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NFL Changes Over The Next Decade (Expansion, Relocation, Rule Changes, Strategy)

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
May 14, 2020

Are Minshew and the Jags headed across the pond?

The NFL is always changing whether we like it or not. Each season may seem like something minor but over the course of a decade, you can look back and see just how different the league has become whether through expansion, relocation, rule changes and/or strategy development.

Over the past 10 years, we haven’t seen expansion but there have always been lingering talks. It must be right on the horizon considering the last expansion team added was back in 2002. The Texans marked the fourth new team created in less than a decade (Ravens, Jaguars, Panthers). Expansion is overdue and I’m convinced the NFL will add four more teams in the next ten years. Today, I’ll tell which cities may be added to the NFL and a dozen others that are likely in consideration.

Additionally, we had three teams relocate in the past decade: The Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles, the Chargers from San Diego to Los Angeles and now the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas. The decade prior, we saw the Houston Oilers move to Tennessee and become the Titans, Los Angeles lost both the Raiders and Rams, plus the NFL got rid of the Browns for a few seasons. Then back in the 80s, three other teams relocated. This makes it clear that relocation is likely again in the next ten seasons and there seem to be two teams itching to move in the near future.

We will touch on two those two franchises moving to new cities as well as the four expansion teams before diving into potential rule changes and strategy development within the league. Will the NFL make wide-sweeping changes because of concussions? Will kickoffs, extra-points and overtime be fundamentally changed? I’ll explain all of that plus whether or not the NFL will return to smash-mouth football and maybe even utilizes the run-option like NCAA teams. Let’s jump into it!

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Teams Moving

Austin Chargers
When the Raiders had burned their bridge in Oakland and it was looking like the new stadium in Las Vegas might not be ready, San Antonio, was expected to house the Raiders for a few games or even the entire 2020 season. San Antonio has long been rumored to be among the top expansion locations considering the 2.5 million people living in their metropolitan area and Texas’ extreme love for football. Austin is now right behind them, however, at 2.1 million and considering it is the second-fastest-growing large city in the country, they appear likely to pass up San Antonio in the coming years.

Much like New England playing their games in a town of 16,000 that is located halfway between Boston, Worcester and Providence, the Chargers could decide to play their games 30 minutes away in San Marcos which happens to be halfway to San Antonio. That would give the fan-base nearly 5 million between the two cities which is the equivalent of San Francisco + Oakland or twice as much as NFL metropolitan cities like Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Nashville, Jacksonville, Kansas City and, of course, Green Bay. Jerry Jones and Janice McNair may not be fond of the move, but a third team in Texas, or perhaps Oklahoma City, is a virtual lock in the near future.

The Chargers clearly aren’t working out in Los Angeles, with their attendance 16,000 per game lower than any other team last season and it was made up of mostly of the away team’s fans. Apparently, the NFL offered the Chargers to St. Louis as a way to put out the fire they created with St. Louis fans and a major lawsuit. Now, the rumor is that the Chargers want to move to London which would immediately double their franchise value. I’m wagering that Jacksonville has the upper-hand in that battle just like the Rams did in Los Angeles, though. The Chargers will accept the consolation prize in 2021 and move to their new home to south-central Texas before the 2023 season.

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London Jaguars
I already gave this one away in the previous paragraph, but frankly, you and everyone else already knew it was coming when you began the article. After all, Jacksonville’s Shahid Khan has been rumored to be moving the team since he purchased them back in 2011. He first attempted to buy the Rams in order to keep them in the Midwest where he attended college. Stan Kroenke thwarted that plan, however, matching Khan’s bid and assuming majority ownership to inevitably move the team back across the country and further pad his pockets.

Apparently, Khan is considering taking the Jags back to the Midwest now that St. Louis is open. While that is a possibility, I can’t imagine Khan would balk on the major financial upside of becoming the first NFL team in Europe. The NFL seems to want to expand internationally and London will likely be the first city added, as they already play multiple games there every season. The Jaguars, of course, play a home game there every single year and are virtually already London’s home team. It is possible, however, that the Jags move to St. Louis and London is granted an expansion team. Perhaps they would be called the London Monarchs or London Wizards. Like the Chargers, I’m betting on the Jags opening up shop in London before the 2023 season.

Expansion

The NFL already has more teams than the MLB, NBA and NHL, but getting 36 seems inevitable. They would rearrange divisions to accommodate for the growth, putting six teams in six different divisions across two leagues. More than likely, though, they will only add two teams at a time as we’ve commonly seen in the past among all American sports leagues. These things take some time, though, so it can’t happen overnight so 2024 or 2025 are the best bets followed by 2028 and 2029 for the second round of expansion teams. Prospective expansion cities would have to craft their bid, complete a stadium then conduct an expansion draft. Both the bid and the stadium lend themselves well to a city who already completed both in record time (St. Louis). Before we get to them, though, let me explain the expansion draft process.

Back in 2002 when the Texans built their new team, they were handed the first pick in each round of the NFL draft plus they were required to draft either 30 players or spend at least 38% of the NFL salary cap through the expansion draft. NFL teams were each required to make six players they had under contract available for the expansion draft. Once one player was selected, their team could remove one player from their remaining five. The Texans were not allowed to select more than two players from any team.

Pro Bowlers like Tony Boselli, Aaron Glenn and Gary Walker were all made available by their NFL teams because of cap issues. The same would likely be true in a 2024 expansion draft, with guys like Todd Gurley, Nick Foles and Trent Williams all being available, especially if there were two teams picking and the NFL required the other 32 teams to make seven, eight or even nine players initially available for the draft. Likewise, these expansion teams would have the cap space to outbid others for top-tier free agents.

If expansion had happened in 2020, Joe Burrow would be headlining one lucky team with the other likely grabbing a can’t miss edge rusher in Chase Young then signing Cam Newton to be their quarterback. Cincinnati would have then taken Tua Tagovailoa, Miami could have grabbed Justin Herbert, and the Chargers could have signed Jameis Winston as their project starter before deciding if they wanted to get a new franchise QB in the 2021 draft.

St. Louis Stallions
After the Cardinals left St. Louis in 1987, the St. Louis Stallions almost became a thing TWICE. In 1991, the NFL was looking to add two expansion teams from the four finalists: St. Louis Stallions, Carolina Panthers, Memphis Hound Dogs and Jacksonville Jaguars. We all know how that turned out. Then in 1993, James Orthwein attempted to relocate the New England Patriots back to his hometown and rename them the Stallions. Robert Kraft did not allow Orthwein out of the long-term Foxboro lease, however, so Orthwein sold the team since he couldn’t bring them to St. Louis.

You can say St. Louis is such a baseball town that they can’t support an NFL team with both the Cardinals and Rams having fled the city. The truth of the matter, though, is that the Rams won just 35 games (with zero winning seasons) over their final eight years before owner, Stan Kroenke purchased land in Los Angeles. It’s no wonder the fans weren’t as interested. Before then, the Rams had 95 consecutive sell-outs between 1995 and 2006. Then, they doubled the attendance of every other XFL team in 2019.

Likewise, while San Diego and Oakland had 10 years to meet the NFL’s guidelines to prevent relocation, St. Louis met them in just 10 months, proposing a fully-funded brand new stadium for the second time in 25 years which has never been done before in major American sports history. To put it plainly, the NFL shattered their own rules to make a quick buck and now they are having the daylights sued out of them. Apparently, the NFL made a peace offering to send the Chargers to St. Louis but the city denied it and pressed on with their legal case. NFL viewership has predictably plummeted in the city as a result of the NFL’s broken promises to let them keep their team if they met a list of requirements (which they did in flying colors). Perhaps a fresh expansion team would heal the NFLs wounds in a metro area that has 3 million people.

Birmingham Rhinos
When the NFL let Baltimore have a team again, the new ownership group proposed the Baltimore Cobras but the NFL vetoed it and suggested the Rhinos for a team nickname instead. Later on, the NFL proposed expansion teams in Memphis then Charlotte (now the Carolina Panthers) name their team the Rhinos. For whatever reason, the NFL seems intent on branding a team as the Rhinos. After all, there is no other major sports team in the United States with the name and the logo would surely look intense.

We all know Alabama loves their football and while there are some concerns that the NFL could never overcome the state’s love for college football, both the XFL (Birmingham Thunderbolts) and AAF (Birmingham Iron) did well in Alabama. While it isn’t the largest market, Green Bay isn’t either and has still been wildly successful from a fan standpoint. The NFL lost many fans in the south over the past decade and by placing a team in Alabama or Mississippi, there are nearly 7 million potential fans to be secured by a new NFL franchise in the two states.

Toronto Hogs
Much like the NFL in Europe, Canada seems like a virtual certainty in the coming years for the NFL. The Canadian Football League has been successful since 1958. Although Edmonton is a long-term possibility, the first NFL city in Canada will almost certainly come down to Montreal or Toronto. Both are great football cities and Montreal has a metro population of 4.1 million. Toronto, though, has a higher population than even Chicago and Houston. The only thing stopping the NFL from expanding there is that Buffalo is just 2 hours away. Even still, a city this size would just be too difficult to pass up if the goal is to expand into Canada.

Toronto has been pushing to change the basketball team name from the Raptors to the Huskies for some time so the Toronto Huskies are an option here for football, but Toronto is also known as Hog City. Much like the Rhinos above, you’d have to imagine a ferocious hog would lend itself better to branding for the NFL than a friendly dog would. If Montreal is the first city, or even an additional expansion city in Canada, they could be called the Montreal Machine like the 1991 World League of American Football team, the Montreal Jazz or perhaps the Montreal Mounties.

Omaha Dragons
I flipped back and forth between Omaha and Mexico City three separate times for the final expansion team. It makes sense that the NFL would wish to expand down into a major world city like Mexico City, and that is evident considering the NFL regular season game they play there every year. The problem, though, is the smog and elevation, which NFL players complain about year in and year out. Perhaps the NFL plugs their nose, per se, and makes the move anyways, but I have a hard time putting it above Omaha as a better option at this point.

Much like Texas and Alabama, Nebraska sure does cherish their football. And while some are clamoring for Chicago to add a second team like they have in baseball and like New York and Los Angeles both have in the NFL, it might make sense to put a team just out of arms reach that would suck up fans from Iowa which Omaha boarders. Between the two states, this NFL franchise would be looking at over 5 million in its perspective fan base, plus Omaha is one of the fasting growing cities in the country. Like the Rhinos and Hogs above, Dragons lend itself well to team imaging, as it is commonly used in football startup leagues like we saw with the XFL Seattle Dragons.

Others in consideration

  • Mexico City
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego
  • Oakland
  • Montreal
  • Portland
  • Memphis
  • Oklahoma City
  • Columbus
  • Orlando
  • Louisville
  • Frankfurt (Germany)
  • Chicago (second team)
  • Salt Lake City

New Divisions

  • Bold – Expansion and relocation teams
  • Italic – Moving away from divisional rivals

AFC East

  • New England Patriots
  • New York Jets
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Miami Dolphins
  • London Jaguars
  • Birmingham Rhinos

AFC Central

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Tennessee Titans
  • Indianapolis Colts

AFC West

  • Denver Broncos
  • Las Vegas Raiders
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Austin Chargers
  • Houston Texans
  • St. Louis Stallions

NFC East

  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • New York Giants
  • Washington Redskins
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Detroit Lions
  • Toronto Hogs

NFC Central

  • Green Bay Packers
  • Chicago Bears
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West

  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Omaha Dragons

Rule Changes

We are long passed the days of a monumental rule change like the forward pass being legalized, unlimited substitution being allowed or personal fouls being assigned beginning in 1980. That doesn’t mean, however, that the game is done morphing. We’ve seen major rules changes in the past two decades like instant replay challenges, adjusting overtime to just 10 minutes, moving the extra-point back and making all kinds of dangerous hits illegal from chop blocks and crackback blocks to horse-collar tackles and landing with your weight on a quarterback.

Concussion Concerns

Most of you are probably worried about the NFL becoming a non-contact sport one of these days, and although it is a long-term possibility (most likely by government regulation), it seems improbable that anything so overarching would take place within the next decade.

Rather, the NFL will probably keep chipping away at minimizing concussions over the next decade. In the past ten years, they’ve done this by penalizing and fining players who lower the crown of their helmet to make contact, moving the touchback to the 25-yard-line to disincentivize returners from bringing the ball out for a dangerous kickoff play, and allowing a league-instituted concussion official who can remove a concussed player from the field.

The NFL may further “fix” kickoff plays in a similar fashion to the XFL, where blockers and defenders lined up five yards from one another and couldn’t move until the kick was received. Likewise, you can expect research to document concussion causing plays and outlaw those types of hits much like we saw in the past decade with lowering the crown and hitting defenseless receivers/returners.

Playoff Expansion

The most specific big change likely to happen in the next decade has to do with expanding playoffs. It was all the back in 1990 when the NFL moved to 12 playoff teams which is still 4 short of the smaller NBA and NHL. With the NFL near-certain to expand in the coming decade, they may first move to 14 teams with only the #1 overall seed getting a bye to eventually 16 teams like two of the other major American sports. The most likely scenario is that each of the six divisions sends their top two representatives plus two wild cards from each league.

Other Possible Changes

We know minor changes will take place each year, like one this off-season that is near certain to pass: “Prevent teams (the Patriots) from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.” I don’t want to talk about those ones, though, because they don’t change the sport much at all. Let’s look at some potential larger changes.

The Eagles proposed this off-season that onside kicks be replaced by a 4th and 15 from the kicking team’s 25-year line. Whether that is voted in or not, you can bet some rule change will happen that makes a turnover after scoring more accessible to teams. More than likely, it will be without kicking, so as to prevent injuries.

Sticking with the topic of kickers, it is entirely possible that the NFL took notice of football fan’s positive reception to the XFL extra point rules. It seems unlikely that the NFL would overhaul extra-points enough to allow teams to go for a three-point conversion like we saw in the XFL, but removing kicking and making one-pointers from the 1-yard line and two-pointers from the 5-yard line both seem possible, if not likely to be implemented.

Other common-sense rule changes that appear to have some backing are additional challenges to penalties or extreme missed calls beyond pass interference. We could also see the elimination of the human-error aspect of the chain gang. Most importantly, overtime rules could change. We are unlikely to see a wide-sweeping revamp to NCAA overtime rules, but re-expanding overtime to 15 minutes or preventing teams from winning on the opening drive have both been tossed around and could be installed in the near future.

Strategy Evolving

A decade ago, many wondered if the NFL would move to adopt the option run after it took over college football for some time. At this point, the conversation seems to be around whether the NFL will go full spread run and shoot offense like several of these ridiculous college teams that put up 40+ points every game it seems. While the option is a possibility, NFL defenses are just too fast for it to work. Likewise, the spread could be tried, but you’d have to imagine the NFL pass rush is just too dynamic to allow it success.

We’ve seen the Wildcat have its short run in the NFL and something along those lines could show it’s face for a season or two, but if something long-lasting is to happen, it will likely be more reasonable like the RPOs we’ve seen sweep the league in the past few years. Maybe it is a snap back to the power running game as we see working with the 49ers. Teams like Green Bay are already attempting to replicate it. Perhaps even the fullback returns to football to take advantage of all the faster, but smaller NFL defenders.

I would wager the most likely major change. though, is that analytics go so far as to recognize the value of forgoing most punts and going for it on 4th and short every single time outside of your own red-zone. Even 4th and 5 or 6 make sense mathematically because a punt is essentially a turnover that trades 30 to 40 yards. You can say that’s a big deal, but then there is all the data that proves the trade-off is not better than the calculated risk of going for it on fourth downs. The same concept comes into play with onside kicks as you are trading yardage for a chance at an additional possession. I figure NFL teams will swallow their pride and do what it takes to win once they catch on to Pulaski Academy’s Kevin Kelley, who is seemingly reinventing football with math in his corner.

He never punts, even on 4th and 15. He always onside kicks and says they are done wrong. Rather, the ball should be turned on its side and kicked to roll rather than bounce. And oh, by the way, Pulaski Academy has now won six state titles in the last decade. Perhaps one bold NFL team will give this a try and every other team will copy their success. We’ve seen exactly this in Major League Baseball with Kevin Cash of the Tampa Rays employing an opener relief pitcher instead of starters and in the NBA where the Spurs used load management. It has been wildly successful n both leagues and now other teams are doing the same thing. Kevin Kelley’s brilliance also has his team exercising the lateral very often (like Rugby) beyond the line of scrimmage. That may be further down the pipeline in the NFL, though.

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro.

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