Don’t look now, but the NFL regular season is just three weeks away as teams are preparing to battle for the right to play in the first-ever New York Super Bowl.
Behind the scenes and on the field, there are 25 people that wield the most power in this $US9.5 billion business.
There are quarterbacks, coaches, owners, and executives, both inside and outside of the NFL. But the one thing they all have in common is power, in one form or another.
These are the people that make the NFL great.
Philadelphia Eagles coach
Will Chip Kelly's high-powered Oregon offence translate to the NFL? The jury is still out on that.
But one thing is for sure, everybody is watching and if there is any sustained success, other teams will do what NFL teams do best, copycat. As a result, whether Kelly's offence works or not, his power in the NFL will be short-lived. He will either fail, or other teams will catch up in two to three years.
Carolina Panthers owner
North Carolina has long been a hotbed for college basketball. But Richardson, a former running back and flanker for the Colts proved that a pro-football team can work there too. Richardson has also represented the owners during labour negotiations with the players. The biggest concern is the future of the franchise. Richardson does not want the team to remain in his family after he dies.
Chairman, NBC Sports Group
The NFL is not Mark Lazarus' only responsibility, but 'Sunday Night Football' is the NFL's biggest product outside of the Super Bowl and NBC also broadcasts the Super Bowl once every three years. With flex scheduling, NBC has a huge impact on the NFL schedule late in the season, often determining which games will be seen by millions in prime time.
NFL Draft Experts
Ages: 53 and 36
In addition to breaking down the prospects for the NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay are conduits for information to be leaked, from both the agents and the teams. The information they make public often has a huge impact on which players are drafted by which teams. What Kiper and McShay say each year greatly impacts the futures of young men and how much money they will make. And those picks will eventually determine Super Bowl winners.
University of Alabama football coach
Yes, a college football coach. The Crimson Tide is not only best team in college football, but Saban has turned the University of Alabama into an NFL player factory. In this year's draft, nine players from Alabama were drafted, including three of the top 11 picks. Those players signed contracts worth a total of $US51.8 million. But the biggest product that the NFL really wants may be Saban. It seems every winter there are teams rumoured to be offering Saban their coaching position. Until he says 'yes' he will continue to pull the strings.
Collinsworth is the lead analyst during what is often the biggest game each week, 'Sunday Night Football.' While he drives many people nuts, he is a respected voice that is also not afraid to criticise those in the NFL when needed.
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach
Harbaugh has only been a head coach in the NFL for two seasons and yet he has already laid the framework for what looks like it will be a long and successful career. The 49ers are not the only team using the read-option, but nobody is doing it better. Harbaugh's decision to keep Alex Smith on the bench and make Colin Kaepernick his starter was a move most coaches would be afraid to make.
No writer is more respected than Peter King. It is his 'Monday Morning Quarterback' column that is a must-read for anybody in and around the NFL. And his new theMMQB.com website could become the center of the NFL's online universe.
Quarterback for the Denver Broncos
Even though Manning is in the twilight of his career, he is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. But where Manning truly wields his power is off the field. His humour, often at his own expense, has made him one of the most entertaining people in the NFL and one of the league's biggest product endorsers.
Now that Nike is making NFL uniforms, we are seeing the first true revolution in what the players wear and what the uniforms look like. Many of the teams will continue to stick with their traditional looks but we have already seen dramatic overhauls for teams like the Seahawks, Jaguars, and Dolphins. For better or worse, Nike is putting their stamp on the NFL like no apparel company has ever done before.
Andrews is best known for working on baseball players. But Andrews also performed the surgeries and oversaw the recoveries of Robert Griffin III and Adrian Peterson, among others in the NFL. The NFL needs its stars and Andrews has become an important piece in keeping those players on TV and off the sideline.
New England Patriots owner
Kraft is not only the owner of the NFL's premiere franchise, but he was also the most active owner during the 2011 NFL lockout, despite the failing health of his wife. When the lockout ended, it was Kraft in front of the cameras with Jeff Saturday announcing the agreement and hugging each other.
Ages: 43 and 46
When it comes to information, Glazer and Schefter are the kings of the NFL. If information needs to be leaked or passed along, these are the guys who will do it. So in some respects they are often just carrier pigeons for teams and for players. But by doing the dirty work they also get access to information that others can't.
Owner of the Seattle Seahawks
The Pacific Northwest is proving to be the home of maybe the most passionate sports fans in North America, and nowhere is that more true than in Seattle. With Allen running the ship, the Seahawks are now pushing the NFL in a direction that is more appealing to young fans with radical new uniforms and an exciting style of play.
Lead producer for 'Sunday Night Football'
We've already mentioned Chris Collinsworth and Mark Lazarus, but the one person that make 'Sunday Night Football' tick is Gaudelli (Director Drew Esocoff also deserves a mention here). As long as he continues to produce a great product and SNF remains the top primetime television show, there are few more powerful in the NFL.
General Manager of the Baltimore Ravens
Newsome was the first African-American to be hired as a general manager in the NFL. But it didn't take long for Newsome to prove that he belonged. He is no longer the first 'black general manager' and is instead simply one of the best GMs in the sport, maybe the best. In 10 seasons since taking over the Ravens, they have been to the playoffs seven times, had eight winning seasons, and of course won last year's Super Bowl.
Head coach of the New England Patriots
He is a curmudgeon. He dresses like a slob. But he is also undoubtedly the man in charge of the NFL's model franchise. It helps that he has Tom Brady under center. But Belichick has also been able to find talent where others have failed and figured out how to make players keep producing even after other teams had given up.
NFL super agent
Rosenhaus has long been one of the biggest agents in the NFL and has a reputation as the most aggressive. That aggressiveness has led to accusations that he will break rules to get a deal done. But if there is a deal to be done in the NFL, Rosenhaus is often on the other side of the table.
Owners of the New York Giants
Ages: 58 and 64
They are not as brash as Jerry Jones, but as the Giants go, the NFL goes. John Mara may not have the same level of influence as his father, Wellington, but now that the Giants have a new stadium and will host this year's Super Bowl, New York is once again the center of the NFL universe.
New England Patriots Quarterback
Players get hurt all the time. But when Brady was recently injured in practice, Vegas temporarily suspended all betting on Super Bowl and playoff odds until the extent of the injury was known. The Patriots would likely still win games without Brady. But there may not be one player that is more important to his team's success than Brady.
Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Being the head coach of a proud franchise like the Pittsburgh Steelers carries a lot of pressure and responsibility. But it also comes with a lot of job security as the team has had just three coaches since 1969. And a coach in the NFL with job security is both rare and very powerful.
Dallas Cowboys Owner
Jerry Jones purchased the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for $US140 million. Today, the Cowboys are worth $US2.3 billion, easily the most in the NFL. They may no longer be dominant on the field. But off the field, no team wields more power than the Cowboys.
NFL Players Association Executive Director
The players' union is still not as powerful as those in other leagues, but the NFL Players' Association has come a long way and much of that has been under the leadership of Smith.
CFO of DirecTV
He who controls the the games, controls the NFL and right now, DirecTV controls who can watch which games with their exclusive 'Sunday Ticket' package. But more importantly, the future of the 'Sunday Ticket' package is in doubt and it may be up to Pat Doyle to decide if it is still worth the investment for DirecTV. The satellite provider has long used the package to lure new customers. But at some point, that growth will slow and reach saturation. That could open the door for other providers to step in and gain access to all the games. Ultimately, whether or not millions of fans will get more access to the NFL games could be in the hands of Doyle.
Ultimately, Goodell works for the owners. But there is little doubt that he is the man in charge of the biggest sport in North America. He is often accused of being more of a dictator than a commissioner, but the success and growth cannot be ignored. In 2012, the NFL generated $US9.5 billion in revenue, more than 25% more than the next biggest sport in North America. With most of their television contracts in place through 2022, there is no slowing down in sight.
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