NFL Mulls Rules Changes

The NFL combine is an unofficial start to the offseason. It provides not only a close up look at the top draft prospects but also media availability for coaches and front office personnel. Also, it is the first meeting in the offseason of the NFL Competition Committee which proposes and recommends rule changes for a full vote of all 32 teams.

The Catch Rule

Of course, this rule is at the top of everyone’s minds and hearts and was discussed. Coming out of the meeting was that the committee feels that the Dez Bryant play should be considered a catch, much to the delight of crybaby Dallas Cowboys who seem to lose site of the fact that call has been consistently made.  They were so smitten that #dezcaughtit became a trending hashtag last week. Nonetheless, an argument could be made that while it was correctly called by Gene Seratore, that the rule should be written as such that that be a catch.  That is exactly how the competition committee feels about it.

The difficult part is writing the rule in such a way that it doesn’t cause other problems such as too many fumbles ruled against receivers having just caught the ball. Such as in any aspect of life, it’s much easier to complain something as opposed to providing an actual solution. Here is the way the rule is written now:

“A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

  1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
  2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
  3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps (see 3-2-7-Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

Item 1. Player Going to the Ground.  – A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”

It clearly states what determines a player as becoming a runner.  Look for the committee to focus specifically on the going to the ground element and becoming a runner part of the rule, by replacing it with a common football move.  In other words, plays like Dez, or Jesse James or even Ty Montgomery vs the Vikings this year, could be considered a catch.  This based on the player gaining control, albeit while falling down, and then reaching the ball out thus constituting a football move.

Defensive Pass Interference

An idea was floated around that would simply limit any Defensive Pass Interference Call to 15 yards, as is the case at the college level. The reason for the is obvious. There are too many DPI calls that are marginal, but end up being 30+ yard penalty. The best recent example was in the AFC Championship game when AJ Bouye was called for DPI on this play.


I don’t feel that should have been pass interference but whether we like it or not, many calls are either gray or very hard to make a judgment on.   Officials are human and football is an incredibly hard sport to call.  Either way, it was no obvious or egregious and limiting it to a 15-yard penalty would make sense in this case.

With that comes unintended consequences. If DPI is limited to 15 yard a corner that is clearly beat deep would have an incentive to interfere and not even try to make a legal play.   Another likely implication is that corners would not be as careful went covering a deep ball and create more contact on those plays.

A middle ground that has been talked about would be to have two separate penalties. One for minor, less egregious penalty and one for more obvious infractions. While that may have good merit, it’s difficult to think it will get much traction due to concerns about consistency and enforcement.  Its likely to be one or the other, and it’s hard to imagine such a drastic change being approved.

Targeting

The committee is considering proposing a rule similar to that of college football. Anyone who watches college football knows this rule, and knows the controversy that it has caused. One could debate the rule itself, from the merits or the rule to whether or not it helps make the game safer. But I am not going to. The biggest element to this is that the committee is discussing having replay a part of this rule, like college. And this would be outside of the normal procedures which involve challenges and booth initiated reviews in other circumstances. It would be anytime they need a better look at the play in question. This is abjectly horrible. Any proposal that requires MORE instant replay should be dead on arrival. If they want to punish the players for making the hit, they should feel comfortable making that call on the field and strengthen the punishment and/or making it more consistent. There is no reason why Thomas Davis shouldn’t have been ejected for his block on Davante Adams and there is no reason Danny Trevathan didn’t get more than a one-game suspension for his own hit on Adams.

But the NFL must understand now, that fans don’t like the amount of replay in the game.  Any market research would tell you that  It has been a detriment to all sports. I was recently at a Boston Celtics game and fans were booing anytime the officials went to the monitor and rightfully so.   I was even at a college hockey game that was delayed five minutes to review a goal in a four-goal game, and of course, my young kids began to complain of boredom after being completely enthralled in the game previous to that.  College sports aside, professional sports seem to fail to grasp that their product is entertainment.  Nothing more.  It isn’t a science or some other aspect of life that requires precision and 100% accuracy.

Illegal Contact

Points were down this year so the committee discussed making illegal contact a point of emphasis once again. Anything that will help create more scoring is a hit amongst the NFL.   I couldn’t disagree more. I have seen too many automatic first downs on plays that had no bearing on the play on the complete other side of the field.  And more scoring at this point isn’t necessarily a better product.  At one point, arguably through the 80’s and early 90’s that argument could be made.  But now, when a punt or a forced FG feels like a touchdown we are far past that point.

To be clear, none of these rule change ideas have been anything other than a discussion. Its imminent that there will be changes to the catch rule while the others are still iffy. Any rule changes will mostly likely occur the end of this month at the annual league meetings to be held in Orlando, March 25-28.  Please check back here for an article discussing the final changes.

Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz
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