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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: National Football League

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National Football League (NFL)
Current season or competition:
2008 NFL Draft
National Football League
Sport American football
Founded 1920
Commissioner Roger Goodell
No. of teams 32, divided into two sixteen-team conferences, each of which consists of four four-team divisions.
Country(ies) Flag of the United States United States
Most recent
New York Giants
TV partner(s) CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, NFL Network
Official website

The National Football League (NFL) is the largest professional American football league in the world. It is an unincorporated association controlled by its members.[1] It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (the league changed the name to American Professional Football League in 1921 and then settled on its current name in 1922). The league currently consists of thirty-two teams from American cities and regions, divided evenly into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) — of four four-team divisions.

The regular season is a seventeen-week schedule during which each team has one bye week and plays sixteen games. This schedule includes six games against a team’s divisional rivals, as well as several inter-division and inter-conference games. The season currently starts on the Thursday night in the first full week of September (the Thursday after Labor Day) and runs weekly to late December or early January.

At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the championship game, known as the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team. The following week, selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The NFL has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world, drawing over 67,000 spectators per game for each of its two most recently completed seasons in 2006[2] and 2007.[3] However, the NFL’s overall attendance is only approximately 20% of that of Major League Baseball, due to MLB’s much longer schedule, currently 162 games per team with 81 home games each, plus playoffs.



Early era

Further information: History of American football
Total NFL Titles[4]
Team Titles
Green Bay Packers 12
Chicago Bears 9
New York Giants 7
Dallas Cowboys 5
Pittsburgh Steelers 5
San Francisco 49ers 5
Washington Redskins 5
Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts* 5
Cleveland Browns 4
Detroit Lions 4
New England Patriots 3
Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders** 3
Philadelphia Eagles 3
St. Louis Rams 3
Arizona Cardinals 2
Denver Broncos 2
Miami Dolphins 2
Baltimore Ravens 1
Kansas City Chiefs 1
Minnesota Vikings 1
New York Jets 1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1
*won four titles in Baltimore, one in Indianapolis
**won one title in Los Angeles, two in Oakland
Further information:
List of total NFL champions

The American Professional Football Association was founded in 1920 at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio. The eleven founding teams initially struck an agreement over player poaching and the declaration of an end-of-season champion. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs was elected president. Only four of the founding teams finished the 1920 schedule and the undefeated Akron Pros claimed the first championship. Membership of the league increased to 22 teams in 1921, but throughout the 1920s the membership was unstable and the league was not a major national sport.

Two charter members, the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) and the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears), are still in existence. The Green Bay Packers (founded in 1919) is the oldest team not to change locations, but did not begin league play until 1921.

By 1934 all of the small-town teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, had moved to or been replaced by teams in big cities. An annual championship game was instituted in 1933, and the annual draft of college players was first held in 1936. It was during this era, however, that the NFL became segregated: no African Americans played pro football between 1933 and 1945. One prominent franchise, George Preston Marshall’s Washington Redskins, remained all-white until forced to integrate by the Kennedy administration in 1962.[5] See also Black players in American professional football

College football was the bigger attraction, but by the end of World War II, pro football began to rival the college game for fans’ attention. Rule changes and innovations such as the T formation led to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game. The league also expanded out of its eastern and midwestern cradle; in 1945, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, becoming the first big-league sports franchise on the West Coast (not counting the various teams in ice hockey’s PCHA, which was a rival to the NHL in the 1910s and 1920s). In 1950, the NFL accepted three teams from the defunct All-America Football Conference, expanding to thirteen clubs. In the 1950s, with the league broadcast on national television, pro football finally earned its place as a major sport.


Main article: American Football League

In 1960, after being refused entry to the NFL as an owner, Lamar Hunt led seven other men (including another snubbed by the NFL, Bud Adams) to establish the rival American Football League. Although other rival leagues had come and gone in the early years of professional football, the new AFL was able to capitalize on the ever-rising popularity of the sport. Hunt’s initial goal was to bring professional football to Texas, which was home to two of the new teams. The AFL secured a television contract with ABC and filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in 1960, but this was dismissed in 1962. The AFL led the way in sharing of television and gate revenues across its franchises, thus securing itself financially.

A number of innovations distinguished the AFL and helped it maintain its legitimate rivalry to the NFL. A stadium game clock for the spectators (the NFL relied only on time announcements from the officials on the field), players’ names on their jerseys, and a playing style geared to the attractive and flashy passing game. The AFL was inclusive of black players and actively recruited from colleges with black players historically shunned by the NFL. AFL teams further installed blacks at positions from which they were tacitly excluded in the NFL, such as quarterback[6] and middle linebacker.[7] In January 1965 there was a player boycott of the 1964 AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans, over discrimination of black players by some of the hotels and businesses in the city. This was a seminal civil-rights action and is commemorated at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The AFL also forced the NFL to expand: The Dallas Cowboys were created to counter Hunt’s AFL Dallas Texans franchise. The Texans moved the franchise to Kansas City as the Chiefs in 1963; the Minnesota Vikings were the NFL franchise given to Max Winter for abandoning the AFL; and the Atlanta Falcons franchise went to Rankin Smith to dissuade him from purchasing the AFL’s Miami Dolphins.

The Merger

Main article: AFL-NFL merger

The rivalry between two successful professional leagues became damaging for the sport in the mid-1960s as the two leagues escalated player payments. With both leagues conducting college drafts for the same players, the bidding war was out of control. In 1965, in the most high profile such contest and a major fillip for the AFL, University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath signed with the New York Jets in preference to the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals for a then-record $427,000. In 1966, the AFL Commissioner Al Davis embarked on a campaign to sign players away from the NFL, especially quarterbacks, but behind the scenes a number of team owners began action to end the detrimental rivalry.

In an agreement brokered by AFL founder Lamar Hunt, and Dallas Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm, on 8 June 1966 the two leagues announced their merger deal. The leagues would henceforth hold a combined draft, and an end-of-season title game (later known as the Super Bowl) would be played between the two league champions. In 1970, the leagues would become fully merged under the name National Football League, divided into two conferences of an equal number of teams each. There was also a financial settlement, with the AFL paying $18 million over 20 years. Finally, the monopoly which would be created had to be legitimized by a special Federal law (which was eventually enacted by Congress).[citation needed]

Modern era

The old NFL logo, officially used between 1970 and April 2008

The old NFL logo, officially used between 1970 and April 2008

In the 1970s and 1980s, the NFL solidified its dominance as America’s top spectator sport and its important role in American culture. The Super Bowl became an unofficial national holiday and the top-rated TV program most years. Monday Night Football, which first aired in 1970, brought in high ratings by mixing sports and entertainment. Rule changes in the late 1970s ensured a fast-paced game with lots of passing to attract the casual fan.

The founding of the United States Football League in the early 1980s was the biggest challenge to the NFL in the post-merger era. The USFL was a well-financed competitor with big-name players and a national television contract. However, the USFL failed to make money and folded after three years. The USFL filed a successful anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, but the remedies were minimal.

In recent years, the NFL has expanded into new markets and ventures. In 1986, the league began holding a series of pre-season exhibition games, called American Bowls, held at international sites outside the United States. Then in 1991, the league formed the World League of American Football, later known as NFL Europe and still later as NFL Europa, a developmental league that had teams in Germany and the Netherlands when the NFL shut it down in June 2007. 2001 saw the rise of the XFL, an attempt by Vince McMahon and NBC, which had lost the NFL broadcast rights for that year, to compete with the league; the XFL folded after just one season. In 2003, the NFL launched its own cable-television channel, NFL Network.

The league played a regular-season NFL game in Mexico City in 2005 and intends to play more such games in other countries. On October 28, 2007, a regular season game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants was held outside of North America. This game was held in Wembley Stadium, the new 90,000-seat stadium in London. It was a financial success with nearly 40,000 tickets sold within 90 minutes of the start of sales,[8] and a game-day attendance of over 80,000. Starting next season in 2008-09, the Buffalo Bills will play an annual home game in Toronto’s Rogers Centre[9], and the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers will mark the NFL’s return to Wembley Stadium[10].

On August 31, 2007, a story in USA Today unveiled the first changes to the league’s shield logo since 1970, which will take effect with the 2008 season.[11] The redesign reduces the number of stars in the logo from 25 (which were found not to have a meaning beyond decorative) to eight (for each of the league’s divisions), the logo’s football repositioned in the manner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the NFL letters in a straight serifed font (which resembles the current typeface used in other NFL logos). The redesign was created with television and digital media, along with clothing, in mind. The shield logo dates to the 1940s.

Franchise relocations and mergers

For more details on this topic, see NFL franchise moves and mergers.

In the early years, the league was not stable and teams moved frequently. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players.

Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late 20th century when a vastly more popular NFL, free from financial instability, allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Cleveland (the Rams and the Browns), Baltimore (the Colts), Houston (the Oilers) and St. Louis (the Cardinals), each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left (the Browns, Ravens, Texans and the Rams respectively). However, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, has not had an NFL team since 1994 after both the Raiders and the Rams relocated elsewhere.

Additionally, with the increasing suburbanization of the U.S., the building of new stadiums and other team facilities in the suburbs instead of the central city became popular from the 1970s on, though at the turn of the millennium a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident, as with the move by the Detroit Lions from the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan to Ford Field in downtown Detroit.

Season structure

Since 2002, The NFL season features the following schedule:

  • a 4-game exhibition season (or preseason) running from early August to early September;
  • a 16-game, 17-week regular season running from September to December or early January; and
  • a 12-team playoff tournament beginning in January, culminating in the Super Bowl in early February.

Traditionally, American High school football games are played on Friday, American College football games are played on Saturday, and most NFL games are played on Sunday. Because the NFL season is longer than the college football season, the NFL schedules Saturday games and Saturday playoff games outside the college football Saturdays. The ABC Television network added Monday Night Football in 1970. Thursday night NFL games were added in the 1980s.

Exhibition season

Main article: National Football League exhibition season

Following mini-camps in the spring and officially recognized Training Camp in July-August, NFL teams typically play four exhibition games (referred to by the NFL as “pre-season games;” the league discourages the use of the term “exhibition game”) from early August through early September. Each team hosts two games of the four. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game and American Bowl are held at neutral sites, so the four teams in those games play five exhibition games each.

The games are useful for new players who are not used to playing in front of very large crowds. Management often uses the games to evaluate newly-signed players. Veteran starters will generally play only for about a quarter of each game to minimize the risk of injury.

Regular Season

A sample scheduling grid, with a single team's (the Browns) schedule highlighted. Under this hypothetical schedule, the Browns would play the teams in blue twice and the teams in yellow once, for a total of 16 games

A sample scheduling grid, with a single team’s (the Browns) schedule highlighted. Under this hypothetical schedule, the Browns would play the teams in blue twice and the teams in yellow once, for a total of 16 games

Main article: Regular season (NFL)

Following the preseason, each of the 32 teams embark on a 17 week, 16 game schedule, with the extra week consisting of a bye to allow teams a rest sometime in the middle of the season. Each of the 32 teams’ schedules are organized in the following way:

  • Each team plays the other three teams in its division twice: once at home, and once on the road (six games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from another division within its own conference once on a rotating three-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from a division in the other conference once on a rotating four-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays once against the other teams in its conference that finished in the same place in their own divisions as themselves, not counting the division they were already scheduled to play: one at home, one on the road (two games).


The NFL Playoffs. Each of the 4 division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their W-L-T records. The two Wild Card teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded 5th and 6th (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the 4 division winners.

The NFL Playoffs. Each of the 4 division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their W-L-T records. The two Wild Card teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded 5th and 6th (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the 4 division winners.

Main article: NFL playoffs

The season concludes with a 12-team tournament used to determine the teams to play in the Super Bowl. The tournament brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league’s two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC), following the end of the 16-game regular season:

  • The four division champions from each conference (the team in each division with the best regular season won-lost-tied record), which are seeded 1 through 4 based on their regular season won-lost-tied record.
  • Two wild card qualifiers from each conference (those non-division champions with the conference’s best record, i.e. the best won-lost-tied percentages, with a series of tie-breaking rules in place in the event that there are teams with the same number of wins and losses[12]), which are seeded 5 and 6.

The 3 and the 6 seeded teams, and the 4 and the 5 seeds, face each other during the first round of the playoffs, dubbed the Wild Card Playoffs (the league in recent years has also used the term Wild Card Weekend). The 1 and the 2 seeds from each conference receive a bye in the first round, which entitles these teams to automatically advance to the second round, the Divisional Playoff games, to face the winning teams from the first round. In any given playoff round, the highest surviving seed always plays the lowest surviving seed. And in any given playoff game, whoever has the higher seed gets the home field advantage (i.e. the game is held at the higher seed’s home field).

The two surviving teams from the Divisional Playoff games meet in Conference Championship games, with the winners of those contests going on to face one another in the Super Bowl in a game located at a neutral venue that is either indoors or in a warm-weather locale. The designated “home team” alternates year to year between the conferences. In Super Bowl XLII the AFC team (New England Patriots) were “home”. In Super Bowl XLIII the NFC team will be the home team.



For more details on this topic, see NFL on television.

The television rights to the NFL are the most lucrative and expensive rights not only of any American sport, but of any American entertainment property. With the fragmentation of audiences due to the increased specialization of broadcast and cable TV networks, sports remain one of the few entertainment properties that not only can guarantee a large and diversified audience, but an audience that will watch in real time.

Annually, the Super Bowl often ranks among the most watched shows of the year. Four of Nielsen Media Research’s top ten programs are Super Bowls.[13] Networks have purchased a share of the broadcasting rights to the NFL as a means of raising the entire network’s profile.[14]

Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2006 season, regular season games are broadcast on five networks: CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. Regionally shown games are broadcast on Sundays on CBS and FOX, carrying the AFC and NFC teams respectively (the traveling team deciding the broadcast station in the event of inter-Conference games, presumably so that each network can show games from all the stadiums). These games generally air at 1:00 p.m. ET and 4:00 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. ET. Nationally televised games include Sunday night games (shown on NBC), Monday night games (shown on ESPN), the Thursday night NFL Kickoff Game (shown on NBC), the annual Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day games (CBS and Fox), and, as of 2006, select Thursday and Saturday games on the NFL Network, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Football League.[15][16]

Additionally, satellite broadcast company DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a subscription based package, that allows most Sunday daytime regional games to be watched.[17][18] This package is exclusive to DirecTV in the USA. In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket is available on a per-provider distribution deal on both cable and satellite.


Each NFL team has its own radio network and employs its announcers. Nationally, the NFL is heard on the Westwood One Radio Network, Sports USA Radio Network and in Spanish on Univision Radio and the United Stations Radio Networks. Westwood One carries Sunday and Monday Night Football, all Thursday games, two Sunday afternoon contests each week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, and all post-season games, including the Pro Bowl. Sports USA Radio broadcasts two Sunday afternoon games every Sunday during the regular season.[15]

The NFL also has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio, which provides news, analysis, commentary and game coverage for all games, as well as comprehensive coverage of the draft and off-season on its own channel, Sirius NFL Radio.[15]

Internet radio broadcasts of all NFL games are managed through FieldPass, a subscription service. Radio stations are, by rule, prohibited from streaming the games for free from their Web sites; however, there are numerous stations that break this rule. The NFL on Westwood One and the NFL on Sports USA Radio are not available on FieldPass.

Internet/New Media

In October 2006 the NFL announced the league would fully operate, including the development of the technology, infrastructure and editorial content. Launching its first major redesign since 1999 in August 2007, the site had been previously produced and hosted since 2001 by CBS SportsLine. It is estimated that the contract cost CBS $120 million over a five year period. Prior to CBS, produced and hosted the NFL site.[19]

Brian Rolapp, senior vice president of NFL digital media and media strategy: “In a rapidly changing digital landscape, bringing in-house provides us greater control of our valuable content and enables us to strategically build the site as a media asset. Fans can look forward to an even more entertaining, interactive and informative site built upon the expertise of the NFL and its other in-house media outlets such as NFL Network and NFL Films.”

Univision Online, Inc., the interactive subsidiary of Univision Communications Inc., and the NFL announced in January 2008 that they will jointly manage and operate powered by, the official U.S. Spanish-language website of the NFL. is the only Spanish-language website in the United States to feature NFL video game highlights. In addition, the website includes live radio broadcasts, up-to-date stats, Hispanic player diaries, Fantasy Football and an insider’s view of all 32 teams.[20]

Announced in March 2008, received its first-ever Sports Emmy nominations, which earned recognition for its LIVE coverage of NFL Network’s Thursday and Saturday Night Football (Outstanding new approaches, coverage) and its Anatomy of a Play, a short-form 360-degree analysis of key plays of the week (Outstanding new approaches, general interest).[21]

Player contracts and compensation

NFL players are all members of a union called the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). The NFLPA negotiates the general minimum contract for all players in the league. This contract is called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and it is the central document that governs the negotiation of individual player contracts for all of the league’s players. The current CBA has been in place since 1993, and was amended in 1998 and again in 2006. The NFL has not had any labor-related work stoppages since the 1987 season, which is much longer than Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NHL. The current CBA expires at the end of the 2012 season.[22]

Players are tiered into three different levels with regards to their rights to negotiate for contracts:

  • Players who have been drafted (see below), and have not yet played in their first year, may only negotiate with the team that drafted them.[22] If terms cannot be agreed upon, the players’ only recourse is to refuse to play (“sit out”) until terms can be reached. Players often use the threat of sitting out as a means to force the hands of the teams that drafted them. For example, John Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1983 but refused to play for them. He had a fallback option of baseball, as he had played in the New York Yankees organization for two summers while at Stanford. The Colts traded his rights to the Denver Broncos and Elway agreed to play.[23] Bo Jackson sat out an entire year in 1986, choosing to play baseball in the Kansas City Royals organization (and ultimately for the Royals themselves) rather than play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that had drafted him. He reentered the draft the following year, and was drafted and subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Raiders.[24]
  • Players that have played between 3–5 full seasons in the league, and whose contract has expired are considered “Restricted Free Agents” (see below). They have limited rights to negotiate with any club.[22]
  • Players that have played 5 or more full seasons in the league, and whose contract has expired, are considered “Unrestricted Free Agents”(see below) and have unlimited rights to negotiate with any club. Teams may name a single player in any given year as a “Franchise Player”(see below), which eliminates much of that player’s negotiation rights. This is a limited right of the team, however, and affects only a small handful of players each year.[22]

Among the items covered in the CBA are:

  • The league minimum salary
  • The salary cap
  • The annual collegiate draft
  • Rules regarding “free agency”
  • Waiver rules


A player’s salary, as defined by the CBA, includes any “compensation in money, property, investments, loans or anything else of value to which an NFL player may be awarded” excluding such benefits as insurance and pension. A salary can include an annual pay and a one-time “signing bonus” which is paid in full when the player signs his contract. For the purposes of the salary cap (see below), the signing bonus is prorated over the life of the contract rather than to the year in which the signing bonus is paid.[25]

Player contracts are not guaranteed; teams are only required to pay on the contract as long as the player remains a member of the team. If the player is cut, or quits, for any reason, the balance of the contract is voided and the player receives no further compensation.[26]

Years Experience Minimum Salary[26]
0 $285,000
1 $360,000
2 $435,000
3 $510,000
4–6 $595,000
7–9 $720,000
10+ $820,000

Among other things, the CBA establishes a minimum salary for its players,[26] which is stepped-up as a player’s years of experience increase. Players and their agents may negotiate with clubs for higher salaries, and frequently do. As of the 2005 NFL season, the highest paid player was Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, whose “cap value” was slightly under $8 million.[27] The overall value of his contract is 10 years at $130 million, averaging $13 million a year, including signing bonuses and annual salary[28]. The NFLPA maintains a searchable record of base compensation for active players here

Salary cap

The salary cap is defined as the maximum amount that a team may spend on player compensation (see above) in a given season, for all of its players combined. Unlike other leagues, for example the NBA (which permits certain exemptions) or Major League Baseball (which has a “soft cap” enforced by “luxury taxes”), the NFL has a “hard cap”: an amount no team under any circumstances may exceed.

The NFL salary cap is calculated by the current CBA to be 59.5% of the total projected league revenue for the upcoming year. This number, divided by the number of teams, determines an individual team’s maximum salary cap. For 2006, this is approximately $102 million per team. For 2007, it is projected that this will rise to $109 million.[26]

Teams and players often find creative ways to fit salaries under the salary cap. Early in the salary cap era, “signing bonuses” were used to give players a large chunk of money up front, and thus not count in the salary for the bulk of the contract. This led to a rule whereby all signing bonus are pro-rated equally for each year of the contract. Thus if a player receives a $10 million signing bonus for a 5 year contract, $2 million per year would count against the salary cap for the life of the contract, even though the full $10 million was paid up front during the first year of the contract.[26]

Player contracts tend to be “back-loaded”. This means that the contract is not divided equally among the time period it covers. Instead, the player earns progressively more and more each year. For instance, a player signing a 4-year deal worth $10 million may get paid $1 million the first year, $2 million the second year, $3 million the third year, and $4 million the fourth year. If a team cuts this player after the first year, the final three years do not count against the cap. Any signing bonus, however, ceases to be pro-rated, and the entire balance of the bonus counts against the cap in the upcoming season.[26]

The NFL Draft

For more details on this topic, see NFL Draft.

Each April, each NFL franchise seeks to add new players to its roster through a collegiate draft known as “the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting”, which is more commonly known as the NFL Draft.

Teams are ranked in inverse order based on the previous season’s record, with the team having the worst record picking first, and the second-worst picking second, and so on. Regardless of regular season records, the last two picks of each round go to the two teams in the Super Bowl immediately preceding the draft, with the Super Bowl champion picking last. Thus, the New York Giants, though they had only the 7th best record in the 2007 season and would otherwise have had the 26th pick in the first round, will actually have the last (31st) pick because they won Super Bowl XLII.

The draft proceeds for seven rounds. Rounds 1–2 are run on Saturday of draft weekend, rounds 3–7 are run on Sunday. Teams are given a limited amount of time to make their picks.[29] If the pick is not made in the allotted time, subsequent teams in the draft may draft before them. This happened in 2003 to the Minnesota Vikings.[30]

Teams have the option of trading away their picks to other teams for different picks, players, cash, or a combination thereof. While player-for-player trades are rare during the rest of the year (especially in comparison to the other major league sports), trades are far more common on draft day. In 1989, in arguably the most famous draft day trade ever, the Dallas Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five veteran players and six draft picks over 3 years. The Cowboys would use these picks to leverage trades for additional draft picks and veteran players. As a direct result of this trade, they would draft many of the stars who would help them win three Super Bowls in the 1990s, including Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland and Darren Woodson.[31]

The first pick in the draft is often taken to be the best overall player in the rookie class. This may or may not be true, since teams often select players based more on the teams’ needs than on the players’ overall skills. Plus, comparing players at different positions is difficult to do. Still, it is considered a great honor to be a first-round pick, and a greater honor to be the first overall pick. The last pick in the draft is known as Mr. Irrelevant, and is the subject of a dinner in his honor in Newport Beach, California.

Drafted players may only negotiate with the team that drafted them (or to another team if their rights were traded away). The drafting team has one year to sign the player. If they do not do so, the player may reenter the draft and can be drafted by another team. Bo Jackson famously sat out a season in this way.[24]

Further information: List of NFL first overall draft choices

Free agency

For more details on this topic, see Free Agent#NFL Usage.


As defined by the Collective Barganing Agreement (CBA), a free agent is any player who is not under contract to any team and thus has fully free rights to negotiate with any other team for new contract terms.[22][32] Free agents are classified into two categories: restricted and unrestricted. Furthermore, a team may “tag” a player as a franchise or transition, which places additional restrictions on that player’s ability to negotiate. However, the ability to “tag” is quite limited, and only affects a handful of players each year.

Free agency in the NFL began with a limited free agency system known as “Plan B Free Agency”, which was in effect between the 1989 and 1992 seasons. Beginning with the 1993 season, “Plan A Free Agency” went into effect, which is the system which remains in the NFL today.[citation needed]

Restricted free agent

For more details on this topic, see Restricted free agent.

A player who has 3-5 years of experience is eligible for restricted free agency, whereby his current team has the chance to retain rights to this player by matching the highest offer any other NFL franchise might make to that player. The club can either block a signing or, in essence, force a trade by offering a salary over a certain threshold. In 2006, these thresholds were as follows:

  • If a club tenders an offer of $685,000 per year for a three year veteran, and $725,000 for a four year veteran, the player’s current team has “right of first refusal” over the contract at those terms, and may sign the player at those terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $712,000 or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year’s salary, then the current club has both “right of first refusal” and rights to a draft pick from the same round (or better) from the signing club. Essentially, this means that the new club must forfeit the draft pick to the old club if they wish to sign the player under these terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $1.552 million or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year’s salary, then the current club has both “right of first refusal”; and rights to the first round draft pick from the signing club.[32]

Unrestricted free agent

A player who has 5 or more years of experience is eligible for unrestricted free agency, whereby his current team has no guaranteed right to match outside offers to that player. This means that players in this category have unlimited rights to negotiate any terms with any team.[32]

Franchise tag

The franchise tag is a designation given to a player by a franchise that guarantees that player a contract the average of the five highest-paid players of that same position in the entire league, or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary (whichever is greater) in return for retaining rights to that player for one year. An NFL franchise may only designate one player a year as having the franchise tag, and may designate the same player for consecutive years. This has caused some tension between some NFL franchise designees and their respective teams due to the fact that a player designated as a franchise player precludes that player from pursuing large signing bonuses that are common in unrestricted free agency, and also prevents a player from leaving the team, especially when the reasons for leaving are not necessarily financial. A team may, at their discretion, allow the franchise player to negotiate with other clubs, but if he signs with another club, the first club is entitled to two first round draft picks in compensation.[32]

Banned substances policy

The NFL banned substances policy has been acclaimed by some [33] and criticized by others[34], but the policy is the longest running in professional sports, beginning in 1987. [33] The current policy of the NFL suspends players without pay who test positive for banned substances as it has since 1989: four games for the first offense (a quarter of the regular season), eight games for a second offense (half of the regular season), and 12 months for a third offense.[35] The suspended games may be either regular season games or playoff games. [35]

In comparison to the policies of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, the NFL has long been the most strict. While recently MLB and the NHL decided to permanently ban athletes for a third offense, they have long been resistant to such measures, and random testing is in its infancy. [36][37]

Since the NFL started random, year-round tests and suspending players for banned substances, many more players have been found to be in violation of the policy. By April 2005, 111 NFL players had tested positive for banned substances, and of those 111, the NFL suspended 54.[34]

A new rule has been put into effect due to Shawne Merriman. Starting the 2007–2008 season, the new rule prohibits any player testing positive for banned substances from being able to play in the Pro Bowl that year.[citation needed]


Professional football and NFL champions

Further information: History of NFL Championships, List of NFL champions, and List of Super Bowl champions

Current NFL teams


There are 32 NFL teams. Each club is allowed a maximum of 53 players on their roster, but they may only dress 45 to play each week during the regular season. Unlike Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the league has no full-time teams in Canada largely because of the historical existence of the Canadian Football League, although the Buffalo Bills will begin playing one game per year (outside of the CFL season) in Toronto, Ontario beginning in 2008. Most teams are in the Eastern United States.

Most major metropolitan areas in the United States have an NFL franchise. Los Angeles, the second-largest metropolitan area in the country, has not hosted an NFL team since 1994 (see list of TV markets and major sports teams). The Rams and the Raiders called Los Angeles home from 1946-1994 and 1982-1994 respectively. In 2005, some Saints games were played in San Antonio because of Hurricane Katrina. Also, there is talk of possibly bringing the NFL to Toronto, Ontario, the largest city of Canada. The most frequently mentioned team for such a move is the Buffalo Bills, who play 80 miles (130 km) south in Buffalo and will begin playing some of their games in Toronto’s Rogers Centre in 2008.[38]

The Dallas Cowboys are the highest valued sports franchise in the world, valued at approximately $1.5 billion.[39]

Since the 2002 season, the teams have been aligned as follows:[40]

American Football Conference
Division Team First season Stadium City/Area
East Buffalo Bills 1960 Ralph Wilson Stadium (primary)
Rogers Centre5 (secondary)
Orchard Park, NY (Buffalo area)
Toronto, ON
Miami Dolphins 1966 Dolphin Stadium Miami Gardens, FL (Miami area)
New England Patriots 1960 Gillette Stadium Foxborough, MA (Boston/Providence area)
New York Jets 1960 Giants Stadium1 East Rutherford, NJ (New York area)
North Baltimore Ravens 1996 M&T Bank Stadium Baltimore, MD
Cincinnati Bengals 1968 Paul Brown Stadium Cincinnati, OH
Cleveland Browns 1946 Cleveland Browns Stadium Cleveland, OH
Pittsburgh Steelers 1933 Heinz Field Pittsburgh, PA
South Houston Texans 2002 Reliant Stadium Houston, TX
Indianapolis Colts 1953 Lucas Oil Stadium Indianapolis, IN
Jacksonville Jaguars 1995 Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Jacksonville, FL
Tennessee Titans 1960 LP Field Nashville, TN
West Denver Broncos 1960 INVESCO Field at Mile High Denver, CO
Kansas City Chiefs 1960 Arrowhead Stadium4 Kansas City, MO
Oakland Raiders 1960 McAfee Coliseum Oakland, CA
San Diego Chargers 1960 Qualcomm Stadium San Diego, CA
  • 1 The Jets will move into the New Meadowlands Stadium in 2010.
  • 4 The Kansas City Chiefs will renovate and expand Arrowhead Stadium by 2010.
  • 5 The Buffalo Bills will play one regular game each year and one preseason game every two years in Toronto beginning in 2008.
National Football Conference
Division Team Stadium City/Area
East Dallas Cowboys Texas Stadium1 Irving, TX (Dallas/Fort Worth metro)1
New York Giants Giants Stadium2 East Rutherford, NJ (New York area)
Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field Philadelphia, PA
Washington Redskins FedExField Landover, MD (Washington, D.C. area)
North Chicago Bears Soldier Field Chicago, IL
Detroit Lions Ford Field Detroit, MI
Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field Green Bay, WI
Minnesota Vikings Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome3 Minneapolis, MN
South Atlanta Falcons Georgia Dome Atlanta, GA
Carolina Panthers Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, NC
New Orleans Saints Louisiana Superdome New Orleans, LA
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium Tampa, FL
West Arizona Cardinals University of Phoenix Stadium Glendale, AZ (Phoenix area)
St. Louis Rams Edward Jones Dome St. Louis, MO
San Francisco 49ers Monster Park San Francisco, CA
Seattle Seahawks Qwest Field Seattle, WA
  • 1 The Dallas Cowboys will move into the New Cowboys Stadium in Arlington by 2009.
  • 2 The New York Giants will move into the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford by 2010.
  • 3 The State of Minnesota is currently reviewing plans for the construction of Vikings Stadium, a retractable roof venue to replace the Metrodome in Minneanapolis.

Former NFL teams

Further information: Defunct NFL teams

In its earliest years, the NFL was a very unstable and somewhat informal organization. Many teams entered and left the league annually. However, since the acquisition of the All-America Football Conference in 1950, the NFL has shown nearly perfect stability. The last NFL team to fold was the Dallas Texans in 1952 (a team that had undergone numerous ownership and city changes since its founding as the Dayton Triangles in 1920); its remnants were salvaged to form what is now the Indianapolis Colts.

Video games

There have been several football video games based on NFL teams created for various consoles over the years, from 10-Yard Fight and the Tecmo Bowl series for the NES to the more well known Madden series that have been released annually since 1994. The latter series is named after former coach and current football commentator John Madden, who commentates the game along with Al Michaels (Pat Summerall prior to 2003). Prior to the 2005–2006 football season, other NFL games were produced by competing video game publishers, such as 2K Games and Midway Games. However, in December 2004, Electronic Arts signed a five-year exclusive agreement with the NFL, meaning only Electronic Arts will be permitted to publish games featuring NFL team and player names. This prompted video game developer Midway Games to release a game in 2005 called Blitz: The League, with fictitious teams such as the “Washington Redhawks”, and make references to NFL players such as the Washington Redhawks left-handed QB “Ron Mexico”, alluding to Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, who allegedly used the alias at a walk-in clinic. In February 2008, EA Sports renewed their exclusivity agreement with the league through Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.[41]

Commissioners and presidents

  1. President Jim Thorpe (1920–1921)[42]
  2. President Joseph Carr (1921 — 1939)
  3. President Carl Storck (1939 — 1941)
  4. Commissioner Elmer Layden (1941 — 1946)
  5. Commissioner Bert Bell (1946 — 1959)
  6. Interim President Austin Gunsel (1959 — 1960, following death of Bell)
  7. Commissioner Alvin “Pete” Rozelle (1960 — 1989)
  8. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989 — 2006)
  9. Commissioner Roger Goodell (2006 — present)

Franchise owners

Main article: List of NFL franchise owners

Unlike many professional leagues, the NFL forbids corporate owners. Ownership groups must contain 24 or fewer individuals, and at least one partner must hold a 30 percent or greater share of the team. The exception to this policy is the Green Bay Packers, owned by a non-profit corporation for more than eighty years; the Packers’ situation was grandfathered into the current policy.[43]

Main league offices

  • Canton (1920 — 1921)
  • Columbus (1921 — 1941)
  • Chicago (1941 — 1946)
  • Philadelphia (1946 — 1960)
  • New York City (1960 — present)

Uniform numbers

Main article: Squad number

In the NFL, players wear uniform numbers based on the position they play. The current system was instituted into the league on April 5, 1973,[44] as a means for fans and officials (referees, linesmen) to more easily identify players on the field by their position. Players who were already in the league at that date were grandfathered, and did not have to change their uniform numbers if they did not conform. Since that date, players are invariably assigned numbers within the following ranges, based on their primary position:

  • Quarterbacks, placekickers and punters: 1–19
  • Wide Receivers: 10-19 and 80-89
  • Running backs and defensive backs: 20–49
  • Offensive linemen: 50–79
  • Linebackers: 50–59 and 90–99, or 40-49 if all are taken
  • Defensive linemen: 60–79 and 90–99
  • Tight ends: 80–89, or 40–49 if all are taken

Prior to 2004, wide receivers were allowed to only wear numbers 80–89.[45] The NFL changed the rule that year to allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10–19 to allow for the increased number of players at wide receiver and tight end coming into the league. Linebackers are allowed to wear numbers between 40-49 when all of 50-59 and 90-99 numbers are taken. Prior to that, players were only allowed to wear non-standard numbers if their team had run out of numbers within the prescribed number range. Keyshawn Johnson began wearing number 19 in 1996 because the New York Jets had run out of numbers in the 80s. Oakland Raider offensive center Jim Otto wore a 00 jersey during most of his career with the AFL team and kept the number after the leagues merged.

Occasionally, players will petition the NFL to allow them to wear a number that is not in line with the numbering system. Brad Van Pelt, a linebacker who entered the NFL in 1973 with the New York Giants, wore number 10 during his 11 seasons with the club, despite not being covered by the grandfather clause. In 2006, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush petitioned the NFL to let him keep the number 5 which he used at USC. His request was later denied.[46] Former Seattle Seahawks standout Brian Bosworth attempted such a petition in 1987 (to wear his collegiate number of 44 at the linebacker position), also without success. The Seahawks attempted to get around the rule by listing Bosworth as a safety, but after he wore number 44 for a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL ruled Bosworth would have to switch back to his original number, 55.

It should be noted that this NFL numbering system is based on a player’s primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position on the field at any time (though offensive players wearing numbers 50–79 and wishing to play at end or back must let the referee know that they are playing out of position by reporting as an “ineligible number in an eligible position”). Normally, only players on offense with eligible numbers are permitted to touch the ball by taking a snap from center, receiving a hand-off or catching a pass. It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or to have a large lineman play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. Also, in preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.


  • Vince Lombardi Trophy
  • Lamar Hunt Trophy
  • George S. Halas Trophy
  • Most Valuable Player
  • Coach of the Year
  • Offensive Player of the Year
  • Super Bowl MVP
  • NFL Comeback Player of the Year
  • Walter Payton Man of the Year Award
  • Pro Bowl MVP

Discontinued awards

  • AFL All-Star Game MVP
  • UPI NFC Player of the Year
  • UPI AFL-AFC Player of the Year

See also

  • Coaching tree
  • Current NFL coaches
  • Defunct NFL teams
  • Glossary of American football
  • Index of Professional Sports teams in the United States and Canada
  • Instant replay
  • National Football League depth charts
  • National Football League stadiums
  • List of American football players
  • List of current NFL announcers
  • List of Professional Football Drafts
  • List of sports attendance figures — the NFL’s attendance in a worldwide context
  • List of TV markets and major sports teams
  • Madden NFL series
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL All-Decade Teams
  • NFL Blitz
  • NFL Cheerleading
  • NFL Films
  • NFL franchise moves and mergers
  • NFL Network
  • NFL nicknames
  • NFL Lore
  • NFL Street series
  • Personal Seat License
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • USA Football

Exhibition games

  • American Bowl (defunct)
  • College All-Star Game (defunct)
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame Game

Regular seasons

  • List of NFL seasons
  • List of NFL tied games (since 1974)
  • National Football League: Last to First
  • Significant rivalries in the NFL
  • Sunday Night Football
  • Monday Night Football
  • Thursday and Saturday Night Football

Special regular season games

  • Kickoff game, first game of the season
  • International Series, last weekend of October
  • Thanksgiving Classic
  • Christmas games


  • One Game Playoff
  • NFL playoffs
  • AFC Championship Game
  • NFC Championship Game
  • Playoff Bowl (defunct)
  • Super Bowl
  • Pro Bowl
  • History of NFL Championships
  • List of Super Bowl champions
  • List of NFL champions
  • Professional Football Championship Games
  • List of Current NFL franchise post-season droughts
  • Active NFL playoff appearance streaks


  • NFL Standings since AFL-NFL merger
  • NFL opening day standings
  • NFL Individual Records
  • NFL Team-Oriented Records
  • Super Bowl records

Other related leagues

American football

  • American Football League
  • All American Football League
  • All-America Football Conference
  • NFL Europa
  • American Youth Football
  • List of leagues of American football

Further reading

  • “NFL Scores Nearly $18 Billion in TV Rights”, by Stefan Fatsis and Kyle Pope, 14 January 1998, The Wall Street Journal (p. B1)[2]
  • 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book. Time Inc. Home Entertainment. ISBN 1-933405-32-5.
  • Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. Harper Collins. ISBN 1-933405-32-5.
  • NFL’s Economic Model Shows Signs of Strain
  • Process of game-time decisions will eliminate TV duds, create chaos by Michael Hiestand, USA Today, April 5, 2006 (Last accessed April 5, 2006)
  • Five NFL teams worth over $1 billion
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