The National Football League has changed a great deal since I became old enough to appreciate it in the mid- to late 1970s. And one of the most significant changes is that being an NFL player is now a full-time job.
The days of NFL players using training camp to get into shape are long gone. Now there are mini-camps, passing camps, organized team activities and countless other opportunities for players to work with their teammates.
By the time week seven of the NFL season is reached, teammates have worked together so much that everything should be running like a finely tuned machine.
So why can’t the Dallas Cowboys, an alleged Super Bowl contender, master the simple task of not moving until the football is snapped?
Obviously, false starts are far from the only problem dragging Dallas down. But in Sunday’s debacle loss to the St. Louis Rams, every time the Cowboys’ offense started to gain the slightest bit of momentum, down came the yellow flag. And all of the calls were correct.
An offense that was already struggling without starting quarterback Tony Romo could ill afford seeing third-and-one becoming third-and-six and, even worse, fourth-and-one in a situation where they were about to try for the first down becoming fourth-and-six and yet another field-goal attempt.
But what’s the answer?
Another dramatic change in the NFL — players’ salaries — has taken away any fear of reprisal. Is a team supposed to bench its multimillion-dollar starting tackle in favor of a backup when the starter can’t pay attention to the snap count? Fines aren’t even worth considering, both due to the strength of the players’ union and the fact that $10,000 to an NFL player is roughly equivalent to $5 to a common person. Will making the players run more in practice after mistakes solve anything? I doubt it.
I really wish I had an answer for this, but I don’t.