Potential NFL Rule Changes Explained

The NFL Competition Committee is due to meet again next week in Florida to discuss potential changes in rules for the 2014 NFL season. 21 possible changes have been submitted by teams, and the competition committee for discussion. Join us as we break down all the key changes proposed.

Moving The Kick Off—Again

In 2011, the NFL moved the kick off. Kick offs are widely acknowledged to be the single most dangerous play in football, and the decision was therefore made to increase the number of touchbacks. For 2014, the Washington Redskins have once again proposed moving the kickoff line forward again, this time to the 40 yard line.

This would all-but guarantee a touchback, except in the case of a squib kick—already a safer option—or else a on-side kick.

There has previously been some discussion about the possibility of removing the kickoff altogether, except in the case of an onside kick, and automatically starting at the 20 yard line, but this does not seem to be up for discussion yet.

We feel that the already implemented changes have decreased injuries and increased touchbacks enough that this one isn’t going to gain much traction, but when it comes to player safety, you never know. Don’t rule out this leading to discussions about removing the kickoff altogether, or a radical re-imagining of it at some point.

Replay Rules Tweaks.

The NFL Replay Rules look set to be tweaked once more. Specifically, the proposal allows for the NFL Officiating Crew in New York to begin reviewing at any potentially changeable reviews as soon as the play is blown dead, and allows the on-field officials to consult with them.

The goal is twofold. First, it ensures that there is no confusion about how the rules should be interpreted—a bad call is one thing, but a bad call being confirmed on replay, due to confusion about the rule is inexcusable.

Secondly, it will speed up the review process, as the New York crew will already have a pretty good handle on the situation, will have isolated all the key camera angles, and give the on-field official only the information he needs to make the call.

We expect this one to be pretty much a gimme, but as it also directly affects the officials, it’s impossible to rule out some push back from them.

Make Everything Changeable.

In addition to the widely supported replay tweaks, the New England Patriots have also proposed some changes to exactly what a coach can ask to be replayed—namely, everything.

The argument goes that if a coach can articulate what he thinks was wrong with the call, and a replay could potentially prove him right, he shouldn’t then be told that the play is non-reviewable.

I have personally advocated for both of these changes in the past.

Then, as now, however, I feel like this is a long shot.

As an alternative, the Washington Redskins have proposed a more limited expansion of review rules on personal fouls. This seems more likely to be accepted, though is far from certain.

The NaVorro Bowman Rule

In the NFC Championship game against Seattle, the 49ers NaVorro Bowman appeared to have stripped the ball from Jermaine Kearse at the goal line and held onto the ball  in spite of suffering a brutal knee injury on the play. Unfortunately, the ruling on the field was that the ball was actually recovered by Marshawn Lynch, something that did not happen until much later, and in spite of clear video evidence to the contrary, the play was not challengeable.

Although the Patriots “every play reviewable” rule seems unlikely to pass, this appears to have wide support, and seems very likely to pass.

Increasing the Height of the Goal Posts.

The Patriots also proposed raising the height of the goal posts by 5 feet. As kickers moe powerful attempts sail higher than ever before, many times, it becomes nearly impossible for officials to easily decide if the kick is in or out. Multiple kicks in 2013 sailed clean over the top of the goalposts, including one which cost the Patriots.

The 3D nature of the world, and 2D nature of a TV screen make this one near impossible to check on film, or overturn via the existing challenge mechanism.

The only two options, therefore, would be to either increase the height of the bars, as proposed by the Patriots, or add a Hawk-Eye type 3D visualization system, as used in Cricket and Tennis among others—which no-one is proposing. Since increasing the height of the bars is cheap, and easily implemented, and Hawk-Eye is expensive, it’s easy to see why the Patriots proposed this.

We expect this to pass with no controversy, but as it was proposed by a team, not the committee itself, it’s not quite the given it would otherwise be.

Moving the Extra Point Attempt back.

It’s no secret that Roger Goodell isn’t really a fan of the current PAT format. Speaking back in January, Goodell admitted that the NFL was exploring the possibility of doing away with it.

“The extra point is almost automatic,” Goodell told NFL.com “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd (attempts). So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.”

The PAT has a 99.1% success rate since 2004, so you can see his point. Only in the most severe weather, or after the injury of a kicker, are PAT’s ever even remotely interesting.

However, instead of doing away with the PAT altogether, as Goodell suggested at the time, the Patriots proposed an alternate format where the extra point would be moved from the one yard line to the 25 yard line, effectively making it a 42 field goal attempt. 2-Point conversions would still be attempted from the one yard line.

Conversions from this range tend to be between 80-90% for most NFL kickers, meaning that the PAT would still be a much more likely outcome than the 2-Point Conversion, which has only around a 50% success rate. However, 10-20% of all PAT’s missed would strongly increase the interest level of this play, while also encouraging teams to consider the more risky, and exciting 2-pointer a little more often.

We don’t expect this to pass this year, but the committee are reportedly willing to propose a shorter 20-yard attempt during one preseason game in 2014, to allow them to evaluate its success over time.

Increased Active Roster for Short Week Games.

The Redskins have proposed a number of changes to the league bylaws which would allow teams to carry a larger active roster for Thursday Night Football, and Saturday games.

The argument makes a lot of sense, Thursday night games especially put a lot of added stress on players, as they have a much shorter week to prepare, and recover from the previous week’s games. The pace of TNF games, objectively at least, seems slower than equivalent Sunday games.

Although the NFL Competition Committee insist that injury rates are not significantly different on Thursday compared to Sunday, the fact remains that players seem to take much longer getting up after collisions, spend more time on the sidelines, and niggling issues like cramps and fatigue seem to abound.

Increasing the roster limit from 46 to 49 would allow teams to negate this to some extent, giving them a few more players to rotate into the lineup, and allowing the other players more time to rest on the sidelines, without slowing the overall pace of the game.

Whether this will get any serious consideration depends on how confident the competition committee are their assessment that injuries, and the quality of the game, are not significantly affected by the short week. However a case can certainly be made, with all the focus on safety, that it is better to be overly cautious—a single severe injury following a short week in 2014 will likely leave teams complaining if this one doesn’t pass.

Some Expected Proposals Which Won’t Be Discussed

The league continues to discuss the possibility of expanding the playoff format, while also balancing player safety and maintaining the integrity and significance of regular-season play.

The NFL is clear that they want more games, period. However, the NFLPA insists that doing so will severely impact on player health and safety. This stalemate means that, at least in 2014, the playoff format will remain the same.

However, once again, potential changes to the format will likely be informally discussed by the competition committee throughout the season, with the possibility of implementation in 2015 or 2016.

The Competition Committee will also not seek to directly address the use of the N-word, as many expected, instead insisting that this can be curtailed by proper enforcement of existing taunting rules.

This jumped to the forefront following claims of racially charged language at the heart of the Jonathan Martin / Richie Incognito investigation. Many had expected that this would be directly addressed by the competition committee, but the NFL rule makers seem confident that the current rules are enough.

Other Proposals.

In addition to these bigger changes, many smaller changes have been proposed. These include:

  • Removing overtime from preseason games, which seems like the least controversial suggestion ever.
  • Increasing the practice squad to 10, and allowing multiple IR players to be designated to return. This seems likely to pass with little opposition.
  • The clock continues to run after all sacks. This simplifies the rules, speeds up the game, was proposed by the committee, seems to have broad support. It seems very likely to pass.
  • The Patriots requested additional cameras be available around the end zone to help clarify scoring plays. This could go either way, and seems contingent on adding extra central replay support—asking the on field official to check extra footage seems like it would slow down the game unacceptably, but with support from New York, seems sensible enough.
  • Teams could be allowed to trade prior to the league season in March. Again, this could go either way, but seems to make sense. It increases the chances of trades and not being cut for players, so would likely be quite popular for them.
  • The Colts proposed that teams should be allowed to open a closed roof at half-time. Only 4 stadiums currently have retractable roofs, and all could easily be opened during half time with no significant disruption to the game.Current rules allow teams to close them if weather is deemed to be dangerous, but requires them to stay closed if designated thus before the game. Some teams could argue that teams could strategically use this to their benefit, by opening the roof if they feel it would benefit them on the second half kickoff, but this seems to be a minimal consideration, especially in light of the continuing de-emphasis of kickoffs anyway. As this is primarily about fan enjoyment, only affects a limited number of teams, and does not strongly change the game, it seems very possible that it will pass.

What do you think of these rule changes? Are there any you like, any you disagree with, or any other rules you would like to see changed? Let us know in the comments.

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