|The NFL hopes more pads will help slow a game that has continued to get faster by the year. (Getty Images)|
If the NFL has its way, football may look somewhat different next year. Maybe something like this ...
Despite what is supposed to be lighter technology and slimmer design, players will look more bulky, as the requirement to make mandatory the wearing of thigh and knee pads is put into effect. No, players won't look like cartoon characters, but they will look more weighty.
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Those same pads will also cause the skill players to slow slightly. No, players won't look like drunken idiots at an office flag football game, but they will be slower.
Maybe DeSean Jackson's burst isn't as burst-tastic. Maybe Adrian Peterson's high step isn't as high. Or a pass rusher turns the corner a fraction of a second slower. Again, not dramatic, but players believe it will be noticeable, and so do league officials. Those officials also add no one will receive an edge as the game of all players will slow slightly.
In fact, this past season could be the last where the arc of speed continues upward, a trend that has stayed the same for maybe decades. The game has become faster and faster, and for the first time in a long time, that arc could become level.
The pad issue symbolizes the widening divergence between player and management in what is now an all-out conflict on many fronts. The league believes the pads are safety enhancers -- particularly when it comes to the knees and may reduce the risk of concussions, the hottest of hot button topics. A non-padded knee, the NFL says, is more dangerous when there is accidental contact with the head, than a padded one. Ah, duh, the NFL says. Common sense.
Players don't care. They see this as a choice issue. They see it as the NFL is big government trying to mandate something they don't want to do. Players want their unencumbered speed and slimmer look even if those things might be detrimental to their health. In many ways, the players' attitude is almost Tea Party-ish.
Superficially at least, opposition to the pads is beyond silly. It's almost remarkably dumb. Why would a player oppose enhanced safety measures? It makes no sense though one union rep questions the sincerity of the league. They believe these moves are for show.
And both sides may have a point. Players strongly believe this super-lightweight material doesn't really offer any more protection. An NFL spokesman said no tests were done to verify that the wearing of the pads would increase safety. Common sense, is what the NFL says. More padding, more protection. Also a fair point.
Still it's not 100 percent certain this idea will happen. The union might fight it. A source says the union isn't necessarily opposed to the pads but the CBA requires certain procedures to be followed whenever a change in working conditions happens, and the union feels this is definitely part of that. So we might be in for another battle between the league and NFLPA, one of many now, and one of many to come.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, I'm told, has been pushing for these changes for some time, several years in fact. There are people throughout football who believe the game's speed needs to be harnessed. One of the common yet unproven beliefs is the concussion problem spiked as the speed of the game grew.
It's hard to say if pads will help prevent concussions. It's a smart move by Goodell, however, to at least try. If there's a chance that wearing knee pads prevents at least one concussion, they’re worth wearing.
Even if the game might look slightly different. And slightly slower.