When league owners and coaches convene in New Orleans next week, they will be presented with a series of proposed rules changes by the Competition Committee that will change the strategy of the game, the way the players do their jobs and the way we enjoy the very sacred moments following touchdowns. Let's take a look at what the proposed rules changes mean and how much sense it makes to alter the game we love so much ...
Enforcing Suspensions For Illegal Hits To Neck, Head And Defenseless Players
In theory, the idea is a great one. Defensive players can't launch themselves helmet first at players without incurring significant penalties, perhaps even a suspension. Repeat offenders will be dealt with harshly. I have no problem with that. Somewhere along the line, defensive players abandoned the classic, taught-at-all-levels way to tackle properly and instead started leading with their helmets. It is time to go back to basics and save some limbs and careers here.
The challenge is to define a defenseless player. The NFL has expanded the category into eight scenarios: 1. A quarterback in the act of throwing; 2. A receiver trying to catch a pass; 3. A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped; 4. A player fielding a punt or a kickoff; 5. A kicker or punter during the kick; 6. A quarterback at any time after change of possession; 7. A receiver who receives a blindside block; 8. A player already on the ground.
What is concerning is the idea that a defensive player will not hit a receiver trying to make a catch, or will instead go low on a receiver to avoid a helmet-to-helmet collision. We saw it last year with Asante Samuel, who was penalized -- although not fined -- for a hit in the loss to the Vikings. The penalty was a bad call, and a costly one. Had Samuel gone low, he would have risked a knee to the head and a potential concussion.
You are going to see a lot of arm tackles, and missed ones at that, if this rule is implemented strictly. I'm all for players' safety here, but there is a fine line. Maybe players will do away with launching and leading with their helmets, and that will make the situation better. I just don't know how officials and then league reviews will dictate a picture that is not nearly as cut and dried as it seems on paper.
Kickoffs From The 35-Yard Line, And Touchbacks Brought Out To 25-Yard Line
I'm not feeling this proposed rule change at all. Teams currently kick off from the 30-yard line and all touchbacks are brought back to the 20-yard line. Under the proposed rule, kickers like David Akers -- who set a career high with 23 touchbacks in 2010 -- will have no problems booming the ball deep into the end zone.
He will also have no problem kicking moon balls that land at the 2-yard line and that, combined with another proposed rule to eliminate any blocking wedge at all, will result in the kickoff return man getting absolutely creamed, destroyed, battered, beaten and, ultimately, carried off the field after running into a 10-man wall running straight at him.
The NFL, it seems, is trying to do away with the kickoff return. Citing too many injuries from the head-on collisions, the blocking wedge has been reduced from three men to two men to now, if the proposal goes through, no wedge at all in a span of a couple of years. Hey, there is no doubt that kickoff returns are dangerous and nasty and often detrimental to a player's long-term career plans. I have no problem with acknowledging that.
But the trend here seems to be toward eliminating the return altogether, and that could be the case in the next few seasons. As a fan of the kickoff, the kickoff return is one of the most exciting moments there is, and a long return is a thrill. If the goal is to save careers, then the NFL should take the extra step now and just get rid of the kickoff return and start every possession after a score at the 25-yard line.
All Scoring Plays Would Be Subject To Review, Even Without A Challenge
Under this proposal, the replay official could order a review of every scoring play -- touchdown, field goal, extra point, safety -- without the prompting of a coach's challenge. I'm not sure this will have a great impact on the game, but it sure could prolong the length of a 60-minute contest.
Colleges do it now, leaving all replays after scoring plays in the hands of the replay official. It is an enormous responsibility and one that truly could make those few moments after an apparent touchdown almost unbearable.
I'm not in favor of this rule, either. The onus should be on a team's head coach to determine whether or not to challenge a play. The fans don't need more delays in the game. I get it that more replays would mean fewer human errors from an officiating standpoint, but part of the beauty of the game is the human element in the officiating. Mistakes happen. And when they do, or when fans think they have happened, they make for great day-after conversation.
Leave it alone, is what I say. Too many changes to the game could have an adverse meaning for the best game on the planet. Owners and coaches, already saddled with cluttered minds given the labor strife, have that much more to think about next week as the NFL moves into uncharted waters on and off the playing field.