Breaking Down the NFL’s Proposed Rule Changes

Recently, the NFL released its list of potential rule changes for the upcoming season—there are 23 rule proposals, 4 bylaw proposals, and 1 resolution. Most of these proposals pertain to replay, and rightfully so. Last season saw some calls brutalized by the, at times, Draconian replay rules.

Let’s break them down.


Resolution

Allow teams with retractable roofs to open them during halftime shows.

Just getting this one out of the way. This is a no brainer, and should be approved. Fireworks create smoke, smoke gets trapped by a closed roof, visibility decreases.

One caveat: the competition committee needs to stipulate that opening the roof does not materially change the conditions on the field—e.g. if it’s raining, the roof should remain closed to prevent a change in field conditions from the first to the second half.

Bylaws

1. Eliminate the cutdown to 75 players on the Active List.

Please let this happen! This completely removes any teeth from supporters of the pre-season. The quality sucks, the starters don’t really play anyway. Pre-season has got to go, and this gives that argument a foothold. We should take every chance we can to trim down the number of games that don’t matter—especially as more and more evidence comes out against prolonged play in the NFL.

2. Prohibit timing and on-field testing at a club’s facility of any players who attended the League-wide Combine.

This makes sense; why have a guy that just ran a laser-timed 4.3 40-yard dash run it again under different conditions? Make this change, send the message that the numbers at the combine actually matter.

3. Permit clubs to designate after 4 p.m. ET on the day after the final roster reduction the one player eligible to return to their Active List from Reserve/Injured.

Why? This seems to be changing something that does not need changing. It’s one player, and you already have an extra day after the final cut. Don’t extend it; it’s unlikely this one player will make any difference to the team.

4. Change the date for the beginning of the window during which players on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform may begin practice.

This is a rehab driven request. Players on IR or the PUP list are strictly limited in terms of physical activity due to the latitude these lists afford clubs. The issue is: restricted practice may be key to rehab, and prolonging the start could be detrimental to the athlete’s recovery. This should be approved, and restrictions should be put in place delaying return to competition to prevent teams from using the IR/PUP list as a tool to skirt the roster limit and Salary Cap.

Rule Changes

1. Allow a coach to challenge any officials’ decision, except scoring plays and turnovers.

Absolutely not. Challenges to officials judgment should not exist. Since the Referee is the reviewer, he would sell his crew member up the river by overturning the call. It’s essentially saying: “I know he thought he saw this, but he’s an idiot. His judgment sucks.”

Replay already allows the review of rule-driven challenges to calls. For instance, the Referee can look to see if a ball was tipped on a Defensive Pass Interference call—by Rule, tipping of the ball negates any DPI call.

I presumed this one was submitted by Schwarz and the Lions—it was actually Belichick, also not surprising.

2. Subject all fouls to review.

I’m sorry, what? Are we trying to rival baseball for longest average game time? This is ridiculous and a waste of time. Unless we want the afternoon games to start at 6, this should not be approved.

3. Subject personal foul penalties to Instant Replay review pursuant to a coach’s challenge.

I’m actually alright with this. The mileage on personal foul calls has the potential to flip the field. Also, personal fouls tend to be less about judgment and more about enforcing the rules. This would allow a review for facemasks, roughing the passer, illegal blocks, and late hits among others. This would not create a material delay as it requires a coach’s challenge to review. Still, Personal Fouls aren’t called enough for this to create a delay if they had a replay official reviewing all of them. Most of these fouls are cut and dry, which makes them perfect for replay.

This is only personal fouls, non-contact fouls—also 15 yards—would not be reviewable. 

4. Subject personal foul penalties to instant replay review.

I assume this means all of them at all times. Approved.

5. Subject to instant replay review any penalty that results in an automatic first down.

I’m starting to sense a theme. I’m hoping this actually means automatic first down and not yardage resulting in a first down—this is yet another distinction that Jim Schwarz will screw up and look like an idiot in the process. I’m less alright with this because this includes variations of defensive holding, illegal contact, and subjects non-contact fouls to review. This is too broad, it should not be approved.

6. A foul against a defenseless receiver may be enforced when a reversal results in an incomplete pass.

This is incredibly specific. I’m inclined to be opposed to this because I don’t exactly know what it changes. If a foul occurs on a defenseless receiver, the penalty is measured as a 15 yard personal foul. If the catch is made, it is from the end of the play. If not, it’s from the previous line of scrimmage. This is how it should be. If the proposal is designed to award the catch yardage AND mark off the penalty yardage even if replay rules the receiver didn’t catch it, then this absolutely should be thrown out. But, like I said, I’m not sure on this one. I’ll add to this if I ever get clarification.

7. Reviewable plays will include fouls against defenseless players, and an unsuccessful challenge will not cost a team a timeout.

Similar to the foregoing. I’m on board for the first part; it’s the second part that throws me. Challenges should cost timeouts if they are unsuccessful. With more and more being automatically reviewed, coaches have no leg to stand on with this argument. It would amount to two extra timeouts per game if the league dropped the punitive measure associated with being wrong. As a result, this whole proposal is out.

8. Eliminate the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two Instant Replay challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

I agree in principle. However, if the third challenge is a reward, then you shouldn’t get it if you’re wrong. This isn’t Little League. I’m all for the committee picking 2—or 3—and making it a hard and fast rule. Provisional challenges are stupid in general. But, if it’s a reward, it needs to reward correctness.

9. Expand plays for which reviews will be initiated by the Replay Official to include those that would result in a score or change of possession if the on-field ruling is reversed.

Yes, ten thousand times! Better yet, give the Replay Official freedom without let or hindrance to review all plays. I am a believer in the NCAA’s system for replay—the closer NFL replay gets to this, the better. 

10. Add review of game clock on the final play of a half or overtime to Instant Replay system.

I don’t see any problem with this. Nick Saban may be the only person in the world who opposes this. Most levels of basketball incorporate this without issue. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be reviewable. This needs to be approved.

11. Add review of play clock to the Instant Replay system.

This is mostly about enforcing a cut and dry rule and subsequent violation. I have no problem with this being reviewable. But, subjecting every single snap to this is excessive. Maybe make it one of the “inside 2 minutes” provisions of the Replay Official. Maybe make it reviewable by challenge otherwise? Excessive delays need to be avoided, this could cause them if implemented poorly. It’s not a terrible idea, though. 

Better yet, implement an audible alarm like a shot clock and give the officials earpieces or buzzers that correspond to expiration.

12. Put fixed cameras on all boundary lines.

Finally! My wife will tell you that I’ve been screaming this at the television for 2 or 3 seasons now. Cameras should be on all lines of consequence in all games at all times. No replay that is affected by parallax will ever be conclusive. This should be voted on first, it’s easily the best proposal on the list. Approved, approved, approved!

13. Stadium-produced video may be used for an Instant Replay review.

Wait, this isn’t already a thing? Why?! Approve this. Officials should have every possible angle available. This is endangering the officials’ lives by showing the stadium the one conclusive angle that the Referee can’t use. This is almost as easy to approve as number 12.

14. Move the line of scrimmage for Try Kicks to the defensive team’s 15-yard line.

Sure, why not? Extra points are automatic enough these days. I say you push it further back than that. Either that, or make them kick from a hash instead of straight on.

15. Add a bonus field goal for one additional point after a successful two-point attempt.

No. Nine point possessions are absurd. This also completely marginalizes the field goal by making a 17 point advantage a less than two possession lead. This is a childish idea. It is absurd and shouldn’t even be voted on. Was Jim Irsay drunk when he dreamt this nonsense up?

Yes.

16. Prohibit Team B players from pushing teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation when Team A presents a punt formation.

This is like the “leaping” rule for punts. I’m alright with this change. Aiding the punt rush on a block attempt is outside the spirit of the game. The surge resulting from this tactic creates 1) a non-competitive advantage and 2) an unsafe environment for Team A who are obligated to abate this rush to protect their punter. This is an unnecessary risk that can be legislated out of the game.

17. Both teams will have a possession in overtime.

Why? Because so many people lost because they couldn’t score after a field goal? I’m confused. This seems unnecessary and—worse—will prolong an already long game. If teams only play one overtime before a tie, why bother adding something that has the potential of bringing the clock into it. This is dumb. No.

18. Extend the prohibition for an illegal “peel back” block to all offensive players.

Absolutely. A “peel back” block is a block made back towards the ball by an offensive player. Most often, it catches a pursuing defender off guard and can cause severe harm. Furthermore, these defenders—because they are pursuing the ball—are not protected under the “defenseless player” rule. This has the potential to seriously injure for a marginal advantage—most defenders taken out by this strategy have no hope of making a play before getting shown the lights.

19. Give the intended receiver of a pass defenseless player protection in the immediate continuing action following an interception.

This basically applies the “non-participant” protection to a receiver—but is less comprehensive than the QB provision. Before, this only applied to quarterbacks who did not actively participate in the pursuit following an interception. Here, receivers would be protected against a secondary player decleating them with a free shot. Good rule, definitely needs to be implemented.

20. Allow for the enforcement of an Unsportsmanlike Conduct foul at the end of a half to be applied to the ensuing kickoff.

This clarifies an enforcement. Technically, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties require a succeeding spot. Presently, succeeding spots do not persist through the halftime interval. Therefore, teams would be forced to apply this penalty to the last play of the half. This would allow for the opening kickoff to be advantaged/disadvantaged based on a foul that occurred at the end of the half. It’s a good rule, no one should have any problem with this.

21. Make it illegal for a back to chop a defensive player engaged above the waist by another offensive player outside the area originally occupied by the tight end.

Somehow, this is still legal even though the high-low block has been illegal for linemen to do forever. This definitely needs to be implemented by the competition committee. There’s no reason or circumstance where this should be alright.

22. Permit clubs to assign additional jersey numbers to linebackers. Add 40-49 as eligible numbers for linebackers, in addition to 50-59 and 90-99.

Fine. Don’t care. Numbering restrictions are ridiculous anyway.

23. Make it illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation.

Ah, yes! This year’s token Patriot shenanigans prevention rule. And here’s the thing, this is a good idea. The Patriots gained an unsporting advantage by splitting out an ineligible tight end and then “covering” him by placing an outside receiver also on the line of scrimmage. Player A1 (ineligible) would appear to be eligible by being split out in a runner’s stance. Player A2 (eligible), who is outside A1 on the line of scrimmage would be the only one of the two, by Rule, who could proceed down the field. The defense would mark A1 with a coverage player, thus reducing the number available to cover eligible receivers. This created an unfair numbers advantage for the offense in a league that is already heavily biased to the offense. This needs to be approved.

Sorry, Bill. 

Update: the competition committee has ruled in favor of this rule change and based it on jersey numbers (yay…). If a player wearing an eligible receiver number wants to line up as an ineligible player, he must be close to the formation. Otherwise, this is illegal substitution and carries a 5 yard penalty.

Ultimately, this should prove to be a very interesting offseason for the NFL. Bonus points, replay provisions, and changes to fouls. It’s like a kid’s Christmas list to Santa. We’ll be lucky to have a third approved, but there are some critical issues that the committee cannot let fall through the cracks.

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