A Super Bowl Champ on the Future of Football

A Super Bowl Champ on the Future of Football

By Ryan Nece

Ryan Nece, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is introduced at a 2006 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
SourceMatt Stroshane/Getty


Because the gridiron game is back to the future. 

By Ryan Nece

OZY columnist Ryan Nece played seven NFL seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. He founded the Ryan Nece Foundation to empower teens to impact their communities, and is a managing partner at Next Play Capital. 

The game of football is undergoing incredible change. We’ll see soon if this is the year that young NFL contenders can overthrow the old guard. For more immediate change, it’s worth watching how the back end of this season shifts the power balance. But keep an eye on outside influencers. Big tech companies around the world are ready to sink their teeth into football. Pretty soon, the game we love could look a lot different. 

Oh, and does Roger Goodell deserve a $20 million raise?

Big Tech Is Coming for College Sports

Business giants like Mattel and Hasbro, the soon-to-be-merged toy manufacturers, show that there’s strength in numbers. That’s true in sports too. College football has long been dominated by the major cable networks, but I think we’re looking at a near future when fans can order content à la carte. Once that happens, the money that will flood in from major technology companies could truly shake up the landscape of these major conferences — and burst the cable bubble.

Aside from Brady, there’s a real lack of huge individual numbers across the league.

That could trickle down to how college athletes are compensated. I think the NCAA is going to be forced to measure the difference of a scholarship and aid in, say, Manhattan, Kansas, versus Palo Alto, California. There’s a drastic difference in cost of living, and I believe an increased understanding of how to make things more fair and balanced is coming.

We hear a lot about how college football could leave smaller schools behind, but if small and mid-major programs can be creative with technology moving forward, that could be a major lifeline for them. A lot of these schools have large alumni networks both abroad and overseas. How can you create messaging and content globally?


Just Like That, It’s New England and … Everyone Else … Again

Clearly, the Patriots are front-runners again. After Week 4, a lot of people thought New England was falling off, but obviously, that’s not the case. As for the rest of the league, it’s wide open. 

Who would have guessed that the Saints would get better after trading Adrian Peterson? They’ve morphed into one of the hottest teams in the league, which says a lot about New Orleans coach Sean Payton. Sometimes we forget that these coaches are still searching for the right chemistry, the right roster mix, throughout the season. But the most surprising thing in New Orleans is that Drew Brees no longer has to score 35 points to win. Their defense no longer sucks. Still, New Orleans wasn’t able to sneak past the Rams. With a new coach and young quarterback leading such a drastic turnaround, it’s been really exciting to watch the Rams in Los Angeles. They are legit.  

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NEW ORLEANS, LA – OCTOBER 15: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints reacts during a game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 15, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Source Jonathan Bachman/Getty

And in the AFC, it’s the usual suspects: New England and Pittsburgh. But a team that could shock some people is Jacksonville. The way their defense is structured up front, I don’t think Tom Brady, or any quarterback, wants any part of that. They could beat New England on the right day.

Minnesota’s QB Situation Could Decide the NFC

When Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook went down, I totally wrote Minnesota off, but Case Keenum has them at 9-2 and playing incredibly well. But you have to wonder how Teddy Bridgewater’s return will eventually impact this team. Coach Mike Zimmer made the right decision to continue starting Keenum, especially with the chemistry he’s developed on the field, but it all comes down to who’s the leader in the locker room. If your backup carries more weight than a starter, that makes things tough for the coach. Who are the players going to follow when things get tough. 

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 11: Sam Bradford #8 of the Minnesota Vikings hands the ball off to Dalvin Cook #33 in the second half of the game against the New Orleans Saints on September 11, 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Source Hannah Foslien/Getty

But in terms of leadership, the Vikings’ defense calls the shot. The way that linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr — who have shared history from playing at UCLA — play together makes them tough to deal with.

NFL Parity Is Affecting Your Fantasy Team

Aside from Brady, there’s a real lack of huge individual numbers across the league. Especially at the running back and receiver positions, we’re seeing pretty even production. That says a lot about parity in the league, and about all of the quarterback injuries this season. There are a lot of talented passers sitting on the couch. Jordy Nelson’s not putting up Pro Bowl numbers with Aaron Rodgers in a sling.

If Roger Goodell Wants a $20 Million Raise, We Want Transparency

We naturally compare Goodell’s salary to that of the players, but I don’t think that’s fair. We should be comparing Goodell to Fortune 500 CEOs. What’s scary is that, as NFL commissioner, Goodell’s current $30 million salary is in line with that of the most powerful executives in business. It often feels like we, the public, don’t respect CEOs because we only hear about them during scandals. And Goodell has made a lot of questionable decisions in recent years — decisions that have not been in the best interest of the players and, sometimes, not even the interest of the league. 

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – APRIL 27: Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell visits SiriusXM NFL Radio during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Source Lisa Lake/Getty

What I’d like to know is what the commissioner’s job description looks like. If that were public knowledge, it would be easier to judge whether Goodell has done well. A lot of us are not fans of what we’ve seen, but we also don’t know the other areas where he may have exceeded expectations as a leader.

And while we’re at it, how do details of the commissioner’s contract negotiations get leaked, but we don’t even know the details of the Ezekiel Elliott investigation? That either signals league ineptitude or a very strategic move by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.