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The 2016 NFL season was the 97th season in the history of the National Football League (NFL). The season began on September 8, 2016, with the defending Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos defeating the Carolina Panthers 21–20 in the NFL Kickoff Game. The season concluded with Super Bowl LI, the league's championship game on February 5, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston with the New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34–28 in overtime.

For the first time since the Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee in 1997,[10] an NFL team relocated to another state, as the former St. Louis Rams moved out of St. Louis, Missouri and returned to Los Angeles, its home from 1946 to 1994.[11][12] For the first time since the 2003 NFL season, neither of the previous season's Super Bowl participants made the playoffs.[13]

The 2016 season also was the last season for the San Diego Chargers after playing in San Diego for fifty-six years before their return to the city of Los Angeles for 2017, where the franchise was based in for their first season in 1960.

This was also the first season without any players drafted in the 1990s, as quarterback Peyton Manning and cornerback Charles Woodson, both from the 1998 Draft, retired earlier in the offseason.

Player movements and retirements


The 2016 NFL league year began on March 9, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. ET. On March 7 clubs started to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who became unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2015 contracts two days later. On March 9, clubs exercised options for 2016 on players who have option clauses in their 2015 contracts, submitted qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts and to whom desire to retain a Right of Refusal/Compensation, submitted a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2015 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued season of free agent credit, and teams were required to be under the salary cap, using the "Top-51" definition (in which the 51 highest-paid players on the team's payroll must have a collective salary cap hit below the actual cap). All 2015 players contracts expired and trading period for 2016 begin.

A total of 496 players were eligible for some form of free agency at the beginning of the free agency period.[14] In addition, a number of highly paid players were released after the start of the league year to allow their teams to regain space under the salary cap. Among the notable players who changed teams via free agency were:

The 2016 NFL Draft was held between April 28 − April 30, 2016 in Chicago. By way of a trade with the Tennessee Titans, the Los Angeles Rams held the first overall pick and selected QB Jared Goff.

  • Oakland Raiders' safety Charles Woodson announced that he would retire from professional football at the end of the 2015 season on December 21, 2015. He played eighteen seasons, starting with the Raiders for eight seasons and after spending seven with the Green Bay Packers, he returned to the Raiders for his final three seasons. He was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 2009 season and is tied with Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper for most career defensive touchdowns with 13.
  • Seattle Seahawks' running back Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement from professional football on February 7, 2016. Lynch played nine seasons, four of them with the Buffalo Bills and five of them with the Seahawks. Lynch was a five-time Pro Bowler, led the league in rushing touchdowns two seasons (2013–2014), co-led in total touchdowns one season (2014), and won a championship title with the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. Lynch would return to the NFL as a member of the Oakland Raiders the following year.
  • Carolina Panthers' defensive end Jared Allen announced his retirement from professional football on February 18, 2016. Allen played twelve seasons, his first four with the Kansas City Chiefs, then six with the Minnesota Vikings, and spent his last two seasons with the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. A five-time Pro Bowl and four-time All-Pro selection, Allen tallied 136 quarterback sacks during his career. In 2011, Allen had 22 sacks but fell 0.5 sacks short of the single season NFL record held by former New York Giants' defensive end Michael Strahan.
  • Denver Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning announced his retirement from professional football on March 7, 2016, exactly one month after the Broncos defeated the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Manning played in the NFL for seventeen seasons — the first thirteen with the Indianapolis Colts (1998–2010), before missing the entire 2011 season due to recovery from neck surgery, then played the last four seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos (2012–2015). Manning appeared in four Super Bowls (two with Indianapolis, two with Denver) and won one with each team — Super Bowl XLI and Super Bowl 50 and is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
  • Detroit Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson announced his retirement from professional football, one day after Manning on March 8, 2016. Johnson played his entire nine-year career with the Lions, including six Pro Bowl selections and three First Team All-Pro selections. He also set a single-season record for receiving yards in 2012 with 1,964.
  • Carolina Panthers' cornerback Charles Tillman announced his retirement from professional football on July 18, 2016. Tillman, nicknamed "Peanut", spent the first twelve years of his NFL career with the Chicago Bears (2003–2014), before signing with the Panthers in 2015. Tillman was a two-time Pro Bowler, and forced 42 fumbles during his first twelve seasons, the most of any defensive back since the statistic was first recorded in 1984.
  • Miami Dolphins' wide receiver Greg Jennings announced his retirement from professional football on July 25, 2016. Jennings spent his first seven seasons with the Packers and was a member of their 2010 championship team that won Super Bowl XLV. He then spent his remaining three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, respectively. Jennings was a two-time Pro Bowler.
  • Miami Dolphins' running back Arian Foster announced his retirement from professional football on October 25, 2016. Foster spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Houston Texans from 2009–2015, but played only four games with the Dolphins in 2016. Foster was plagued by injuries in the last two seasons of his career, including a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2015. Foster is the Texans' franchise leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards in a single season (a league-leading 1,616 in 2010), most rushing touchdowns in a single season and became the first player in NFL history to have 100+ rushing yards in his first three postseason games.[23]

Regular season


The 2016 regular season featured 256 games which were played out over a seventeen-week schedule beginning on Thursday, September 8, 2016. Each of the league's 32 teams played a 16-game schedule, with one bye week for each team scheduled between weeks 4–13. The slate also featured games on Monday night. There were games played on Thursday, including the National Football League Kickoff game in prime time on September 8 and games on Thanksgiving Day. The regular season concluded with a full slate of 16 games on Sunday, January 1, 2017, all of which were intra-divisional matchups, as it has been since 2010.

Under the NFL's current scheduling formula, each team played each of the other three teams in its own division twice. In addition, a team played against all four teams in one other division from each conference. The final two games on a team's schedule were against the two teams in the team's own conference in the two divisions the team was not set to play which finished the previous season in the same rank in their division (e.g. the team which finished first in its division the previous season played each other team in its conference that also finished first in its respective division). The pre-set division pairings for 2016 were:

The complete 2016 schedule was released on April 14, 2016. Highlights of the 2016 schedule included:

In-season scheduling changes


  • Pro Football Hall of Fame Game: The 2016 edition of the preseason Hall of Fame Game, between the Packers and the Colts, was canceled due to unsafe playing conditions at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, caused by the use of improper paints applied to the field to create the Hall of Fame logo and other markings.[26]
  • Week 8: The PackersFalcons game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET, was switched to 4:25 p.m. ET in place of the originally-scheduled CardinalsPanthers game, which was originally scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET (both games still on Fox).[27]
  • Week 12: The ChiefsBroncos game, originally scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS, was flexed into the 8:30 p.m. ET slot on NBC's Sunday Night Football, in place of the originally-scheduled PatriotsJets game, which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS.[28]
  • Week 14: The SaintsBuccaneers game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET, was switched to 4:25 p.m. ET, still on Fox. The BearsLions game was "cross-flexed" from Fox to CBS, still at 1:00 p.m. ET.[29]
  • Week 15: The BuccaneersCowboys game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was flexed into the 8:30 p.m. ET slot on NBC's Sunday Night Football, in place of the originally-scheduled SteelersBengals game, which was moved to 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS.[30]
  • Week 16: The BuccaneersSaints game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was switched to 4:25 p.m. ET (still on Fox).[31]
  • Week 17: The PackersLions game, which was originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was selected for the final NBC Sunday Night Football game, which for the second consecutive season decided the NFC North division champion. Also, the Saints–Falcons game and the Giants–Redskins game were moved from 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:25 p.m. ET, with both games still on Fox.

Regular season standings


Postseason


The 2016 playoffs began on the weekend of January 7–8, 2017 with the Wild Card playoff round. The four winners of these playoff games visited the top two seeded teams in each conference in the Divisional round games, which were played on the weekend of January 14–15, 2017. The winners of those games advanced to the Conference championship games, which will be held on January 22, 2017. The 2017 Pro Bowl was held at the recently renovated Camping World Stadium (the former Citrus Bowl stadium) in Orlando, Florida on January 29, 2017 and aired on ESPN.[32] Super Bowl LI was held on February 5, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston on Fox.

Notable events


On April 25, 2016, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for the 2016 regular season related to Deflategate; Brady dropped his appeal shortly thereafter and declined to take his case to the Supreme Court.[33][34]

The following people associated with the NFL (or AFL) died in 2016.[35]

Dennis Green died July 21. Green was named the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 1992, becoming the second full-time black head coach in NFL history (Art Shell, who had been hired for the Los Angeles Raiders three years prior, was the first). Green spent ten years coaching the Vikings, eight of them being playoff seasons, but never made it to the Super Bowl. He then took over the Arizona Cardinals from 2004 to 2006, to much less success, most infamously in the Monday Night Meltdown, in which he let off a tirade after losing a game. Green had also spent time as an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and as a broadcast commentator. Green was 67.[36]

James "Buddy" Ryan died June 28. Ryan, a head coach and defensive coordinator who served with six NFL teams over the course of his career, was credited with inventing the 46 defense. His contributions to the game were considered crucial to helping the New York Jets secure an upset win in Super Bowl III and played a key role in the Chicago Bears' rout in Super Bowl XX. His sons, Rex and Rob, were both coaches with the Buffalo Bills at the time (a team the elder Ryan turned down a coaching offer from in the early years of his career). Ryan was 85.[37][38]

Julius Adams, Caesar Belser, John Binotto, Cary Blanchard, Ron Brace, Clarence Brooks, Fred Bruney, Rudy Bukich, Dennis Byrd, Patrick Cain, Keion Carpenter, Gail Cogdill, Bruce DeHaven, David Douglas, Robert Eddins, Bill Glassford, Ken Gorgal, Quentin Groves, Bob Harrison, Joe Hergert, Winston Hill, Greg Horton, Gary Jeter, Paul Jetton, Curley Johnson, Ted Karras, Johnny Lattner, Jacky Lee, Mike McCoy, Joe McKnight, Ted Marchibroda, Andy Maurer, Lou Michaels, Lawrence Phillips, Chuck Pitcock, Fred Quillan, Konrad Reuland, Willie Richardson, Bill Robinson, Bryan Robinson, Leo Rucka, Rashaan Salaam, Will Smith, Bill Stanfill, Steve Thompson, Zurlon Tipton, Kevin Turner, Bill Wade, Fulton Walker, Tray Walker, Elmer Wingate, Al Wistert, John Wittenborn, George Yarno.

In 2016, several professional athletes have protested the United States national anthem. The protests began in the NFL after San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the anthem, as opposed to the tradition of standing, before a preseason game.[39]

Rule changes


The following rule changes were approved for the 2016 NFL season at the owners' meeting on March 22:[40]

  • Allowing the offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches' booth.
  • Permanently adopting the extra-point rules enacted in the 2015 NFL season. Extra point kicks will be from the 15 yard line, and defenses can return blocked PAT's, fumbles or interceptions on two-point tries for a two-point defensive conversion.
  • Outlaw all chop blocks anywhere on the field. Previously, the chop block was legal when an offensive lineman chops a defensive player "while the defensive player is physically engaged above the waist by the blocking attempt of another offensive teammate".
  • Expand the definition of a "horse-collar tackle" to include tackles where a player is grabbed by the jersey at or above the name plate and dragged to the ground.
  • Making the act of calling time-out when not permitted to do so subject to a delay-of-game penalty (5 yards).
  • Changing from a five-yard penalty to a loss of down when a receiver goes out of bounds and comes back in to illegally touch a forward pass.
  • Eliminating multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul committed after a change of possession.
  • The umpire will now line up in the offensive backfield directly across from the referee at all times in the game, ending the practice of the umpire moving behind the defensive line when the offense is inside the five-yard line or in the final 2:00 of the first half & the final 5:00 of the second half.

The following changes were approved for only the 2016 NFL season at the owners' meeting on March 23. Both are subject to become permanent rules or scrapped for the 2017.

  • Moving the touchback spot after kickoffs and other free kicks to the 25-yard line, similar to the NCAA rule adopted in the 2012 season (a touchback after a turnover or punt will still be placed on the 20-yard line). The goal for this rule change is to decrease the number of kickoff returns: kick returners may be more reluctant to bring the ball out from the end zone because of the greater risk of being tackled before reaching the 25-yard line. NFL officials concede that this may in fact increase kickoff returns because kickers may instead attempt to pin returners inside the 10-yard line.[41]
  • Players committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the same game will be automatically ejected from the game. This was in response to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. committing three personal fouls in one game against the Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman without being ejected. This change is being referred to as the "Odell Beckham Rule". NFL officials, however, concede that this new rule would not have ejected Beckham since he committed personal fouls and not unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.[42]

The following changes to instant replay rules were approved for the 2016 NFL season at the owners' meeting on May 24:[43]

  • Refining what is a reviewable play, including the following: Plays involving possession. Plays involving touching of either the ball or the ground. Plays governed by the goal line. Plays governed by the boundary lines. Plays governed by the line of scrimmage. Plays governed by the line to gain (1st down). Number of players on the field at the snap. Game administration (which includes correct application of the playing rules, proper down, spot of the foul for penalty application, and game clock status (running clock, not running clock, end of period)

Additional rule updates made for the 2016 season include:

  • Banning players from wearing hoodies under their uniform shirts. This was adopted in response to Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones using that style in the 2015 season, which hid his name plate under the hood.[44]
  • Banning any coaches except for the head coach from entering the field of play, and then only to check on an injured player. This was in response to the incident involving Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter and several Cincinnati Bengals players, especially Adam Jones, during the 2015–16 NFL playoffs.[44]
  • If the coin does not flip (as it did during the 2015–16 NFL Playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals), during the pre-game or pre-OT toss, the Referee can re-toss the coin using the captain's original call.
  • Practice squads can now have up to four players with two seasons of experience, an increase from the two players allowed the previous two years.[45]
  • Injury reports will no longer include the "probable" designation. The league had discouraged using the designation for anything beyond minor injuries after 2005 (in a game in which Michael Vick, listed as probable on the injury report, also was listed as inactive), to the point where almost all of the players who were being listed as probable ultimately played. The "questionable" category will now be broadened to include any injury that could possibly prevent a player from entering the game, while the "doubtful" category will likewise be generalized to include any player who is more likely to not play than play. Prior to 2016, each designation represented the approximate odds of the player seeing any playing time: 75 percent for probable, 50 percent for questionable and 25 percent for doubtful.[46]

Records, milestones, and notable statistics


  • Cam Newton scored his 44th career rushing touchdown, surpassing Steve Young for the most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in NFL history. Newton, who had scored a passing touchdown in the first quarter, also surpassed Young for the most career games with both a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown by a quarterback in NFL history, with 32.[47]
  • Drew Brees tied Peyton Manning for the most 400-yard passing games in a career (17 overall, regular season and postseason combined) by a quarterback.[48]
  • Jay Ajayi rushed for 214 yards. With his 204-yard rushing output the week before, Ajayi became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards in consecutive games, joining O.J. Simpson (who accomplished the feat twice), Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.[59]
  • Adam Vinatieri set a new NFL record for most consecutive regular season field-goals made with 43, breaking the record that was held by Mike Vanderjagt.[60] His streak ended at 44 after a miss in Week 11.[61]
  • Matt Ryan set an NFL record for the most consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards, with 46.[62]
  • The RedskinsBengals match ended in a 27–27 tie. It was the first time an International Series game had ended in a tie (and the first such game to have gone into overtime). It also was the first time since 1997 where two games ended in a tie in the same season.[63]
  • The Raiders were penalized 23 times for 200 yards, setting a new NFL record for the most penalties against a team in a single game.[64]
  • The San Francisco 49ers set an NFL record for allowing an opponent's running back to run for 100 or more yards in seven consecutive games.[65]
  • Stefon Diggs became the first player in NFL history to have at least 13 catches in consecutive games.[66]
  • For the first time in NFL history, two different games on the same day, the CowboysSteelers matchup and the SeahawksPatriots matchup, involved at least seven different lead changes.[67]
  • With the Patriots' victory, Tom Brady broke Peyton Manning's record of most career wins by a quarterback (regular season and playoffs) in NFL history with his 201st win.[73]
  • Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history (33 years, 95 days) to reach 1,100 career catches.[74]
  • The Patriots advanced to their sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game, surpassing the 19731977 Oakland Raiders for the most consecutive appearances in a conference championship game in history.[83]
  • Chris Boswell made a postseason record six field goals during the Steelers' win over the Chiefs.[84]
  • Dak Prescott became the first rookie starting QB to throw three touchdown passes in a postseason game in the Super Bowl era.[85]
  • Patriots' RB Dion Lewis became the first player in NFL history to score a rushing, receiving and kickoff return touchdown in a playoff game.[86]
  • Super Bowl LI marked an NFL record seventh Super Bowl appearance for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as a QB-head coach duo.[87]
  • Super Bowl LI also marked the New England Patriots' ninth Super Bowl appearance, breaking a record shared with the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Tom Brady's 43 pass completions, 62 pass attempts, and 466 passing yards all set new single game Super Bowl records.
  • For the first time in NFL history, the Super Bowl went into overtime.
  • After trailing 28–3, the Patriots won the game, 34–28, completing the largest comeback win in both team history and Super Bowl history.
  • Brady won his fifth Super Bowl, which tied defensive player Charles Haley for the most Super Bowl victories won by a player, and he became the first quarterback in NFL history to do so.
  • Brady was named the Super Bowl MVP. This was the fourth time Brady won the award, giving him more career Super Bowl MVP awards than any other player in NFL history.
  • The Atlanta Falcons became the first losing team in Super Bowl history to return an interception for a touchdown; teams returning an interception for a touchdown in the Super Bowl had been a perfect 12–0.[88]

Head coach/front office personnel changes


Awards


The following players were named First Team All-Pro by the Associated Press:

The following were named the top performers during the 2016 season:

Stadiums


The Atlanta Falcons played their 25th and final season at the Georgia Dome, with the team's new home field, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, slated to open in 2017.[144]

The Minnesota Vikings played their first season at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Construction on the team's new home field in downtown Minneapolis wrapped up at the start of the 2016 season. The new stadium is built on the site of the Vikings' former home, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was demolished after the 2013 season.[145]

The league scheduled a vote on whether to relocate one or two of its existing franchises to the Los Angeles metropolitan area on January 12, 2016. The league set a relocation fee of $550 million for any team who is approved to relocate.[146] On January 4, three teams filed to relocate to Los Angeles: the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and the St. Louis Rams, all three of which had previously resided in the city at various points in their history.[147] Despite the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities recommending the Raiders' and Chargers' joint proposal for a stadium in Carson, California, on January 12, the league approved the Rams' proposal to relocate to Inglewood after three ballots, also giving the Chargers the option to share the Rams' stadium if they so choose. In the first two rounds of voting, Inglewood led Carson 21–11 and 20–12 respectively; by the third ballot, the Rams proposal had received effectively unanimous support from the other owners, with the final vote reaching 30–2 (the Raiders and Chargers themselves casting the lone opposing votes).[148] The Rams will play the first four seasons at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while their new stadium is being built in Inglewood. The Rams previously played at the Coliseum during their first stint in Los Angeles from 1946 to 1979.

The Rams and the St. Louis CVC (Convention & Visitors Commission) began negotiating deals to get the Rams' home stadium, The Dome at America's Center (then known as Edward Jones Dome), into the top 25 percent of stadiums in the league (i.e., top eight teams of the thirty-two NFL teams in reference to luxury boxes, amenities and overall fan experience). Under the terms of the lease agreement, the St. Louis CVC was required to make modifications to the Edward Jones Dome in 2005. However, then-owner, Georgia Frontiere, waived the provision in exchange for cash that served as a penalty for the city's noncompliance. The City of St. Louis, in subsequent years, made changes to the score board and increased the natural lighting by replacing panels with windows, although the overall feel remains dark. The minor renovations which totaled about $70 million did not bring the stadium within the specifications required under the lease agreement.

On February 1, 2013, a three-person arbitral tribunal selected to preside over the arbitration process found that the Edward Jones Dome was not in the top 25% of all NFL venues as required under the terms of the lease agreement between the Rams and the CVC. The tribunal further found that the estimated $700 million in proposed renovations by the Rams was not unreasonable given the terms of the lease agreement. Finally, the city of St. Louis was ordered to pay the Rams attorneys' fees which totaled a reported $2 million.

Publicly, city, county and state officials expressed no interest in providing further funding to the Edward Jones Dome in light of those entities, as well as taxpayers, continuing to owe approximately $300 million more on that facility. As such, if a resolution could not reached by the end of the 2014–2015 NFL season and the City of St. Louis remains non-compliant in its obligations under the lease agreement, the Rams would be free to nullify their lease and relocate.

On January 31, 2014, both the Los Angeles Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Rams owner Stan Kroenke purchased 60 acres of land adjacent to the Forum in Inglewood, California. It would be, by the most conservative estimates, sufficient land on which an NFL-sized stadium may be constructed. The purchase price was rumored to have been between US$90–100 million. Commissioner Roger Goodell represented that Kroenke informed the league of the purchase. As an NFL owner, any purchase of land in which a potential stadium could be built must be disclosed to the league. This development further fueled rumors that the Rams intended to return its management and football operations to Southern California. The land was initially targeted for a Walmart Supercenter but Walmart could not get the necessary permits to build the center. Kroenke is married to Ann Walton Kroenke who is a member of the Walton family and many of Kroenke's real estate deals have involved Walmart properties.[149][150][151] On January 5, 2015, The Los Angeles Times reported that Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and Stockbridge Capital Group were partnering up into developing a new NFL stadium on property owned by Kroenke. The project will include a stadium of up to 80,000 seats and a performance venue of 6,000 seats while reconfiguring the previously approved Hollywood Park plan for up to 890,000 square feet of retail, 780,000 square feet of office space, 2,500 new residential units, a 300-room hotel and 25 acres of public parks, playgrounds, open space and pedestrian and bicycle access. In lieu of this the city of St. Louis responded on January 9, 2015, by unveiling an outdoor, open air, riverfront stadium that could have accommodated the Rams and an MLS team with the hope that the NFL bylaws can force them to stay. On February 24, 2015, the Inglewood City Council approved the stadium and the initiative with construction on the stadium planned to begin in December 2015. On December 21, 2015, Construction was officially underway at the Hollywood Park site for the stadium. On January 4, 2016, after St. Louis finished last in per-game attendance for the 2015 season,[152] the team filed a relocation application to relocate to Los Angeles and informed the NFL about this and released a statement on their website.

On January 12, 2016, the NFL owners approved the Inglewood proposal and the Rams' relocation by a 30–2 vote; the Rams relocated almost immediately thereafter.[153]

On February 19, 2015, the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers announced plans for a privately financed $1.7 billion stadium that the two teams would build in Carson, California if they were to move to the Los Angeles market.[154] Such a move would have marked a return to the nation's second-largest market for both teams; the Raiders played in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994 while the Chargers called LA home for their inaugural season in the American Football League. The Chargers were the only NFL team to play in Southern California at the time (until the Rams moved to Los Angeles in 2016), with San Diego being a 125-mile (201 km) distance from Los Angeles, and the Chargers counted Los Angeles as a secondary market. The Chargers have been looking to replace Qualcomm Stadium (which, like the Oakland Coliseum opened in the late 1960s) since at least 2003, and have had an annual out clause in which it can move in exchange for paying a fine to the city of San Diego for its remaining years on its lease. The Raiders, meanwhile, have been operating on year-to-year leases with Oakland Coliseum, the stadium it has shared with the Oakland Athletics for most of its time in Oakland, California, since the last long-term lease on that stadium ended in 2013.[155]

Due to both television contracts and NFL bylaws, had both of the longstanding division rivals moved to LA, one of the teams would have been required to move to the NFC West, something that Mark Davis volunteered the Raiders to be willing to do. The Raiders moving to the National Football Conference would have been considered ironic seeing that Davis's father Al Davis was a staunch opponent of the NFL during its rivalry and eventual merger with the AFL. If such a scenario happened, a current NFC West team would have taken their spot in the AFC West. The early rumor was that the Seattle Seahawks, who played in the AFC West from 1977 to 2001, would have been the favorite to have switched conferences with the Raiders. However, that team's growing rivalry with the San Francisco 49ers had pointed to either the Arizona Cardinals or the then-St. Louis Rams switching conferences to take the Raiders' spot in the AFC West. Had the Rams stayed in St. Louis, switching them to the AFC would have allowed for a yearly home-and-home with the cross-state Kansas City Chiefs.[156] As a portion of the Rams' 2016 schedule was already set because of their International Series appearance, the league could not realign until at least 2017.

On October 23, 2015, Mark Fabiani, Chargers spokesperson confirmed that the team planned to officially notify the NFL about its intentions to relocate to Los Angeles in January during the timetable when teams can request to relocate.[157] On January 4, 2016, both teams filed relocation applications for relocation to Los Angeles. On January 12, 2016, the NFL voted to allow the Rams move to Los Angeles and the Inglewood proposal, effectively rejecting and killing the Carson proposal. The Chargers were then given the option to join the Rams in Inglewood in 2016, with the Raiders having the option in 2017 if the Chargers declined; the Chargers announced on January 29 that they would remain in San Diego for the 2016 season as negotiations continued, but that if negotiations ultimately failed, they had reached an agreement in principle with the Rams to join them in Los Angeles once the Inglewood stadium is complete.[158] The Raiders reached an agreement on another one-year lease extension with Oakland Coliseum on February 11, 2016, keeping the team in Oakland for one more season.

The Raiders, having previously explored San Antonio, Texas as a potential relocation site in 2014, moved on to other potential relocation sites after the rejection of the Carson proposal, focusing on a stadium plan in the vicinity of Las Vegas, Nevada. On August 25, 2016, the Raiders applied for a trademark for the "Las Vegas Raiders" and unveiled artist renditions of the proposed Las Vegas stadium, given the tentative title "Raiders Stadium."[159]

On August 13, the Buffalo Bills and Pegula Sports and Entertainment reached an agreement to sell the naming rights to their stadium to the locally based New Era Cap Company, a major headwear supplier to all of the major North American sports leagues. The stadium had previously been known as Rich Stadium from its opening in 1973, then as Ralph Wilson Stadium since 1998. The sale of naming rights came as somewhat of a surprise, as previous owner Ralph Wilson was firmly against selling the naming rights to the stadium and there were few companies in Western New York believed to have the money to pay the naming rights fee for an NFL stadium.[160]

Canadian-based financial services company Sun Life Financial had held the naming rights to the Miami Dolphins' stadium since 2010, a deal which expired in the offseason. The team already announced that it was not going to renew the license.[161] On August 16, 2016, it was reported that Hard Rock Cafe purchased the naming rights to the stadium, with the venue to be renamed Hard Rock Stadium.[162]

On April 2, the O.co Coliseum, home of the Oakland Raiders, reverted to its previous identity as the Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Online retailer Overstock.com held the naming rights to the Raiders' home field since 2011,[163] but opted out of the naming rights agreement, though it will continue to maintain its corporate sponsorship with the Athletics. The Raiders' home field has undergone numerous name changes in its history, including Network Associates Coliseum (1998–2004) and McAfee Coliseum (2004–2008).[164]

On December 2, 2015, the Baltimore Ravens announced a change in the surface at M&T Bank Stadium from their previous Shaw Sportexe Momentum 51 artificial turf to natural Bermuda grass for the first time since the 2001 season, by player preference for a natural surface.[165] The field was replaced beginning on February 4, 2016, timed to be installed by the start of the Johns Hopkins lacrosse season.[166]

New uniforms and patches


After a trial run in 2015, the NFL Color Rush program returned for 2016 with all 32 NFL teams required to participate.[167] To prevent issues with color blindness from the previous season, the NFL is scheduled match-ups and where color blindness would not be an issue. The Color Rush games were during the Thursday Night Football contests.[168]

  • The San Francisco 49ers wore a patch to commemorate their 70th season.[169]
  • The New Orleans Saints wore a patch to commemorate their 50th season.[170]
  • The New York Giants wore white pants instead of gray for their primary home jerseys.[171]
  • The Los Angeles Rams joined the handful of teams (such as the Cowboys and the Dolphins) that primarily wear their white jerseys at home. The change comes as a nod to the team's Fearsome Foursome era (they will play in the same stadium as those teams) and to accommodate the warmer climate of Los Angeles. The uniform itself will remain the same as it was in the last years in St. Louis.[172]
  • The Miami Dolphins wore aqua for some of their home games in 2016 that include daytime.[173]
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers retired their 1934 throwback uniforms after the 2016 season. The Steelers wore them for the last time on October 9, 2016 against the New York Jets.[174]
  • The Atlanta Falcons wore 1966 throwback uniforms against the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. The throwback uniforms are an altered version of the ones used from 2009–2012.[175]
  • The Washington Redskins wore burgundy pants with their white jerseys[176] and temporarily place gray facemasks on their helmets when wearing the 1937 throwback uniforms.

Media


This was the third season under broadcast contracts with ESPN, CBS, Fox, and NBC. This includes "cross-flexing" (switching) Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox before or during the season (regardless of the conference of the visiting team). NBC will continue to air Sunday Night Football, the annual Kickoff game, and the primetime Thanksgiving game. ESPN will continue airing Monday Night Football and the Pro Bowl. Fox will serve as the broadcaster of Super Bowl LI.

A change to the flexible scheduling rule takes effect for the 2016 season: in week 17, any game can be flexed into Sunday Night Football, regardless of how many times a team had been featured on a primetime game that season. This change can, theoretically, allow a game with playoff implications in the final week of the season to be moved to primetime for greater prominence.[177] As in 2015, the NFL will continue the "suspension" of its blackout policy, meaning that all games will be broadcast in their home markets regardless of ticket sales; Goodell stated that the league needed to continue investigating the impact of removing the blackout rules before such a change is made permanent.[178]

The league's contract with CBS for Thursday Night Football expired after the 2015 season and was placed back up for bids.[179] On February 1, 2016, the NFL announced that Thursday Night Football would be shared between CBS, NBC, and NFL Network for the 2016 season. CBS and NBC will each air five games, which will be simulcast by NFL Network, along with an additional eight games exclusively on NFL Network, the production of which will be split between the two networks. Commissioner Roger Goodell that the league was "thrilled to add NBC to the Thursday Night Football mix, a trusted partner with a proven track record of success broadcasting NFL football in primetime, and look forward to expanding with a digital partner for what will be a unique tri-cast on broadcast, cable and digital platforms."[180] On April 5, 2016, it was announced that Twitter had acquired non-exclusive worldwide digital streaming rights to the 10 broadcast television TNF games, including to mobile devices (this is the first time any NFL games have been made available to mobile devices not subscribed to Verizon Wireless, whose NFL Mobile app holds exclusive rights to all other games). This partnership will also include content for Twitter's live streaming service Periscope, such as behind-the-scenes access.[181]

After 2015's Bills–Jaguars International Series contest was a modest success, the league was initially expected to make all three of the 2016 London games exclusive to the Internet. Yahoo! Screen, which carried the 2015 contest, shut down in January 2016;[182] the bidders on the three games (which may or may not go to the same broadcaster) included YouTube and Apple TV, both of which bid on the 2015 game but were passed up in favor of Yahoo!'s bid.[183] Ultimately, the league decided not to make the International Series games Web-exclusive, instead focusing its efforts on the Thursday Night Football partnership with Twitter.[184]

Mike Tirico, the lead play-by-play announcer for Monday Night Football, announced his departure from ESPN on May 9, 2016; he joins NBC, where he was originally designated to lead the network's broadcast team for Thursday Night Football telecasts. Replacing Tirico on MNF is Sean McDonough.[185] The move was initially reported in April but not confirmed until the next month.[186] However, shortly before the start of the regular season, the league exercised a clause in its television contract with NBC demanding that any broadcast team that calls Sunday Night Football also call Thursday Night Football as well, effectively forcing Al Michaels to call both packages unless he and Tirico also split Sundays (this was the scenario that was ultimately chosen; on most weeks when Michaels calls a Thursday game, Tirico will call Sundays).[187] This is also the final season Chris Berman serves as a studio analyst for ESPN's NFL programming; Berman has been with ESPN since the network's inception in 1979.[188] This would also end up being Phil Simms' last season as lead color commentator for the NFL on CBS. Tony Romo, who would retire at the end of this season, would replace Simms as lead color commentator on CBS. Simms will join The NFL Today next season. This would also lead to Tony Gonzalez and Bart Scott, leaving The NFL Today. Gonzalez will now be on Fox NFL Kickoff. Replacing Gonzalez and Scott will be Simms and Nate Burleson, who comes over from NFL Network's football morning talk show, Good Morning Football, although he will remain with the show. This would also be the last season for Solomon Wilcots at CBS. James Lofton from Westwood One, will replace Wilcots next season. Meanwhile, at Fox, this would be the last season for John Lynch, who would leave to be the next general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. Replacing Lynch next season, would be Charles Davis who would move up from the #4 team at Fox to join Kevin Burkhardt at the end of this season.

Television viewers and ratings


Note — Late DH matchups listed in table are the matchups that were shown to the largest percentage of the market.

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