Major NFL rule changes that could be coming, and Ben Roethlisberger finally gets a new contract – CBS Sports

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It’s a big day here at CBS and not just because I’m back helming the newsletter after a one-day hiatus. The reason it’s a big day is because the launch of our new streaming service Paramount+ is finally here. Before today, if you wanted to stream CBS content, you did that by subscribing to CBS All Access — but now everything will be running through Paramount+, which is a much sexier name. 

I’m not going to sit here and demand that you sign up for it, but I am definitely going to encourage you to do that. For one, you’ll be able to watch NFL football this fall on Paramount+. Also, if you sign up now, you’ll get your first month for FREE. All you have to do is click here, fill out a few things and then you’ll get 30 days of streaming for free. The free month offer runs through the end of March. 

Hot tip: If you sign up on March 11, your free month will not only include the NCAA tournament, but you’ll also be able to stream the Masters Tournament, which runs April 8-11. The service will now also be the exclusive home of “Inside the NFL,” which is almost reason enough to sign up. 

Speaking of going inside the NFL, let’s get to the rundown of today’s best NFL news. As always, here’s your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the newsletter. All you have to do is click here and then share the link. Tell everyone you know to sign up and then ask them to tell everyone they know.

1. Today’s show: NFC South deep dive

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With free agency just around the corner, we’ll be spending the next few weeks doing a deep dive on each NFL division. For Thursday’s podcast, that meant jumping head first into the NFC South. To talk about the most mysterious division in football, Will Brinson thought it made sense to bring on the most mysterious writer we have here at CBSSports.com and that’s Tyler Sullivan (I swear, I know nothing about Tyler. I’m not even fully convinced that Tyler is his real name).  

Besides Tampa Bay, the entire NFC South seems to be at a crossroads, which is almost impossible to believe, because for most of the past 10 years, the Buccaneers were always the one team in the division that you could count on to be at some sort of dysfunctional crossroads. 

In Atlanta, the Falcons have to decide if they’re going to keep Matt Ryan or if they should look to find his replacement when they go on the clock with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Panthers‘ quarterback situation is also murky. Not only has Carolina made it clear that the team wants to upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater, but the Panthers haven’t been hiding the fact that they’d love to add Deshaun Watson if the Texans are willing to trade him. 

Another quarterback situation that’s still up in the air is the one in New Orleans. When the Saints lost in the playoffs back in January, the assumption was that Drew Brees would retire, but somehow, it seems he still hasn’t made a decision even though he’s had 40 DAYS to think it over. 

On Tampa Bay’s end, although the Bucs are the Super Bowl champs, they also have a lot of questions to answer this offseason. The Buccaneers have several key players who are going to hit free agency — including Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski — and if the Bucs lose two or more of those players, that could make it tough to repeat. 

To listen to today’s episode — and if you’re a fan of any team in the NFC South, you will definitely want to — be sure to click here

2. Major NFL rule changes could be coming

Although free agency gets most of the March headlines around the NFL, there’s also one other big event that takes place every year and that’s the annual owners meeting, which will be held March 30-31 this year.

For the most part, any new rule changes that are going to be made for the upcoming season are voted on at the meeting. If owners can’t decide whether they like a new rule or not, they will sometimes table the vote until their spring meeting in May, but for the most part, if there are going to be any rule changes, they will happen at the first meeting. 

With that in mind, there are some major proposals on the docket for this year’s meeting, so let’s take a quick look at those

  • Reviewing roughing the passer. This one’s pretty simple — if this rule were to pass, roughing the passer would become a reviewable play. Although it turned out to be a disaster when the NFL decided to allow pass interference to be reviewed, this rule makes slightly more sense. Roughing the passer is a penalty that has a lot less gray area than PI. 
  • Timeline for coaching interviews to change. The Bills have proposed a rule that would ban all head coaching and front-office hirings until after the Super Bowl. If the rule passes, interviews would also be forbidden until after the conference championship games in late January. For more details on this proposal, be sure to click here. Our Jonathan Jones wrote about why the rule probably won’t help much even if it passes and you can check that out by clicking here
  • Wild onside kick alternative proposed again. For the third straight year, a variation of this rule is being proposed and for the third straight year, I’m hoping the rule passes. Under this proposal, teams would have the option of attempting to convert a fourth-and-15 play in the fourth quarter instead of an onside kick. If you want to know how exactly that would work, be sure to click here
  • Overtime change proposed. There are two proposals related to changing overtime. The first proposal is pretty simple and would change the extra period back to sudden death (the team that scores first would win the game, which is what the NFL’s OT rule was until 2012). The other overtime proposal is a “spot-and-choose” rule that would keep the coin toss from having such an impact in OT. Under this proposal, one team would choose the yard line where the OT drive starts and the other team would choose whether they want to play offense or defense. For instance, if the Chiefs and Buccaneers were playing in overtime and the Chiefs won the coin toss, they would pick any yard line on the field. If they picked the 10-yard line (90 yards away from the end zone), the Buccaneers would get to choose whether they wanted to play offense or defense. It’s actually a fantastic proposal and I hope it passes. For more details on the wild proposal, be sure to click here

For a proposal to become a rule, 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners will have to vote it through. 

3. Big Ben gets a new contract

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After six weeks of drama, it looks like Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have finally ironed out their differences. Roethlisberger will definitely be returning as the Steelers quarterback in 2021 after signing a new contract that was announced by the team on Thursday. 

“I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success,” Roethlisberger said in a statement. 

Although the details of the deal haven’t been announced, the fact that Big Ben said he agreed to “adjust” his contract would seem to imply that he didn’t take a pay cut. However, it’s definitely possible that’s what happened, but we won’t know until the full details of the new contract come out. No matter how it breaks down, one thing is for sure: The Steelers made it clear this offseason that they wouldn’t be bringing Roethlisberger back under his old contract, which was set to count $41.25 million against the salary cap in 2021 ($22.25 million dead cap along with $19 million in 2021 salary). 

Of that total, the only number that could be adjusted there was the $19 million. If that entire salary was converted to a bonus, that means his cap hit for 2021 could end up falling below $25 million, which would free up a much-needed $15 million or more for the Steelers. On the other hand, if he was asked to take a pay cut and his salary dropped to $10 million to $15 million, then the Steelers would pick up $4 million to $9 million in space. 

4. Jets seem open to trading Sam Darnold  

Although Ben Roethlisberger is returning to Pittsburgh, the same can’t be said just yet for Sam Darnold in New York. 

Last year, the Jets made it clear that Darnold wouldn’t be available in a trade, but this year, it seems that they’ve changed their mind about that. Jets general manager Joe Douglas met with the media on Wednesday and when asked about possibly dealing Darnold, he answered by saying exactly what you’d expect a general manager to say

“I will answer the call if it’s made,” Douglas said. 

That’s NFL speak for, “If you call and make an offer, not only will I listen, but we might even end up making a deal if I like the offer enough.”

The Jets basically have two options here: They can trade Darnold and then use the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback or they could keep Darnold and then use the second overall pick to fill other holes. (If they keep Darnold, the move that makes the most sense would be to trade down to accrue more picks, because when you have as many holes on your roster as the Jets do, more picks can’t hurt.)

If Darnold does get traded, our Patrik Walker came up with three potential landing spots for him: 

1. Bears
2. Patriots
3. Texans

You can check out Walker’s full story on Darnold and other players who might get traded by clicking here.  

5. Players who could turn into cap casualties

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In a normal offseason, there are almost always a few surprise cuts that have to be made for salary cap purposes. Unfortunately for veteran players around the NFL, this isn’t a normal offseason. With the salary cap set to go DOWN in 2021, there are going to be a lot of people losing their jobs between now and the start of free agency on March 17. 

How ugly is it going to get? One NFL coach told ESPN that “it’s going to be a massacre all around the league” next week. Over the past few days alone, we’ve already seen guys like Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph, Kyle Van Noy and Jared Cook get released and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

With that in mind, our Chris Trapasso came up with a list of six veterans who will likely be getting a pink slip at some point over the next 13 days. 

1. Von Miller (Broncos)
2. Emmanuel Sanders (Saints)
3. Preston Smith (Packers)
4. Kwon Alexander (Saints)
5. Derek Barnett (Eagles)
6. John Brown (Bills)

To check out Trapasso’s full story and explanation for each cut, be sure to click here. When it comes to cuts, the teams you’re definitely going to want to keep an eye on are the Chiefs, Rams, Falcons, Eagles and Saints, and that’s because all five of those teams are currently more than $20 million OVER the projected cap. (The Saints are nearly $70 million over, so don’t be surprised if they cut half their roster over the next two weeks.) If you want a bigger list of cap casualties, then you’re definitely going to want to click here to see Cody Benjamin’s list of 25 guys who could be cut. (Cody is so good that he wrote the list last week and some of the guys on it have already been cut.) 

6. Prisco’s top 100 free agents of 2021: Looking at the bottom 10

After the Super Bowl ended, I didn’t hear from Pete Prisco for nearly three weeks, so I just assumed he flew to Aruba for a six-month vacation, however, it appears that wasn’t the case. As it turns out, I haven’t heard from Prisco because he’s been putting together his annual list of the top 100 free agents. 

Yesterday in the newsletter, Cody named the top 10 players on Prisco’s list and since I don’t want to regurgitate what Cody gave you, I’m going to take a quick look at the last 10 players on the list. When it comes to building an NFL roster, the difference between a Super Bowl winner and everyone else is the ability to find some talent in free agency to build the backend of the roster and not surprisingly, two of Prisco’s bottom 10 free agents played for the Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers this year. 

So who made the bottom 10 of Prisco’s list? Let’s find out.  

91. SS Rayshawn Jenkins (Chargers)
92. OT Rick Wagner (Packers)
93. FS Malik Hooker (Colts)
94. FS Ricardo Allen (Falcons)
95. LB Tyus Bowser (Ravens)
96. WR Antonio Brown (Buccaneers)
97. CB Michael Davis (Chargers)
98. WR Kendrick Bourne (49ers)
99. RB Leonard Fournette (Buccaneers)
100. OL Nick Martin (Texans)

Since teams won’t have a lot of money to spend this year, these mid-tier free agents will be the ones to watch out for when free agency starts on March 17. For a full look at Prisco’s top 100, be sure to click here

7. The Kicker: Tom Brady’s elbow surgery in 1983

For the past 10 years, I always believed that the best alias any NFL player ever came up with was Ron Mexico, but it turns out I was wrong, because Terry Bradshaw had a wild one in 1983. Thirty-eight years ago, Bradshaw was checking into a hospital to have surgery and he ended up using the alias “THOMAS BRADY.” This is somehow a real story. You can read the original story from 1983 by clicking here

I first read this story 24 hours ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. Apparently, the story is even crazier than it sounds, because Bradshaw didn’t even pick the alias, the hospital chose it for him.  

I’ve now spent way more time than I care to admit trying to figure out how this happened and here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. The hospital likely wanted to pick an alias with his initials. (Both Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady start with “TB.” The two names also start with “T. Brad,” so maybe the hospital wanted to make sure to include a name with all five of those letters so Bradshaw didn’t get confused with another patient who might have the initials TB.) 
2. If you look at the top 50 boys’ names from 1983, there are only three that start with “T” and those are Thomas, Timothy and Travis. The hospital likely wanted to keep things as simple as possible, so they used the first “T” name they thought of and Thomas was at the top of the name list. 
3. If you have to come with a fake last name for someone in 1983 and it has to start with “B” or “B-R-A-D” there’s a 100% chance you’re picking Brady because it was such an iconic name back then due to “The Brady Bunch.” 

Boom. Mystery solved. 

Does my family hate me for ignoring them yesterday so I could figure this out? Yes, but it was all worth it.

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