What the NFL will look like in 2029

By: Jordan Kendall, Columnist

As the NFL enters its 101st season, as well as a new decade which is unlike anything it’s faced before, there are many questions that can be asked about the future of the league. This doesn’t even include some of the likely changes coming soon such as the schedule expanding and reviewing officiating. For this week’s column, I wanted to take a look at a few changes I believe will come to the league by 2029.

Defensive player wins MVP

It hasn’t happened since New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor won it in 1986, but I think a defensive player will finally win Most Valuable Player in the next ten years. While in recent years there’s been a trend to give it to the top quarterback or sometimes running back, I believe a defensive player has a historic season and is able to end the streak. While a Defensive Player of the Year award is presented every year, it’s not the same as MVP and definitely does not have as much significance. Until 2014, it had been a while since a defender even received votes for MVP until Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt earned 13 out of 50 possible votes. In 2014 Watt became the first player with two 20 sack seasons and is one of 11 players to ever record 20 sacks in a season, finishing with 20.5. Since then no defensive player has received an MVP vote, but I think there are a few players who could change that and possibly win it.

The first that comes to mind is Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald. In 2018 he also recorded 20.5 sacks and led the Rams to the Super Bowl. He’s led the NFL in tackles for loss in each of the last two seasons with at least 20 and was named the best player in the league by his peers in 2019. A bolder prediction is that Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is the one to end the streak. Leonard has over 120 tackles in 2019 and at least five sacks in each of the first two NFL seasons, and since he’s only 25-years-old it’s hard to imagine he won’t continue improving. There are a lot of great defensive players, and I hope that one of them is able to win MVP soon.

More expansion/relocation

In the last decade we saw three teams relocate, the Rams moved from St. Louis to LA along with the former San Diego Chargers. The Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas beginning this season. One of the teams involved in relocation rumors is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who since 2013 have hosted a game in London. If they were to move, it would make sense in London since their owner Shahid Khan also owns the London soccer club Fulham F.C. While I don’t expect a team to relocate internationally in the next ten years, I think relocating to another American city such as San Diego or St. Louis could make a lot of sense.

 

I also think there’s a possibility of expansion. The last time the NFL did it was in 2002 with the Houston Texans, it’s been almost 20 years and I think there are a few cities that deserve an NFL team, but Oklahoma City, OK should be at the top. OKC has proven how dedicated and loyal their fans are to the NBA’s Thunder since they relocated from Seattle in 2008. Since 2011, the percentage of how full their arena is compared to other teams has been in the top ten every year except 2019 when they were 11th. Those fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated in sports, it could be because they don’t have another pro team in OKC. I think they would immediately show support to an NFL team, especially with how popular Oklahoma football is. 

 

More diversity in front office and coaching

It’s more important than ever to see a more diverse community, and the NFL has tried to address the lack of African-Americans in front offices and head coaching roles. They have increased the required number of minority candidates teams must interview, but it hasn’t led to an increase in hires. 

 

According to USA Today’s Alex Sinatra, “between February 8, 2016 and February 5, 2017 NFL teams hired a total of 30 open positions for head coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and general managers. One less open position than in the 2019-2020 season. White individuals were hired for 22 of these positions, 73.3%, while only seven different men of color were hired for these 30 positions, 23.3%.”

 

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, I think this is an issue the NFL continues to address going forward. I believe there are many qualified minority candidates who deserve opportunities but aren’t getting them. While it’s a good sign to see Jason Wright become the first black NFL team president with Washington, it’s also clear the NFL has a long way to go. If the NFL wants to provide more opportunities to minority candidates, they need to equalize the required number of interviews. The Rooney Rule dictates that for each position opening, one minority and one woman must also be interviewed among interviewees. Right now if a team is hiring a head coach, they only have to interview one minority candidate. That means if a team interviews five candidates, three can be white and just based on probability that means a 60% chance the team hires a white candidate. 

 

What I want to see is for every white candidate interviewed, the team has to interview a minority candidate. I believe this would do a better job of creating a fairer chance for a minority candidate to be hired. Teams who only interview two candidates now are likely only doing it to fulfill the Rooney Rule. Changing it so the interviews must be divided evenly might be a way to force teams to start taking minority candidates more seriously. 

 

The NFL has evolved a lot since 2010, and will continue to do so over the next decade. What I hope to see over the next decade is both a game and league I can take pride in supporting. Football is a great game and can be a great influence, but that influence must be used for good. 

 

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