Breaking Down Every Proposed Rule Change for the NFL

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 19, 2014

Breaking Down Every Proposed Rule Change for the NFL

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    On March 23, the NFL owners meetings will kick off in Orlando, Fla. Among the numerous items on the agenda (besides a lot of very wealthy people rubbing elbows) are a number of changes that would significantly impact the NFL both on and off the field.

    As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk reports, the owners will consider over 20 proposals from the NFL's competition committee. Some are outrageous. Others appear obvious. There are revolutionary ideas and relatively minor tweaks.

    So, as the private jets gas up for Florida, here's a look at each of the proposals on the agenda, what they would mean for the NFL and an educated guess as to whether each proposal will pass.

Move Kickoffs to the 40-Yard Line

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    This one comes, according to John Kryk of Sun Media, from the Washington Redskins.

    It would mean exactly what it says. Only a few years after moving the kickoff from the 30 to the 35, the kickoff would get bumped up five more yards.

    At which point you might as well get rid of the kickoff altogether, because the ball is going out of the end zone nine times in 10.

    Player safety would be the selling point here, but the owners are unlikely to kill the kickoff this year.

     

    Chance of Passing: 10 percent

Instant Replay of Personal Fouls

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    Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    Another suggestion from the nation's capital, this rule change would expand the use of instant replay to include situations in which a personal foul is called.

    Essentially, if a coach doesn't like that a flag was thrown, he could challenge the call by throwing yet another flag.

    It isn't going to do anything to speed up the game, but it would erase some of the "phantom" helmet-to-helmet hits called every season.

    This one in and of itself is a coin flip, but if another proposal we'll discuss a bit later passes, it won't matter anyway.

     

    Chance of Passing: 50 percent

Eliminate Overtime in Preseason Games

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Well, I'll give this to Daniel Snyder and the Redskins. At least their proposals are written in English and not "Legalese."

    Nobody likes preseason games. Players hate them. Fans hate them. They serve a purpose, of course, in helping to round out the roster, but there's no need for overtime. It only serves to increase the chances of injury for marginal players trying desperately to make a team.

    This is a common sense suggestion that should pass easily.

     

    Chance of Passing: 80 percent

Make Goal Posts Longer

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweeted the New England Patriots were the force behind this engineering suggestion.

    Simply put, the goal posts would be made five feet higher, lessening the need for "judgment calls" on high kicks.

    I'm sure this kick against the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 had nothing at all to do with this proposal.

    Assuming it's structurally safe and not prohibitively expensive, there's not really a reason not to make the goal posts higher.

    If it doesn't pass, odds are it costs a lot more than it sounds like it would.

     

    Chance of Passing: 70 percent

Move Back the PAT

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Back in January, Marc Sessler of NFL.com reported commissioner Roger Goodell was considering proposals to modify or abolish the extra point.

    Well, the New England Patriots have offered up one notion that made it to a vote.

    After a touchdown, if a team wishes to try a one-point point-after try, the ball would be placed at the 25-yard line (making the PAT a 42-yard attempt).

    Two-point attempts, however, would be placed at the 2-yard line.

    It's an attempt to make extra points "more exciting" and less automatic, because they needed to be for some reason, and if that's the direction the league is headed, this is a reasonable middle ground.

    A 42-yarder is by no means automatic, but any kicker worth his salt can hit from that distance eight of 10 tries (at least).

    It would actually add value to the kicker position, as teams with less-than-trustworthy options at the position would have to consider going for two more.

    However, this would also be a big change in the NFL. The league may well get there eventually but not right away.

     

    Chance of Passing: 30 percent

Additional Replay Cameras

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This is another proposal that was made by the New England Patriots.

    No, seriously.

    The New England Patriots have requested the installation of six additional cameras on the field during games.

    Stop laughing.

    The cameras, which would be positioned on all boundary lines, would provide additional angles for replay reviews.

    What's laughable is the idea that this wasn't done 10 years ago.

    Modern TV telecasts cover the game from every conceivable angle. You can buy a camera drone online for about 500 bucks.

    This is a no-brainer.

     

    Chance of Passing: 90 percent

Challenges for Everyone!

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    One more from those photography-loving Patriots.

    As Smith reported for PFT, the Patriots have proposed a rule change that would "permit a coach to challenge any official’s decision, except scoring plays which are automatically reviewed."

    Every play would now be open to challenge by coaches.

    On one hand, there's a sizable faction that will say, "Good, get the play right. Every play."

    However, there's an equally sizable faction that fears games will become interminably long if we're subjected to review after review after review.

    It's a pretty big change, and the NFL isn't a league that embraces big changes.

     

    Chance of Passing: 30 percent

Additional Protection for the Legs of Players

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    NFL rules already prohibit players from hitting an opponent in the back of the legs.

    That rule is set to be expanded.

    A proposal in front of the owners this year would add the side of the leg to the list of no-nos, in an effort to prevent players from being "rolled up."

    Given the league's emphasis on player safety these days, this proposal is about as close to a done deal as anything at this year's meetings.

     

    Chance of Passing: 99 percent

Booth Revew...From New York

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    In one of this year's wonkier suggestions, this proposal would "allow the referee to consult with members of the NFL officiating department during replay reviews. The referee would be able to speak with the command center in New York to help in reviewing a play."

    Essentially, during replay reviews, the referee would, in addition to looking at the play, also be in contact with the booth at the game and the NFL offices in The Big Apple.

    Oh yeah, there's no way this could end badly.

    So rather than the official on the field making the call, he consults the booth. The booth, rather than making the call, consults New York—except the line to New York is down. Therefore, we'll have to wait for a minute for that third opinion from someone who might be thousands of miles away.

    No thanks.

    Unfortunately, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com speculates the proposal has strong support among owners and is expected to pass.

     

    Chance of Passing: 70 percent

The NaVorro Bowman Rule

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    Here's your replay overhaul. This suggestion from the competition committee isn't a single suggestion per se. Rather, as Smith reported, it would "re-organize the rules about what can be reviewed and what cannot be reviewed, including making the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play reviewable."

    The play that got this ball rolling came in last year's NFC Championship Game, where the officials blew the call on a clear fumble recovery by San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

    Nevermind Bowman tore his ACL in the process.

    Watch that play and you'll see why this proposal will sail right through.

     

    Chance of Passing: 95 percent 

No Clock Stoppage on a Sack

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    This proposal, brought forth by the competition committee, according to La Canfora, would keep the clock winding down after a sack in all instances, instead of just inside two minutes.

    Instead of stopping the clock and then rewinding after the ball is spotted, tick...tick...tick.

    It's a minor tweak intended to speed up the game, if only a little.

    Expect near-unanimous approval.

     

    Chance of Passing: 99 percent

No One-Yard Buffer for Pass-Interference Calls

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    If the last rule change will likely meet with little resistance, this one may have a bit more trouble gaining enough traction to get the votes required for passage.

    It's another suggestion by the competition committee, according to Rosenthal, but one that would make a significantly larger change to the game.

    Gone would be the one-yard "chuck" bubble that exists at the line of scrimmage. Anytime a defensive back jams a receiver, anywhere on the field, he'd be risking a flag for pass interference.

    Wide receivers would love it. The Seattle Seahawks would be apoplectic.

    It would be nice to think the owners would leave something, somewhere in the rules that benefits the defense, but if recent years are any indication, don't count on it.

     

    Chance of Passing: 55 percent

Change to Penalty Spots

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    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

    The last proposed rule change is another bit of "clean up" from the competition committee, a minor change to existing rules that almost always meets with very little resistance.

    As Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports reports, the proposal calls for "enforcing defensive penalties behind the line of scrimmage from the previous spot, instead of from the end of the play or from the spot of the foul."

    These are the sort of minor recommendations from the competition committee that almost always cruise through, and the owners will knock this one out quickly enough to hit the links early that day.

     

    Chance of Passing: 90 percent

Increase to Game-Day Active-Roster Sizes

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    We've moved on from the on-field rule changes to alterations to the NFL's bylaws, because of attorneys.

    We're also back to the Washington Redskins, who stuffed the ol' suggestion box like big dogs in 2014.

    Many of their suggestions, however, are actually pretty good.

    Like this one, which would increase the active roster size to 49 for games played on every day but Sunday or Monday after Week 1.

    Love or hate the Thursday games, they aren't going away, and the extra players would come in handy on the short week.

     

    Chance of Passing: 70 percent

Larger Practice Squads

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    This proposal is about as straightforward as proposals get.

    Each NFL team has a practice squad, consisting of eight players. The proposal would increase the roster size to 10.

    Assuming the owners are amenable to paying out a couple more small salaries, this would appear a slam dunk, but there may be a bit of grousing from some of the NFL's more frugal owners.

     

    Chance of Passing: 60 percent

Larger Trade Window

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    As things stand right now, from each season's trading deadline to the beginning of the next league year (usually in March), teams aren't allowed to trade players.

    There's a proposal on the table that would change that, allowing trades beginning at the conclusion of the Super Bowl.

    It's a bit amusing that the NFL is discussing widening the trade window, given that relative to other sports there's little trading, but who isn't for increasing the chances for that?

     

    Chance of Passing: 70 percent

One Big Roster Cutdown

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Another proposal courtesy of the Redskins, this bylaw change would cut out the the middle man, so to speak.

    Currently, there are two cutdown dates in the NFL each year, first from 90 players to 75 and then to 53.

    The Redskins' proposal would cut the roster in one fell swoop, from 90 to 53.

    The hope would seem to be that by keeping players in camp as long as possible, the odds will be lessened of players "slipping through the cracks" in the first cutdown.

    Of course, it would also mean that all 90 players would be in camp the entire time, leaving the coaches fewer reps per player to determine who stays and who goes.

    That last part is going to make this something of a hard sell, at least enough that it may take a year to get it through.

     

    Chance of Passing: 35 percent

Changes to Injured Reserve

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    This is one of the more interesting (and potentially troublesome) proposals on this year's docket.

    The present rules allow for only one player each year to be "designated for return" after being placed on injured reserve.

    This proposal would change those rules, allowing for any player to receive the "designated for return" tag when being placed on IR.

    In essence, after six weeks on injured reserve, a player could rejoin the team.

    On one level, the idea is sure to appeal to some teams, as a rash of early injuries might not be quite as devastating.

    Still, there's also then going to be added pressure on the players to "get back out there" after injuries, and that's hard to reconcile with today's emphasis on player safety.

     

    Chance of Passing: 40 percent

Player Workout Changes

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    This is a proposal that would take some time to kick in, but it would be an interesting wrinkle leading into the 2015 NFL draft.

    As Smith noted, the change would "permit each club to time and test up to 10 draft-eligible players at its facility" each year.

    However, in an interesting little wrinkle, the proposal adds it would "allow any club that wishes to attend timing and testing at another team’s facility."

    If this one comes off the rails at the owners' meetings, it will be all about teams not wanting competitors playing in their sandboxes.

     

    Chance of Passing: 55 percent

Adjusting the Cutdown Deadline

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    I wish there was some big finale to the proposed changes to NFL bylaws in 2014, but the last one is a snoozer.

    It would cut two hours off the deadline time on the date to cut rosters to 53 players, from 6 p.m. Eastern after the fourth preseason game to 4 p.m. Eastern.

    I know! You're thrilled! (Or outraged. Whatever.)

    It seems odd that they would roll the deadline back (and not forward), so it's a safe guess there will be at least some resistance to the change.

     

    Chance of Passing: 30 percent

Open the Roof, Close the Roof, Open the Roof, Close the Roof

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Those crafty Indianapolis Colts.

    The Colts threw a suggestion into the hat this year, one of special interest to teams in places like Indianapolis and Arizona.

    As Smith reported at Pro Football Talk, the Colts proposed that "a home team with a retractable roof [be permitted] to open or close its roof at halftime, instead of having to determine at the start of the game whether it is open or closed."

    Of course, just because it isn't raining doesn't mean there's no wind—say, blowing in a direction that favors the home team in the second half.

    The teams who play outdoors (all 23 of them) should love that notion.

     

    Chance of Passing: 20 percent