The National Football League is the most popular sport in America. The league itself makes over billions of dollars in revenue while according to a valuation done by Forbes in September 2018, the average NFL franchise is worth $2.57 billion dollars. With games even being played in Mexico City and in London, England, the NFL brand has proven to be profitable. In 2018, the TV ratings for the NFL regular season games were up 5% from 2017, averaging 15.8 million viewers. TV contracts, ticket sales and merchandising flooding fall season, the NFL is here to stay for a long time. Let’s dive in to give you the 101 on the organization of the NFL.
2. League structure
Today, the NFL is made up of 32 teams that are located across the United States. They are divided by two conferences called the American Football Conference or AFC, and the National Football Conference or NFC. Within that conference, the 16 teams are split evenly in four divisions each representing the direction on a compass: North, South, East and West.
3. Game rules
The game itself is played on a grass or turf field that is 120 yards long and 53.3 yards wide. The field is flanked by end zones that are 10 yards long, where teams have the ability to score. The rest of the field is marked every 5 yards with lines and every yard with a hash mark. Behind each end zone are goal posts that are 10 feet high and 18 feet 6 inches wide.
The game consists of full 60 minute run time that is split into 15 minute four quarters. In between the second and third quarter, a half time of 12 minutes is used to allow teams to regroup. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, the NFL has an overtime period of 10 minutes to see if either team can win. If both teams have the same score, the game is considered a tie.
4. Season scheduling
The NFL regular season of play kicks off in the month of September and last to the end of December. The 256 game schedule is spread out over a span of 17 weeks where all 32 teams in the league play 16 games each and have a rest day or what is known as a ‘Bye Week’. Since each team can’t play the rest of the 31 teams in one season like other professional sports, the NFL has devised a really cool way of how they do their scheduling. To show you their formula in action, I’ll use the Cleveland Browns as an example. We begin with the Browns will play six games against their Divisional opponents, one home and one away.
Next up the Browns will play four games against a different Division within the same Conference, having two home and two away games. For this example, I’ll pick the AFC West.
Then there’s another four games against a different Division, but out of Conference, same as two home and two away. I’ll choose the NFC South.
Finally the last two games scheduled are against teams from the two remaining Divisions in the same Conference. So in our case, the AFC East and the AFC South. How these matchups are determined are by the Division rankings from the previous season. So for example, if the Browns finished 4th last year, then they would play the 4th team in both of those Divisions.
The schedule rotates every year, ensuring that every team will play each of the 31 teams at least once in a four year period. Pretty cool huh?
5. Post season
Now at the end of the regular season, the single elimination postseason begins in early January and ends in February when the championship game is played, known as the Super Bowl. 12 teams are eligible to play, six from each Conference. The bracket is made up of all four Divisional winners and two Wild-Card teams. The Wild-Card teams are the two non-Divisional winners that have the best overall record in the Conference. To illustrate how the postseason placement works, let’s use 2018 postseason as an example. Out of the four Divisional winners, whoever has the better record gets the 1 to 4 ranking. The #1 and #2 get a Bye week while #3 and #4 play their respective Wild-Card opponent.
The winner of those two games will move on to the Divisional round on where the #1 ranked team will play the lower seed winner.
Then onward to the Conference title game before the coveted Super Bowl game.
When a Super Bowl winner is crowned, it marks the end of the NFL season for that year.
6. Free agency
As March rolls around, so does NFL Free Agency. The current structure has been introduced since 1993 and the two main free agent categories are Restricted Free Agent and Unrestricted Free Agent. The easy one to understand is Unrestricted, which means that a player has completed four or more NFL seasons of service whose contract is expired and is free to sign with any team. Let’s use an example for Restricted. We have a Running Back for the Chicago Bears and his contract has expired after completing three NFL seasons instead of four. He now has the opportunity to negotiate with the other 31 teams in the league before the NFL Draft in April. An offer is given to him by the Bears Divisional rival, the Green Bay Packers and the Running Back accepts. Now the Bears can do one or two things in response. One, they have the right to match the offer to keep the Running Back and he stays, or two, the Bears choose not to match and then may receive draft choice compensation that’s dictated by the size of the qualifying offer. But let’s say the Running Back receives no offers in that time? Well the Bears retain the rights of the player. Makes sense? Now each and every team has the option to use what is known as a Franchise Tag. The team can offer a franchise tag to one player only that’s an Unrestricted free agent, which is a one-year deal worth 120% of their existing salary or the average of the top five players at the position over the previous five years, whichever is greater. Why is this important? The team retains the players rights but it’s used to give the franchise a chance to hold on to their best players and not lose them to bigger markets due to free agency. Remember, it’s offered to an Unrestricted free agent who can sign with whomever they want. It also helps the team to buy time and negotiate a potential long-term deal which both sides need to agree on by the middle of July. If a multi-year deal isn’t agreed, then the player will have to play out that one-year deal or sit out. But with all of these multi-million dollar contracts go into free agents left and right, isn’t there a limit a team can spend? You bet. The Salary Cap is the amount of money teams are allowed to spend on player salaries and is enforced to all 32 teams. This gives the league as a whole a fair level playing field when it comes to free agency. When the cap was introduced in 1994, it was set at $34 million dollars. In 2019, the cap is set at a $188.2 million dollars.
To be continued, part 2: https://fashtee.com/guide-to-the-nfl-part-2/