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NFL rule changes under consideration during owners meetings

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Do you like any of these proposed changes?

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The annual NFL owners meetings are underway, with some major decisions likely to be made over the next few days, headlined by the Oakland Raiders’ relocation request, moving the team to Las Vegas. All indications seem to say the Raiders have the votes in place to be able to make the move. While that vote will get a lot of the attention, there are several other items on the agenda that could impact the game in 2017.

This year, there are 15 rule changes that have been proposed, along with six bylaw proposals and four resolution changes. You can read the entire explanation of all 25 potential changes here. Below, we list out the changes and give some brief thoughts.

Proposed Rule Changes

1 By Philadelphia; Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays.

This adds to the unnecessary roughness rule a restriction from any defensive player making contact with a long snapper until one second after the snap. This seems odd. The protections for the long snapper make sense, given he is typically looking down through his legs at the snap, and the one second delay would allow for him to get his body back into a position ready to engage an opposing player. However, the “one second” seems arbitrary. Is a referee supposed to time it, from snap to someone touching the long snapper? Are we going to have a “one-Mississippi” count? Teams already cannot line someone directly over a long snapper, so this rule may already be effectively in place, though I have never seen a study on how long it takes for a long snapper to be engaged without a player lining up directly over him.

2. By Philadelphia; Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.

This may actually be Philadelphia’s goal with the previous rule. We have all seen the leap over the long snapper, now that a player can get a running start with a clear line to the long snapper since there is no one lined up directly over him, to block a field goal. This would make that illegal. The previous rule may be another way to try to enforce this. The current rule says a player cannot jump and land on a blocker, so the “touching” part of the previous rule could be a way to make sure that, even with incidental contact there is a penalty, and gives the Eagles a two-way attack on getting rid of the leaping block.

This one might be an interesting fight in the owners meetings. Some teams clearly have mastered the use of the leaping block, and some do not like it. The “player safety” argument may win out here, but there will likely be coaches who try to get their owners to vote no for this one.

3. By Philadelphia; Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet.

This would simply make the area in which a player cannot lower his head and use his helmet to make “forcible contact.” Right now, the “crown of the helmet” is designated, essentially as the very top of the helmet (thus “crown” - seems pretty straight forward, right?). This rule would bring the illegal area down toward the front of the helmet, in essence trying to add in more areas where it is illegal to use the helmet to make the tackle. This would include runner and tacklers, but would still be allowed within the “tackle box.” This is another player safety rule and it probably passes.

4. By Philadelphia; Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

Philadelphia was busy this offseason trying to come up with rule changes. Their fourth recommendation is to remove the word “both” in the current NFL rules for a team receiving a third challenge if “both” of their first two challenges are successful and replace it with “at least one.” Basically, as long as the coach gets on of his first two challenges correct, he gets the third challenge.

The second half of the proposal moves that all plays can be challenged, including fouls called or not called, except holding, pass interference, illegal contact, and unsportsmanlike conduct. Coaches would still only be allowed to challenge outside the last two minutes of each half.

5. By Washington; Eliminates the limit of three total challenges per team per game and eliminates the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

Washington comes in with a similar proposal to Philadelphia’s “at least” proposal, but they remove the game limit of three challenges. Basically, Washington is looking to make it so that a team never runs out of challenges, as long as they continue to get a challenge right.

6. By Washington; Moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the free kick travels through the uprights.

This is an interesting proposal, and provides a little incentive for a kicker to put the ball through the uprights on a kickoff. The league’s test of putting a touchback at the 25 yard line on kickoffs last year is included in this year’s proposals for another one-year implementation, and will likely be passed, so this ties into that proposal by allowing the kicking team to gain five yards in field position if the kicker can put the ball through the uprights. It adds a little strategy, so it will be interesting to see if this is passed, and it falls into the player safety category - basically trying to find a way to offset the increasing trend of short kicks last year to prevent a returner from downing the ball in the endzone to get the touchback.

7. By Buffalo and Seattle; Permits a coach to challenge any officials’ decision except scoring plays and turnovers.

This review proposal removes the inability for a coach to challenge in the final two minutes of a half and in overtime, as well as giving the team the ability to challenge any play except a scoring play and a turnover, which would remain with the game officials.

8. By Competition Committee; Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

The league last year implemented a one-year trial on ejecting a player for receiving two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that involved throwing a punch, forearm, or kick at an opponent even if contact was not made; abusive, threatening, or insulting language used toward opponents, teammates, officials, or other league employees; or, taunting acts toward opponents. It did result in a couple of ejections last year, and the Competition Committee is asking the owners to make it a permanent part of the rulebook.

9. By Competition Committee; Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only.

Similarly to the previous rule change, the 25-yard touchback on kickoffs was only a one-year trial last year. This year, the Competition Committee is recommending the change continue, but again only as a one-year rule. This will likely pass.

10. By Competition Committee; Reduces the length of preseason and regular season overtime periods to 10 minutes.

This rule change will get a lot of focus, as the league looks to cut overtime down to 10 minutes in the preseason and regular season. No other changes are proposed, so the current rules of a touchdown or defensive score ending the game on the first possession would continue, and games can end in ties. This is filed under player safety, but it will be interesting to see if the owners will be satisfied in the potential for more ties.

11. By Competition Committee; Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.

This change seems a little vague, but it may be that way on purpose. The exact wording is, “Players in a defenseless posture are:...A receiver running a pass route. If the receiver becomes a blocker or assumes a blocking posture, he is no longer a defenseless player.” It is a player safety rule proposal, and it would seem to be designed to protect a receiver if a play breaks down at the line of scrimmage, but the receiver is still running his route and does not realize what is happening behind him.

12. By Competition Committee; Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.

This would increase the illegal crackback blocks by prohibiting it from all players who lineup in the backfield and move in motion when the ball is snapped. Previously, it was only illegal if a player was two yards outside the tackles. Illegal crackback blocks are only blocks that are below the waist of a defender within five yards of the line of scrimmage, with the offensive player moving toward the position from which the ball was snapped.

13. By Competition Committee; Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.

This is another rule change that will see a lot of discussion. Basically, it turns the final decision on replays over to Dean Blandino, NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating, and his crew, rather than relying on the referees to make a decision. Previously, the Officiating office could provide input, but the referee was still the final decision. The change would also remove the replay booth from the sideline and have the referee use a tablet on the sideline during the replay.

14. By Competition Committee; Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.

This is a rule to prevent what we have seen recently where a team will purposely hold every defender on the field in order to allow time to run off the clock and end the game. While a game cannot end on a defensive penalty, there is nothing to stop the offense from conducting multiple holds, stopping the defenders from making a play, and allowing a ball carrier to simply run around until the time expires. The rule change would enforce a 15-yard penalty on the team that conducted the “multiple fouls during the same down in an attempt to manipulate the game clock” as well as return the clock to where it was at the snap of the play and the clock will not start until the next snap.

15. By Competition Committee; Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

The Competition Committee is also looking to expand the “conserving time” actions (i.e., times when the 10-second run-off would come into play on illegal substitutions and replay reviews) to the final two-minutes of a half instead of the current one-minute limitation.

Proposed Bylaw Changes

1. By Washington; Amends Article XVII, Section 17.1 to eliminate the mandatory cutdown to 75 Active List players.

Deemed a safety and player development initiative, this would simply eliminate the first round of player cuts during the preseason, allowing teams to carry 90 players throughout the preseason until the 53-man regular season cuts on the Saturday of the fourth preseason weekend.

2. By Washington; Amends Article XVII, Section 17.14 to place a player who has suffered a concussion, and who has not been cleared to play, on the club’s Exempt List, and be replaced by a player on the club’s Practice Squad on a game-by-game basis until the player is cleared to play.

The proposal would allow the team to create a roster space for any player who has an extended concussion issue by placing them each week on the “Exempt List” and promoting a player from the practice squad for the game. The concussed player would return to the 53-man roster on the day following the game, with the possibility of being placed back on the exempt list when the next game’s final injury report is released. This would continue until the player was cleared of the concussion protocol.

3. By Washington; Amends Article XIX, Sections 19.8(B) and 19.9(B) to permit clubs to opt out of the “color rush” jerseys created for Thursday Night Football.

With an official reason as “garish uniforms,” Washington proposes to allow teams to opt out of the use of a “Color Rush” uniform for Thursday Night Football, instead wearing their traditional jerseys or white uniforms.

4. By Competition Committee; Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only.

A one-year rule change which would adjust some of the testing eligibility for college draft picks, with definitions of “local” better explained. It is essentially a way for the league to clean up some of the allowances for players going to a team’s facilities for testing, timing, and physicals.

5. By Competition Committee; Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.

The major change to this bylaw would remove the backside of the window in which a team can return a player from the PUP or NFI list during the season. Currently, the team has from the sixth calendar day before a club’s seventh regular season game (including any bye week) through the day after the club’s eleventh regular season game (including any by week) to begin practicing the player. With the change, the “through” portion of the bylaw would be removed.

6. By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

A Personnel Notice is the league’s method of informing all the teams that a player is available for a waiver claim. Currently, Sundays are not included in the waiver process, so a Personnel Notice is not submitted until Monday, except during the two weekend preceding the first full preseason slate of games. This bylaw change would require Personnel Notices to be sent, when necessary, on Sundays as well throughout training camp and the preseason.

Proposed Resolution Changes

1. By Philadelphia, Amends the NFL’s On-Field Policy to allow clubs to have an alternate helmet in a color to match their third uniform.

This issue has come up a few times in the past, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the most obvious example, where a team has an alternate uniform (or throwback) that they can wear, but the helmet does not match the uniform (for Tampa Bay, their orange throwbacks would need their old white helmets, not the current pewter version). This would allow each team to have an alternate helmet that they could wear either with a throwback or Color Rush type of uniform. The Eagles’ argument points out that players at “certain positions” can go through 15-20 helmets a season, and the league is already requiring helmet changes in game due to one-player limitations on the coach-to-player radio system.

2. By Competition Committee: Permits a club to negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season.

Basically, this is like the “legal tampering” period of free agency, where a coach employed by another team would be allowed to negotiate and reach an agreement for a head coaching position with a new team, though that contract cannot be executed or announced until after the original team’s season ends. This would primarily be for assistant coaches on playoff teams.

3. By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.

This removes the restriction of allowing non-football employees to be interviewed and hired only during the offseason. The Competition Committee justifies this change with the argument that there are some situations for a football program for which it is “more opportune for the employer club to have a non-football employee leave during the playing season.” The original (employer) team has the ability to block any interviews, so this would just allow them to approve of interviews for personnel that may be more busy during the offseason than during the playing season.

What do you think?

There are several rule changes in this year’s group that make sense, and there are some that are a little more out of the box. What do you think of them? Which should pass?