NFL ratings are down across the board this year, and while there are many theories as to why, Jason La Canfora has identified a pretty important one.

“Well, I think you just have to start with the product,” the CBS Sports NFL insider said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “That game last night was on – the whole country saw that. If that game (Ravens/Browns) was on a normal Sunday, it’s buried within a bunch of other 1:05 starts and it’s a regional game seen in two cities in the country and it’s not there to sort of be indicative of what a good NFL game is. On Monday nights, when it was created, it was a big deal and you try to get the best match-ups and then you added Sunday and then you add the flex rules, which protect you a little bit. But Thursday Night Football, the quality isn’t great – even when you get two good teams, just because of the fact of when you’re playing it and everything else. And then you add in that every team has to be on it for competitive balance, and then we talked about besides New England and maybe Seattle and maybe Oakland, who are you banging the drum of a team you really, really want to see? I think it comes down to a lot of that (and the fact that there’s not) a lot of great quarterbacks.”

So, what can the NFL do about this? A lot.

“I think the answer to this is not as simple as ‘We’ll try to make the officials better and we’ll try to speed the game up and maybe we’ll have fewer commercials,'” La Canfora said. “The answer to me – and I’ve been writing abut this for years and it seems like it’s starting to catch on – (is to) invest in your own product. Create a developmental league or developmental academy where each team invests a significant portion of money – several million dollars – into trying to upgrade the overall product. You can’t just rely on colleges, you can’t rely on a couple weeks of OTAs and truncated training camps – to create the quarterbacks and the great players who power your league. It’s not really working. Until you’re willing to really shift the paradigm and be willing to have almost something of a sunk cost – because it’s not going to develop that many players – but if it can elevate to some degree the level of your play, I think you need to look at systemic things like that.”

La Canfora also weighed in on the Cowboys’ quarterback conundrum surrounding Tony Romo and Dak Prescott.

“I think he will play because I don’t think Dak Prescott is going to run the table and have the greatest rookie season in the history of NFL quarterbacking,” La Canfora said. “If he does, then it’ll be a moot point. If he doesn’t, then Jerry Jones at some point is going to look at his $20 million quarterback and see what he can do with the same resources, especially if this is a team that they feel like could win them multiple games at January. Who’s going to give them the best opportunity to do that when teams are throwing things at you they’ve been holding back all year, when they’ve really broken you down on tape and have figured out what you can and can’t do and they’re most poised to exploit it? When you’re playing quality opponents every seven days, that’s where the rubber hits the road. Personally, I think Tony Romo is going to have an opportunity to play for this team this year.”

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