron Rodgers is the main attraction on Broadway, arriving in Gotham to spectacular fanfare, but one of the NFL’s most underrated storylines this offseason is the beginning of the next chapter for the franchise he left behind.

The Green Bay Packers are now Jordan Love‘s team.

Brian Gutekunst is “all-in” on Love, and believes the young quarterback has a tremendously high ceiling, sources close to the Packers’ general manager.

“Jordan is a good-sized quarterback with enough arm talent and athletic ability to be a quality starter in this league,” an NFC executive with ties to the Packers told Heavy. “It just comes down to if he can handle it all, mentally.”

Love’s sample size is incredibly small.

Having only appeared in 10 games, including 4 during the 2022 campaign, Love clearly impressed Gutekunst and the Packers that the franchise is in capable hands and that 2023 is the perfect time for a reset.

Since being chosen in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft, essentially starting the clock on Rodgers’ time in TitleTown, Love has completed 60.2% of his passes for 606 yards with 3 touchdowns to 3 interceptions.

“It’s definitely a little hard to fairly evaluate him today,” a current NFL general manager told Heavy. “But, he’s an athletic and strong-armed quarterback, who will need to learn to process information quickly if he’s going to be successful.”

In 2022, Love stepped in and completed 6-of-9 attempts for 113 yards with a touchdown in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that turned heads inside the league, and out.

“I was impressed with Love’s performance against the Eagles’ excellent defense last season and I think he has a chance to be a very good QB,” former NFL Executive of the Year Jeff Diamond told Heavy. “I think Love will be a middle-of-the-pack QB stats-wise this season and the Packers will be around .500 and finish behind the Vikings and Lions in the NFC North.”

It should be a soft landing for Love, who walks into an offense that features prolific young receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, with a pair of young and dynamic tight ends in Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, added during the 2022 draft.

But, the Packers’ reign atop the NFC North — which came to an end with the Vikings winning the division last season, may be more challenging than ever to replicate. Green Bay presses reset at quarterback with Love, just as the Bears enter a new phase of their rebuild around quarterback Justin Fields and the Detroit Lions are ready to roar with arguably the most complete roster in the division.

Diamond believes that if the Packers can navigate some growing pains this fall, Love’s and Green Bay’s future will be bright.

In 2024 when Green Bay doesn’t have Rodgers’ $40 million in dead money strangling their cap,” Diamond points out. “They’ll have an opportunity to put more talent around Love so he has a better chance to flourish.

As Rodgers shines in the spotlight in his quest to deliver a second Lombardi Trophy to the New York Jets, Love faces the challenge of leading a new era of Packers Football in the suddenly highly competitive NFC North.

The stage is set for a captivating storyline of two quarterbacks on diverging paths. Talk about your Broadway-worthy storylines.

Read More