City Of London

NFL Schedule Not Expected To Include London Games?

The NFL is on track to release its 17-week, 256-game schedule this week. But it may feature a major change. The league is no longer expected to include London games on this year’s docket, according to Matt Hughes of the Daily Mail.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL does not view it as feasible to play its four-game London slate. Soccer club Tottenhan Hotspur is bracing for news its new stadium will not be hosting the two games expected, Hughes adds.

The NFL and Tottenham reached a 10-year agreement to hold two matches per season at the venue, but the coronavirus appears likely to alter part of this deal. This will mean Wembley Stadium, which has hosted NFL games dating back to 2007, will miss out on its two contests as well.

This year’s London docket was set to include a Broncos-Falcons tilt, a Patriots-Dolphins divisional matchup and two Jaguars home games. The Falcons and Dolphins were set to be the hosts in those England games. The NFL has not yet considered a centralized location for its 2020 games, so as of now Atlanta and Miami would be set to host an extra game in 2020. Jacksonville would also be on track for a rare eight-game home docket. Earlier this year, the Jaguars had reached an agreement to play two home games in London going forward. Although a league announcement may be imminent, The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala notes the Broncos have not yet heard their London game is off (Twitter link).

Given the issues that COVID-19 has caused for international travel, it certainly makes sense the league would nix its London games. This report also points to the NFL’s fifth international game — a Mexico City contest which was set to involve the Cardinals — being held at a domestic site as well.

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Jaguars President: Khan Wants To Keep Team In Jacksonville

The most frequent team sent to London since the NFL began holding games there annually, the Jaguars have doubled down on their overseas commitment. They are set to play two London games in 2020, stirring understandable speculation about their future in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars are set to become the first team to play multiple home games overseas; they will do so in back-to-back weeks. Both games will occur at Wembley Stadium, a venue Khan was in talks to buy before backing out of the pursuit.

This could be interpreted as the NFL testing the waters for a long-rumored London team, and Jags owner Shad Khan has connections to England sports as owner of the English Premier League’s Fulham F.C. But Khan, per Jags president Mark Lamping during a Sirius XM Radio interview (via Pro Football Talk), is “committed to keeping the (Jaguars) in northeast Florida.”

The most important thing (Khan) wants to do is bring a Super Bowl to Duval County, and obviously we have a lot of work to do on that front,” Lamping said. “But the other thing he wants to do is ensure that there’s NFL football in northeast Florida for many generations to come.

… London supplements what we’re doing in Jacksonville. It certainly doesn’t replace it.”

NFL inroads to a possible London team have stalled, to some degree. But the Jags, who have played a game in London each season since 2013, have long been the top candidate to relocate — if, in fact, the NFL opts to relocate a team to England rather than launch a UK expansion team — to the point that Khan as secured a right-of-first-refusal arrangement regarding an NFL London move.

Lamping, however, insists the Jaguars doubling up on their London schedule has no connection to a potential relocation.

This isn’t about next season or the next few seasons in Jacksonville, but really about the next 10 years, 25 years and beyond,” Lamping said in a team announcement. “There is no better time than now to capitalize on the opportunity to play two home games in London, where we will continue to develop our loyal and growing fanbase there and throughout the UK, during a period in which I will be focused heavily on creating a new downtown (Jacksonville) experience that we want, need and must have here.”

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Latest On NFL’s Push For 17-Game Season

Over the past two months, the prospect of a 17-game season has gained steam. While the NFL has ditched the concept of an 18-game season, a longtime fringe talking point, the league is serious about adding one game to the schedule.

The NFL plans on presenting its revised CBA proposal to the NFLPA after this season, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports “momentum is growing” among owners to make this happen. Additionally, some within the NFLPA may be warming to it as well.

The most notable part of this push: a radical adjustment to the NFL’s calendar. The league’s new plan still features the season beginning after Labor Day, but the fall schedule would grow from 17 weeks to 19. The double-bye structure (used only once, in 1993) was not previously mentioned in these talks, but the 17-game plan now includes it. The playoffs would be pushed well into February, with La Canfora adding the new schedule would slide Super Bowl Sunday into the final weekend of February.

Each team’s extra game would be an out-of-market event, with the league wanting to push its United Kingdom schedule to eight games. The Jaguars would be featured in two of those London tilts, per La Canfora, who adds other international locales like Mexico, Germany and Brazil are on the table. Roger Goodell has indicated strong support for the eight-game London slate, JLC adds. This would seemingly represent an expanded trial balloon for a full-fledged London team. More domestic sites would also be included in a 17-game season. Support has surfaced for holding games at Notre Dame, in Alabama and potentially in Canada and Hawaii.

A 14-team playoff bracket has been rumored as well, though it is not included in this report. The NFLPA has voiced opposition to an expanded postseason field. The preseason would be condensed into a two-game slate, but La Canfora reports, though the notion of intersquad scrimmages held at stadiums has come up.

With the NFL having used a 16-game schedule for the past 42 seasons, featuring home sites almost exclusively, this proposal becoming reality would be one of the most significant changes in league history. It would also mean pushing the Combine back, with free agency’s start date presumably being slid further into March as well.

The NFL is willing to bend on some issues — like marijuana and Goodell’s power over investigations — to make this happen. The next window for the CBA to be finalized looks like the days around Super Bowl LIV, with La Canfora adding negotiations are scheduled to take place throughout January.

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Could Chargers Relocate To London?

The 2019 four-game London series has come to an end, and it was by all accounts a smashing success. As Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic writes, television ratings and merchandise sales across the pond are on the rise, and the attendance figures and the energy of the crowds during this year’s series show that the UK may be ready to embrace American football on a full-time basis.

For a few years now, we have heard about the possibility of an NFL franchise permanently moving to London, and Bonsignore writes that the possibility of relocating the Chargers to London has been broached among league personnel. Further, Bonsignore says that while the Bolts are fully committed to moving to their brand new $4.5 billion stadium with the Rams in 2020, owner Dean Spanos would at least listen if the NFL wanted to discuss the possibility.

After all, the Chargers have not really been embraced in Los Angeles thanks to a crowded sports market and the presence of the Rams. And while some fans in San Diego have remained dedicated to the club, a large percentage cut ties completely when the team moved to LA, and it’s unknown how many will buy season tickets for the Chargers at their new venue. Per Bonsignore, owners are worried enough about the Chargers’ long-term viability in LA that they would provide necessary support to Spanos should he want to take his club to the UK. That includes transferring the $650MM relocation fee the Chargers still must pay for the LA move to a London relocation, as well as a potential realignment of divisions.

There are plenty of logistical hoops to jump through, but London does offer a legitimate, contemporary venue (Tottenham Hotspur Stadium), as well as the unique opportunity for the Chargers to develop a new, eager fanbase. If Spanos wants it, London could be there for the taking.

Other reporters, however, are skeptical that such a move is plausible. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out that Jaguars owner Shad Khan has secured a right of first refusal with respect to a London relocation, so he has to say he does not plan to take his team to London before anyone else can consider it. Further, Florio’s sources suggest that no one from the league has ever talked to Spanos about moving to London, which leads him to believe that the sources behind Bonsignore’s report are pushing some other agenda (like forcing the Jags to make a decision).

Bonsignore adamantly denied Florio’s speculation (via Twitter), but Jason Cole of Bleacher Report says that no one in the NFL has talked to the Chargers about moving to England (Twitter link). Coles concedes that the topic may have been broached among other league personnel, but his source says that the Bolts are definitely staying in the US.

Either way, it’s an interesting possibility to consider, especially since the NFL seems closer to having a permanent London team than it ever has.

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NFL Eyeing Games In Canada, Germany

The league’s London slate will begin Sunday, with the Bears and Raiders breaking in Tottenham Hotspur’s $1 billion stadium. While the NFL plans to continue the same international format next season — four games in London, with a fifth likely in Mexico City — future games in Canada and Germany are being considered, Albert Breer of SI.com notes.

While momentum appears to be building for a game in Germany at some point in the early 2020s — but not 2020 — the NFL’s push for a London-based franchise by 2022 looks to have slowed. Issues with the schedule, including what would happen if the London team made the playoffs, remain the top roadblock, per Breer. But one item that may help matters — giving a London team a U.S. base to assist with travel — has generated discussions. A scenario involving the NFL buying the Falcons’ Flowery Branch, Ga., practice facility, with the Falcons moving closer to downtown Atlanta, has been discussed, Breer notes.

Next season will feature two games at the English Premier League club’s new stadium and two more at Wembley Stadium. Beyond 2020, though, Germany could be in play. The NFL’s recent pivot to discussing a 17-game season, something Jerry Jones confirmed (via Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, on Twitter), would open the door to future international dates.

The next CBA including a 17-game schedule would accelerate the league’s international push, and Canada games would not require the unique preparations contests in England do. The NFL has played regular-season games in Toronto before, with the Bills hosting multiple games there in the recent past, and the Raiders and Packers convened for a preseason game in Winnipeg this year. (Though, that did not exactly go as planned.)

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Extra Points: Super Bowl, London, Callaway, Browns, Cooper, Cowboys

There’s been a lot of talk about the NFL and London recently. There were rumors earlier this month that the Jaguars were eyeing a move to London in the near future. Just days later, the NFL’s vice president of international said the league was ready for a team across the pond right now. While Jaguars owner Shad Khan recently pulled his offer to buy Wembley Stadium, throwing cold water on the rumors for now, the NFL is still very invested in expanding the game abroad.

One possibility that’s been suggested is holding the Super Bowl in London. While Roger Goodell is acknowledging that it’s “been talked about a lot”, he said the league currently isn’t planning on doing it anytime soon, according to Nick Shook of NFL.com. Goodell said the Super Bowl is supposed to be a reward for fans, and that he won’t look to put a Super Bowl in London until London has its own team. Overall, Goodell’s comments suggest the league still plans on having a franchise overseas sooner rather than later.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Browns receiver Antonio Callaway has a well-documented legal history. He dealt with lots of off-field issues while at Florida, then was arrested this summer and reportedly didn’t tell the Browns about it until it was reported in the media. Now, Callaway was pulled over for speeding on his way to the team’s game against the Chargers a couple of weeks back, according to Robin Goist of Cleveland.com. It’s a very minor incident, but still worth noting due to Callaway already being on thin ice with the team. Callaway’s role has been reduced in recent weeks, even with injuries piling up to the Browns’ pass-catchers, and it seems like he’s in the doghouse with the coaching staff.
  • The Cowboys had been looking for a number one receiver for a while before trading for Amari Cooper, Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said, per Jon Machota of Dallas News (Twitter link). Jones revealed the team heavily pursued Sammy Watkins in free agency but missed out. Since then, they didn’t find a possibility they liked until Cooper became available.
  • In case you missed it, a breakdown of all the recent drama surrounding ownership of the Denver Broncos.

NFL Aiming To Expand London Schedule

The NFL remains intent on gauging whether or not a franchise could function as a full-time London operation. To measure this, the league wants a team to play in multiple London games during a season.

NFL executive VP of international Mark Waller said more games coming to London in subsequent seasons, with as many as eight regular-season contests potentially on tap for England in the near future. Along with that, Waller told CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora he would like to see a team play in more than one England contest in a season.

I’d like to do both of those. I don’t think you have to go four games, five games, six games, seven games, eight games,” Waller said, indicating the league could soon see a multi-game jump for future London itineraries instead of a one-game increase like this season brought.

I think we’ve shown by the strength of the foundation that the demand is there, and I definitely think you could play across a full season [eight regular-season “home” games] and slate the games and I definitely agree you’d want to see a team coming over and playing two or even three games, and then going back to the States and seeing how that works.”

Waller, though, told Albert Breer of SI.com an increase beyond four London games is unlikely to occur next season. But it’s clear bigger plans are in the works.

As far as the effort to simulate a team playing in London full-time, Waller said he would like to see a team play in England in back-to-back weeks. He appears to envision that happening this decade.

I don’t think you could expect a team to travel backwards and forwards every week,” Waller said, via La Canfora. “So we’d like to see what it’s like to play here back-to-back weekends, and I’m sure we’ll get to that in the next couple of years.”

Winners over the Ravens on Sunday, the Jaguars lead the pack in terms of London participation. They’ve played an England game in each of the past five seasons. And Waller expects the team to extend its agreement — one that stipulates the franchise plays at least one game in London per season — past 2020. Naturally, this would lead to speculation the Jags would be the guinea pigs for the multi-London-game experiment and loom as the franchise most likely to relocate to England down the road.

Obviously, they’ve still got three years to run on that agreement,” Waller told La Canfora, “and I’m sure after this year we’ll start the conversation there. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t want to continue. It’s worked, I think, incredibly well for them in London, and I believe it’s really helped the city of Jacksonville gain visibility and exposure, and even inward investment into Jacksonville as a result, and it’s work fantastically for us. So I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t an extension to that arrangement at a minimum.”

Regarding a potential timetable for a London relocation, Waller told Breer the goal when the NFL began the International Series in 2007 was to have a team stationed in London by 2022. Waller believes that date remains realistic, also noting that giving the London franchise a second base of operations in the Eastern part of the U.S. would be under consideration to help with logistics.

If the team had a second base on the East Coast, and when they came over to the States they were going back to a familiar place, there’s a general feel [among teams] that it would solve a vast number of the operational issues,” Waller said, via Breer. “Whether it’s transportation issues, talent issues and making sure week-in, week-out, you have the talent you need on hand, increasingly there’s belief that’s the right solution.”

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Latest On Potential London Team

Naturally, the latest London game brought more discussion of where the NFL bringing a team to England on a full-time basis stands. When the subject of a London Super Bowl surfaced, Roger Goodell pumped the brakes on such a maneuver until the NFL has a team stationed in London, via James Palmer of NFL.com (on Twitter).

As far as the seemingly monumental task of relocating a team to London, or installing one there as an expansion outfit, more emerged on that front as well. Jim Irsay is in favor of a London team but notes it can only be a worthwhile venture if a forward-thinking owner runs it with an understanding of both the American and European market.

That’s my goal as an owner, to find the right owner and the right team to come here,” Irsay told George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin (via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk). “… We look forward to having a permanent NFL team here.”

Smith points out the NFL remains serious about a London team. Several owners believe this is the league’s popularity apex in the states and the only way for the game to grow further would be a move overseas. While the right owner would help, it wouldn’t solve the logistical issues that continue to plague it. This makes Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star doubt this long-rumored London project will happen.

We heard in June the owners discussed this issue in-depth at a meeting, right down to what a playoff bracket would look like if a London trip was involved. But what did not come out of those meetings were how a London team would affect regular seasons and the players who uprooted to Europe to play for this hypothetical franchise.

Doyel doubts a London team could field the same kind of talent due to the life-changing relocation it would require and doesn’t think the NFLPA would back the move, as it would have to. Additionally, Doyel points out the team’s division mates would be at a disadvantage in having to make the trip annually — not to mention the actual London team’s road games occurring between five and eight hours apart from its time zone, with only one bye week to help for restoration purposes.

That would be tough,” Colts defensive end Kendall Langford told Doyel regarding being on a London-stationed team. “It would be tough for me, especially when you have to go to the West Coast. (But) anything is possible in this league.”

Nevertheless, this will continue to be a key topic in league circles, especially during weeks the league’s London showcase opens its Sunday slate.

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London Discussions Continue To Progress

A long-discussed future endeavor, the NFL slotting a franchise in London appears to be still on the minds of the league’s decision-makers. But the specifics of such a progression now have taken an interesting turn. 

At last week’s owners meetings in Charlotte, the subject of a London franchise became a key talking point, enough so that several owners, according to CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora, are “more convinced than ever” that the league bigwigs want this to happen.

The last news coming out of the NFL-to-England front came during Roger Goodell‘s pre-Super Bowl press conference, with the commissioner wanting to expand the London itinerary beyond three games. But at the latest owners summit, the owners discussed numerous details about the prospect of a London franchise, La Canfora writes.

Subjects like the prospect of convincing coaches to move to London or attracting free agents were broached, along with how employees would be paid. While unlike anything close to the type of expansion the NFL has seen, La Canfora categorizes these seemingly key issues as labor matters that wouldn’t serve as deal-breakers.

However, the major point of contention that came up in Charlotte stemmed from what would happen if the London team qualifies for the playoffs.

Illustrating perhaps how far these talks have gone, the league is concerned about that prospect and the opponent being from the Western part of the United States. Teams in recent years received byes coming out of their complex travel requirement to the United Kingdom — although the Colts won’t receive said luxury this season — and the Grenwich Mean Time Zone resides eight hours ahead of the Pacific Time Zone. With post-week byes not existing during the playoffs’ initial two rounds, that could pose another deterrent to a London franchise formulating.

That was the thing they seemed to have the most difficulty figuring out,” a team exec who closely watched the North Carolina session told La Canfora. “They aren’t sure how to handle that from a competitive standpoint, but judging from how (Mark Waller, the head of the NFL international arm) spoke about, it’s definitely something they are spending a fair amount of time working on.”

In speaking to teams on how best to handle this as-of-now hypothetical instance, La Canfora hears the idea of giving the road team the option of playing the game a few days early or a few days after the usual weekend date may be the eventual scenario.

La Canfora notes that these ideas becoming relevant to the actual schedule are years away, but with the NFL condensing its London slate to resemble a mini-regular season this October for European fans and expanding to a second site in Twickenham Stadium, this prospect continues to gain steam.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Extra Points: Manziel, Schwartz, London

Long thought to be Johnny Manziel‘s career lifeline, the Cowboys may not have been interested in the embattled quarterback at all, Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Team sources told Hill the Browns quarterback who could be facing legal action for his potential role in a domestic assault wasn’t on the Cowboys’ radar even before the ex-Heisman Trophy winner’s latest off-the-field occurrence.

Hill writes the same personnel who advised Jerry Jones to pass on the polarizing Texas A&M quarterback in favor of Zack Martin are still in place. The Cowboys remain very much in search of a quality backup quarterback, but Manziel doesn’t fit that profile and appears to be a non-starter in Dallas.

The Browns are expected to cut Manziel before the new league year begins.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • The NFL’s tri-annual showcases in London continue to generate buzz on a franchise spawning in the United Kingdom’s biggest city, and Roger Goodell isn’t doing anything to squelch that notion. “We are considering playing more games in the U.K. It’s a balancing act with our schedule. … As far as a franchise, let’s continue to grow. Let’s continue to see that excitement and enthusiasm, passion and support continue to develop. If it does, I think that’s a realistic possibility,” Goodell told media, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. The obvious logistical issues remain, as London is an eight hours ahead of the Pacific Time Zone, and such an expansion would be the most daring step among the four major American sports leagues.
  • Goodell stands in favor of the league pursuing a policy that will automatically eject players after they receive their second personal foul in a game, Mark Maske of the Washington Post reports. “I believe that that’s consistent with what we believe are safety issues,” the commissioner told media at his yearly address, “but I also believe it’s consistent with what we believe are the standards of sportsmanship that we’ve emphasized. We should take that out of the hands of the officials.” Any rule change must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners. John Mara wants such a rule to be clear as opposed to a gray area regarding low-end personal fouls. “To me, it’d have to be severe enough personal fouls as opposed to something like an incidental facemask,” Mara told Maske. Following the actions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Vontaze Burfict within a span of three weeks, the league would appear to have momentum to pass legislation of this sort.
  • Geoff Schwartz would be hesitant if the Giants were to pursue his free agent brother Mitchell Schwartz, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post reports. The Giants are in need of a right tackle after turning to journeyman Marshall Newhouse last season, and the 26-year-old Mitchell Schwartz is arguably the best available. The Browns’ right-edge presence graded as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best tackle this season. “I don’t know if we would get along too well playing next to each other for a while, just because of our personalities,” Geoff Schwartz said. “Maybe after a week or so, we’d kind of get tired of each other. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong. He’s the best right tackle this year, I hope he goes somewhere and gets every cent he can get. I just don’t know if the Giants are in position to pay a right tackle eight-and-a-half-, nine-million dollars.” Geoff Schwartz stands to make $3.9MM in base salary if the Giants bring the injury-prone guard/tackle back for a third season. He does not, however, want his brother to re-sign with the rebuilding Browns. “Obviously, you want to get your money, but you want to win. You don’t want to be on a losing team. He’s had four offensive coordinators in four years. He’s had three or four GMs, three head coaches. I mean, you can’t win that way,” Schwartz said.
  • Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman did not activate the brakes when his Dodge Ram collided with a Honda Civic in October, injuring the other driver, according to the Seattle Times’ Lynn Thompson. Coleman, who played in a career-most 14 games for the Seahawks this season, was going 60 mph in 35-mph zone at the time of the crash, one that left the driver of the Honda Civic with a concussion and a broken collarbone. Coleman suffered a concussion in the accident while losing his hearing aid. Coleman told police he’d smoked a form of synthetic marijuana, not illegal in Washington, an hour before the collision.