The NFL’s annual spring meetings will occur from Sunday through Wednesday at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. As always, proposals for rule changes will be among the things that league’s owners will be discussing — and perhaps adopting.
The league’s Competition Committee is putting eight proposals up for consideration:
- Moving punt touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line
- Providing that on a free kick (a kickoff or safety kick) that is fair-caught behind the receiving team’s 25-yard line, the ball will be placed at the receiving team’s 25-yard line
- Expanding the definition of a launch taking the action with one or both feet
- Making the tripping penalty a personal foul
- Preventing an offense from benefitting from an extension of the first half as a result of their penalty
- Making the penalty for illegally handing the ball forward consistent with other illegal acts — such as illegal forward passes
- Making the penalty for illegal punts, drop kicks, or placekicks consistent with other illegal acts — such as illegal forward passes
- Clarifying improper use of the helmet by removing the “butt, ram, spear” language from Article 8 and incorporating those terms into Impermissible Use of the Helmet rules.
Only the first two of these proposals — both involving the placement of the ball after a punt or kick is not returned — are getting a lot of attention.
The second one will make it even less likely that teams will be attempting kickoff returns. Following recent changes to kickoff rules, many special-teams coordinators have resorted to deliberately making short kickoffs to entice receiving teams into attempting runbacks. This rule change appears to be designed to stop this practice.
But perhaps the most significant rule change proposal is the one that isn’t listed. After the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl clinic on using rugby-like scrums to convert very short third and fourth-down plays against the Kansas City Chiefs, there were many conversations about whether the league should return to its pre-2006 standard, which prohibited ball carriers from being pushed forward by their teammates. But the Competition Committee has not put such a change on the owners’ agenda.
It’s still possible the league will eventually disallow these kinds of plays — but it will probably require more than one team making regular use of them before action will be taken. After such a compelling display of the strategy’s effectiveness (and in front of a worldwide audience) in February, that could begin happening as early as the coming season.
Six of the league’s teams have put forth nine other proposals. While all of these will be discussed (and possibly voted upon) by the owners, none have been endorsed by the Competition Committee. For this reason, it is widely thought that few (if any) of these proposals will get the 24 owner votes needed for adoption.
- Eagles: amending Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2 to permit the use of zero (“0”) as a jersey numeral and to allow kickers and punters to use any jersey numeral between 0-49 and 90-99
- Eagles: amending Rule 6, Section 1 to permit a team to maintain possession of the ball after a score by substituting one offensive play (fourth and 20 from the kicking team’s 20-yard line) for an onside kickoff attempt
- Chargers: amending Rule 4, Section 6, Article 3 (and Section 7, Article 4) to make the adjustment of the play clock following an Instant Replay reversal consistent with other timing rules
- Lions: amending Rule 15, Section 3, Article 9 to expand the coaches’ challenge system to include personal fouls called on the field
- Lions: amending Rule 15, Section 1 to provide clubs more opportunities for a third challenge
- Lions: amending Rule 15, Section 3 to expand the Replay Official’s jurisdiction to allow for consultation regarding penalty assessment
- Texans: amending Rule 15, Section 1, Article 2 to expand the Replay Official’s jurisdiction to allow for review on failed fourth-down attempts
- Rams: amending Rule 15, Section 1 (and Section 3) to make Roughing the Passer penalties subject to replay assist and/or review by a coach’s challenge
- Jets: amending Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6 to expand the prohibition of crackback blocks to players who go in motion and go beyond the center to block (“split-flow block”) a defender below the waist.