NFL owners approve flex games on Thursdays, award draft to Packers

Fans tailgate outside Lambeau Field before an NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (Mike Roemer/AP)

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Thursday nights in the NFL have long been the most drastic feature of its made-for-TV schedule, a prime-time slot that raised concerns about player safety and produced plenty of competitive duds before it moved to a streaming-only platform.

Now the league will have the power, albeit limited, to change the matchups.

NFL owners approved Monday a flexible scheduling policy for Thursday night games on Amazon Prime Video, for Weeks 13-17 only and with at least 28 days’ notice given to the affected teams. The league could push a Thursday night matchup in that range to Sunday afternoon if there’s a more desirable game, a mechanism currently in place for Sunday night and Monday night games.

No team would be required to play more than twice on Thursday night in a season. The rule is just for 2023, for now. Any game during Weeks 13-17 could be selected for the move to Thursday night, but the league said the bar for such a shuffle would be high.

“We’re incredibly judicious and incredibly sensitive to flexing a game and all the dynamics that go into that,” said Hans Schroeder, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Media. “We’re also trying to balance how we get the best games in the best windows for our fans.”

In addition to the prime-time allowances for flexing games, the NFL also now puts the entire Week 18 schedule up for grabs until the week of so it can show two games with playoff implications on Saturday.

New York Giants owner John Mara, a critic of the proposal for its negative impact on fans, said after the vote that he was disappointed but not surprised.

Also approved Monday at the NFL’s spring meetings was a rule that allows teams to play an emergency quarterback from the inactive list if the first two are injured during a game, a decision that stems from San Francisco’s depth-chart challenge in the NFC championship game.

The bylaw was initially proposed by the Detroit Lions. The third quarterback designation will not count against the limit of active players — either 47 or 48 — that is determined 90 minutes before kickoff.

The emergency activation can only occur after injury or disqualification, not for a performance-related decision or other conduct. If either of the first two quarterbacks are cleared by the team’s medical staff to return to play, the third must be removed from the game and can only return as a quarterback if an injury scenario arises again.

If a team puts three quarterbacks on the active list for a game, it can’t use the emergency option. Game-day practice squad elevations are not eligible, either.

The 49ers had running back Christian McCaffery warming up his arm in the NFC championship game in Philadelphia, after Brock Purdy injured his elbow and Josh Johnson suffered a concussion. Purdy was forced back into the game but unable to throw the ball more than 10 yards as the 49ers scrapped their game plan for a run-heavy attack in their 31-7 loss to the Eagles on Jan. 29.

The 49ers had already lost their top two quarterbacks — Trey Lance in Week 2 and Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13 — to season-ending injuries.

The agenda this week included diversity initiatives in coaching and in sports medicine and the awarding of two major events for the 2025 season. The Green Bay Packers were given the NFL draft, and the San Francisco 49ers got Super Bowl 60.

Owners were also updated on the pending sale of the Washington Commanders from Dan Snyder’s family to Josh Harris’ group, a prominent if not pressing issue. No vote on the record $6.05 billion transaction will occur this week.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, a member of the league finance committee, expressed guarded optimism about the completion of the deal.

“There’s certain criteria that has to be met, and that’s just the way it is. It’s not there yet, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t get there. It’s complicated. Put it that way. I could explain it to you, and it wouldn’t tell you anything,” Irsay said.

Neither Snyder nor his wife, Tanya, came to Minnesota for the meeting. The league’s preference, Irsay said, is to have the deal approved prior to the start of the regular season. Irsay indicated the amount of money at stake and the amount of investors involved in Harris’ group — which includes Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson — has lengthened the approval process.

“We’re working hard. Everyone wants to get it done, and it’s seeing that it just complies with league policy. It’s a complicated deal, so we’re trying to just work through it and we’re hopeful we can get it done. It’s going to take probably several more weeks of discussions before we see if we can reach the goal line,” Irsay said.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he wasn’t concerned about the viability of the bid from Harris, who owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils with partner David Blitzer, as long as it’s properly structured.

“Which it will be,” Jones said. “It’s too important for them to have the right structure coming in, because they’ll benefit by the way it’s been structured for everybody else in the past.”

There’s no timeline in place for a vote.

“These are outstandingly qualified owners,” Jones said. “That always rules the day on getting it cleared with the NFL.”

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