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NFL Annual Meeting Roundup

In football's figurative desert (i.e., the offseason), fans see April's NFL Draft as an oasis.

This year, however, the League's Annual Meeting was the oasis in a literal desert.

Having just wrapped up this week in Phoenix, Arizona, the 2007 Meeting brought together all of pro football's ruling elite.

Undoubtedly, power brokers like the Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, reminisced with their peers a bit about the season that just ended. More importantly, though, their agenda, as it is each year, was to address issues—on and off the field—pertinent to the upcoming NFL season.

Here's a look at the most important developments from this year's NFL Annual Meeting:

Revenue-sharing

Peace and parity…for now.

The week kicked off with perhaps the most noteworthy news, business-wise. For the short term, at least, NFL owners have agreed on a plan to distribute revenue from large-market clubs (e.g., New England) and franchises in smaller cities (think Jacksonville, Buffalo, etc.).

This is significant for two reasons.

First, it brought bickering owners together (the measure passed 30-2) on an issue that had become quite contentious of late.

Second, it levels the financial playing field in NFL front offices. Teams like the Patriots, who generate enormous profits from sources like luxury boxes, must give a portion of that extra income to teams who aren't as well-equipped. Smaller market teams will now have more money to spend on free agents, and larger market clubs will have less.

Not surprisingly, the Krafts played a key role in helping form a consensus.

"I think everybody thought it would have to be decided by the commissioner (Roger Goodell), that there was no way we could do this," Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft told The Boston Globe earlier this week.

Kraft went on to say that many of the plan's details were hammered out, in large part, by his son, Patriots President Jonathan Kraft.

"The guidelines he set up of how teams would participate were followed in this setup. He helped lay the groundwork for this."

The plan only extends through 2009, however, so owners will have to debate this potentially fractious topic again very soon.

Rules changes

Surprisingly few.

Most notably, instant replay will no longer be "under review." The League, which had been experimenting with the system the past few years, decided to make replay a permanent fixture. In addition, the technology will be upgraded to high-definition.

Also, if a player spikes the ball in the field, his team will now be penalized five yards (presumably, touchdown-celebrating spikes will still be allowed).

Proposals that didn't pass made the most news.

For instance, an idea to move the opening kickoff of overtime from the 30- to the 35-yard line was defeated. As was Chicago's move to boost game-day rosters from 45 to 47, something New England's head coach opposed.

"I think there is too much specialization as it is," Bill Belichick said in a recent Globe interview. "I think you'd lose the flow of the game. I also think fans want to see the same guys out there instead of situational guys."

Player conduct

This was Commissioner Goodell's cause at the '07 Meeting.

While a specific policy is still being worked on, the commissioner will meet with two of the NFL's most troubled athletes, Adam "Pacman" Jones of Tennessee and Chris Henry of Cincinnati.

Both players have had numerous run-ins with the law over the past couple of years, something Goodell hopes to discourage around the NFL with tougher, League-administered penalties.

A new conduct policy is expected shortly after Goodell meets with Jones and Henry, which the commissioner indicated he would like to have happen prior to the Draft.

Dates and Draft picks

Speaking of the Draft, it's only four weeks away. When it arrives, the Patriots will have four extra picks.

The League awarded New England compensatory selections in Rounds 5, 6, and 7 to make up for the loss of several free agents last season.

A portion of the 2007 schedule was announced as well. The Patriots were thought to have been contenders to visit Indianapolis for the traditional Thursday night opener versus the defending Super Bowl champs. That spot, however, was given to New Orleans.

The other nationally televised game New England might have landed was a Thanksgiving Day tilt in Dallas, but the Jets will make that trip instead.

The entire 2007 NFL schedule will be released sometime in April, possibly as early as next week.

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