The annual NFL owners meetings each spring often features votes on potential rules changes for the upcoming season. Last year, the league voted to move the extra point kick back to a snap from the 15 yard line. That decision, however, was a temporary, one-year test run; making that rule permanent, as well as several other potential rule changes, was put before a vote during this week's 2016 NFL owners meeting.
Several rule changes were officially approved by the league this year:
1. Extra Point Kicks - The line of scrimmage for extra point kick attempts was permanently moved to the 15-yard line, making the kick a 33-yard attempt. The line of scrimmage for a two-point conversion attempt will remain the 2-yard line.
2. Playcaller Communication - The league approved a change that will allow the playcaller for both the offense and defense to communicate directly to one player on the field using the coach-to-player communication system, regardless of whether the coach is in the booth above the field or on the sideline. Previously, a coach had to be on the sideline in order to communicate with the player on the field.
3. Chop Blocks - All chop blocks (a block in which a player is engaged high, then has his legs cut out from under him by another player going low) are now illegal.
4. Horse Collar - The horse collar rule was expanded to include the grabbing of the jersey at or above the nameplate, pulling the player to the ground from behind.
5. Delay of Game - A delay of game penalty will be assessed whenever a team calls a timeout when they are prohibited from using a timeout or they are out of timeouts.
6. Illegal touching of a forward pass - When a player runs out of bounds, reestablishes himself in bounds, and is the first player to touch a forward pass, it will no longer be a five-yard penalty, but will instead be a loss of downs.
7. Double Foul on Change of Possession - Multiple spots of enforcement on double fouls during a change of possession has been eliminated.
8. IR Designate for Return - Teams will not have to declare which player they are placing on Injured Reserve (Designated for Return). Teams will now be able to return a player once he is healthy (and he has been on IR for at least six weeks), without having to previously declare him as the player they will return, and they will not lose the ability to return a different player who is injured later, because they designated someone earlier in the year for return.
9. Touchback Rule (temporary) - Touchbacks will now be enforced at the 25-yard line, rather than the 20-yard line as in previous years. The league considers kickoff returns the most dangerous play in the game, and is trying to find incentive for players to take the touchback, rather than returning the kick.
10. Unsportsmanlike Conduct Ejection (temporary) - Players who receive two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game will be ejected from that game.
The extra point rule being made permanent was an obvious move for the league. So was removing the requirement that a coach had to be on the sideline to utilize the coach-to-player communication system. The chop block and horse collar rules, as well as the touchback change, are simply additional safety rules for the league. The delay of game, illegal touching, and double-foul rule will not make much of a difference in most instances.
The IR designated for return rule will be interesting. Teams can use some strategy in deciding when or whom to return from IR. If a particular position has had a rash of injuries, perhaps the team chooses to bring back a player from that position. Or, they continue to save the return in case they lose a prominent player to an injury that will take several weeks to heal, just to make sure they can bring him back.
The unsportsmanlike conduct rule will be the most controversial of the changes, and it is one that could have a big impact on games. Players like former Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, who seemed to pick up numerous unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for hitting quarterbacks a step too late, could either be ejected from a game, or could have to play with more caution during game if they receive an early penalty.