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A brief look at the NFL's 15 rule change proposals

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Super Bowl XLIX Football Operations Press Conference
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Last week, the NFL announced 15 proposed review changes that will be voted on at the NFL's Annual Meeting from March 26-29 in Phoenix, Arizona. Listed below, we'll take a brief look at the proposals. If you'd like to read the full description of each proposal, click here. You'll probably end up being more informed by reading the competition committee conference call transcript, though, where they elaborate on some of the proposals.


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

Currently, you cannot line up over the long snapper on field goals or punts. After the snap, though, you can initiate contact with them. This rule proposal specifically asks that contact not be allowed until one second after the ball is snapped, otherwise it would lead to a 15-yard penalty.

I’m not sure if this language would really change anything, as the rule to disallow lining up over the long snapper probably already takes about a second to then reach the long snapper for contact. It also doesn’t seem easy for officials to know exactly when one second has elapsed, if such a penalty needs to be enforced.


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

Currently, you are allowed to leap over a player to try to block a field goal, as long as you do not land on top of the blocker. This rule proposal would prevent all attempts to block a field goal.

This would have a fairly significant impact on special teams, as we’ve seen some teams take advantage of leaping over the long snapper to block a field goal. I’ve always thought that it’s a risky play, though, and something I wouldn’t mind seeing go away. I’m curious to see how this one turns out.


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

I’ve hardly seen the “crown” rule enforced since being implemented. This proposal emphasizes the addition of the “hairline” part of the helmet to the rule. Take a look at this photo to get a glimpse of where the crown vs. hairline is.


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.

The primary part of this rule says that a team only needs to win one coaches’ challenge in order to have three coaches’ challenges in a single game. There is also some language that says all plays are challengable except certain penalties, but I don’t think that vagueness is going to fly.


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.

This is a variation of the previous proposal, which potentially allows for an unlimited number of challenges. At a minimum, coaches would still get two challenges. My understanding is that teams can keep challenging until they get two wrong challenges. For example:

  • 1st half challenge fails. Team still has 1 challenge left.
  • 2nd half challenge is good. Team retains 1 challenge left.
  • 2nd half challenge is good. Team retains 1 challenge left.
  • 2nd half challenge fails. Team has 0 challenges left.

This is an example where a team used four challenges. In the past, under the scenario I described, they would’ve been out of challenges after the second challenge. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t see it flying.


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

I couldn’t believe that this was a serious rule proposal -- it says that if a kicker puts a kickoff through the uprights, the ball will be placed at the 20 yard line instead of the 25 yard line.


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

I had a tough time figuring out what was being changed in this proposal. Per the NFL’s transcript, it is clarified that the proposal “would be allowing a coach to challenge any officiating decision, which would include a foul that is called or a foul that is not called.” That should mean that pass interference, for example, can be challenged. I think this is again something that is too broad to change, but I do wish some critical penalties could be challenged.


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.

This rule was pilot-tested in 2016 and it led to three ejections during the NFL season. We could only find two of the offenders: Giants C Weston Richburg and Chiefs TE Travis Kelce. It should stick.


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.

This rule was also pilot-tested in 2016 — touchbacks come out to the 25 yard line on kickoffs instead of the 20 yard line. This is the right thing to leave in if we’re discouraging returners from bringing kicks out of the end zone.


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

I am not a fan of this proposal, which would reduce the length of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. I don’t think there should be ties in football — teams should keep playing until a winner is determined. Shortening overtime to 10 minutes only increases the odds for a tie.


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

This rule says a receiver is now a defenseless player if they are running their pattern, even if a pass is not coming their way. I can think of this having relevance if a quarterback is outside the pocket and a receiver isn’t aware of it yet -- while still running his route, the defender can’t just level him in the head.


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 rule works toward disallowing crackback blocks for offensive players in motion and behind the line of scrimmage.


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 the biggest rule change proposal and one that I hope passes. It allows a control center to more quickly review the aspects of a replay and relay the result to the gameday officials. Here is what the competition committee elaborated on:

The referee will still be involved, the referee will still give input, but will no longer have the final say. And the way the referee actually views the play will change, where we’ll be going away from the sideline under the hood monitor to a handheld tablet device, where the referee can view the play on the sideline-not the field of play, but on the sideline, but not have to go all the way over to the wall and go under the hood and go through that process.


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

Last year, we saw a couple of instances where, near the end of a half, teams purposely held every player on offense or defense in order to let the clock go to 0:00. It happened once when the Ravens lined up to punt and the punter just went all the way back for a safety (to end the game) while draining about fifteen seconds of clock. Here is another loophole the 49ers used against the Saints.

The proposal would punish the offending team with a 15-yard penalty. On top of that, time would be restored to where it was. I think this rule should be in place to prevent obvious manipulation. The only concern I have is that sometimes, two holds occur on the same play (by the same unit) by chance. How would those be handled? Is there some grey area?


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

Currently, if teams commit an illegal substitution penalty or lose a replay review while the clock was running and there was under one minute to play, there was a 10-second runoff. This rule change would make it a 10-second runoff where there are under two minutes to play.


What do you think of the rule proposals, Browns fans?