Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn't)

Image of Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn't)
Release Date: 
March 15, 2022
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Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn’t) is Mike Florio’s highly informative, entertaining, and provocative examination of what makes the NFL work and why at times it doesn’t work. He removes the shiny gloss covering the public image of the NFL and takes a serious look at the engine of this runaway train filled with money and power.

Like most large and successful organizations, the National Football League works very well at times, and can be remarkably dysfunctional at other times. Mike Florio, who can be seen on NBC, can be read at, and seems ubiquitous in pro football media outlets, understands these two manifestations of NFL success and failure. What many NFL fans seldom understand is that for all its success, the NFL is an organization run by fallible humans who can be as dense and short-sighted as the guy down the street or your obtuse boss.

Playmakers is divided into ten sections, with each section containing seven to ten essays, the average length of each approximately 1200 words. The sections are organized by topic, and the essays are focused on one or two reasonably well-known aspects of the public persona of the League.

Most of the material is from post-1990, and the bulk falls within the Commissionership of Roger Goodell, who seems to be able to print money for NFL owners, even appearing remarkably inept at times. Florio makes clear that Goodell’s paradoxical image is a result of the fact that the Commissioner is both the servant of the owners and the public relations face of the League, two roles not easily performed in tandem.

Florio finds much to praise about the NFL, while finding its operations clunky and out of touch with the 21st century, especially in terms of innovative technology and rational business practices. 

In each of the ten sections, Florio explores some very well-known incidents, issues, or personalities. He revisits scandals both on and off the field, sometimes solving mysteries and correcting public misunderstanding. Owners, players, and coaches come under his microscope with praise for some and dismissal for others.

On the Draft, Florio has very mixed views. On the negative side of the ledger, he sees the Draft as anti-American, an inexact science, and leading into the temptation to tank games. On the other hand, he sees it as the place to find a franchise quarterback and believes that draft choices are of great value to teams, most often before they are used.

Free agency has all sorts of unintended consequences, and Florio finds the “Franchise Tag” to be more detrimental to players than many fans realize. He also looks at a number of Free Agency cases with widely varying outcomes and consequences.

The section on Quarterbacks offers evaluation and gossip, as well as scandal. Florio’s views on Johnny Unitas, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Patrick Mahomes provide, among other things, a sense of the evolution of the position.

Coaches and owners come under the microscope in separate sections. Florio may surprise many fans who have their own opinions on these key figures of the NFL. He looks at the Peter Principle in action in the coaching ranks with a number of specific case studies. His views on some coaches challenge the prevailing consensus. The Rooney Rule comes under scrutiny, as well it should. Bill Belichick and his impact is, of course, examined from any number of angles. Analytics, the hot topic in all sports these days, is given some attention.

Issues of health and safety are examined, although there is less on concussions than might be warranted. There is plenty of off-field misconduct, primarily, but not exclusively, by players, with a parade of the best known and lesser known incidents. It was good see that Florio devoted some time to the “Whizzinator” and the “Love Boat.” More serious issues get the attention they deserve.

Scandals, Florio reminds us, come in a range of forms. “The Gates,” six of them, are treated but not necessarily in the way many fans might expect. His views on Kaepernick are interesting, as is his discussion of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco.

There is considerable attention given to officials and officiating. Major blunders are enumerated, absurdities exposed, and rules are evaluated. Florio identifies what he concludes is the worst rule in football.

The tenth and final section of Playmakers is devoted to a wide range of topics that do not fit the first nine sections. Many of these essays look to the future with recommendations for improvement. One of the most striking things about Playmakers is the exposure of simple changes that would improve the NFL and the ridged resistance to any such changes, especially by owners.    

If you are a fan of NFL football or someone who takes a serious interest in professional football, you are likely to find many of these little essays in turn provocative, entertaining, interesting, or just plain fun. The only caution is that the essays should be taken in small doses, never more than one section at a time or less. They fit nicely into the idle times, such as waiting for your slow computer to reboot, or times of contemplation.