Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports, USA TODAY Sports

Before you know it, NFL training camps will be abuzz with the pop of pads. But the future of the game has no pads at all. Or at least that's what Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the Associated Press this week, not only suggesting that flag football stands out as the model for the sport's next steps, but revealing the NFL is working toward making flag football an Olympic sport as soon as 2028.

"When we talk about the future of the game of football, it is, no question, flag," Vincent said, per the AP. "When I've been asked over the last 24 months, in particular, what does the next 100 years look like when you look at football, not professional football, it's flag. It's the inclusion and the true motto of 'football for all.' There is a place in flag football for all."

Vincent's choice to single out "professional football," of course, signifies that the NFL won't be ditching contact anytime soon. But flag football ultimately encourages more participation -- and, subsequently, international interest -- because of its emphasis on other athletic traits, he told the AP.

"You watch these young ladies and men play in other countries," he said. "It's a transitional sport. It's a cross-functional sport. The best flag players come from soccer, lacrosse, cricket because these are men and women who have tremendous agility. It's a fast-paced game played in space. You don't have to play it for years and years. You can develop. You can transfer those skills that you learned in soccer, lacrosse, cricket to flag football."

Hence the NFL's interest in expanding flag football to a global stage. Five years after the formation of the American Flag Football League (AFFL), an independent pro flag league that once featured former NFL players, the NFL has partnered with the International Federation of American Football to bring flag games to the 2022 World Games, featuring non-Olympic sports, this summer. Vincent hopes flag football's presence there will lead to a role in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

"That's the ultimate goal," he said, "to make flag football an Olympic sport."