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The NFL’s new helmet-hit rule creates more problems than it fixes

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The intent is good, but the NFL’s hastily passed targeting rule is going to cause problems for officials. Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz explains.

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t do it, NFL. Please. Don’t take one giant step forward with the new catch rule, only to take two steps backwards with the new targeting rule.

The NFL had to change the catch rule, as I’ve explained before. They scored a big publicity win with that news. Then reports dropped they are exploring the possibility of ejecting players who lead with the crown of their helmets to initiate contact against an opponent on any play. As it stands now, any player who initiates helmet-to-helmet contact, no matter the intent — whether it’s a safety on a wide receiver, a lineman pulling around the edge, or maybe even a running back in the hole — is subject to ejection.

This rule will be a complete disaster and impossible to enforce as it currently stands. The NFL has stated it will take input from players and coaches to narrow down the interpretation of the rule. I’ll believe it when it happens.

Take this example, I’m pulling around the edge as a lineman, and I lower my big-ass self (I’m close to 6’7) to generate leverage on contact. The defender moves slightly and also lowers himself for contact, and we meet helmet-to-helmet, am I ejected? Does he get ejected? Who initiated contact first? Me or him?

A running back is heading full speed into a hole at the line of scrimmage. A safety is flying in for the tackle and is aiming for the knees. The running back lowers himself to protect from the hit and also runs him over. Is that back now ejected? What about the safety?

How are the officials going to figure out these situations? Does the NFL really want more reviews? Do they want to put more judgment calls like this on the officials? I’d guess none of these are what the NFL actually wants.

I think it’s easy to spot the egregious kind of targeting penalties the NFL is already flagging, fining, and suspending players for.

A safety or linebacker launches himself (leaves his feet) into a wide receiver who’s running down the field and hits that player in the helmet. That’s clear to see. However that’s what happens when the wide receiver moves at all, and I do feel for defenders. He jumps, or ducks, or dives, or moves at all, and the safety has already begun his tackle aimed at an acceptable target, and that target has now moved. That safety is getting flagged and fined, maybe even suspended. That’s enough punishment. Now we are going to eject players without knowing intent? Or worse, just assuming intent?

But Geoff, look at college, they have this rule and it works. Maybe. I’ve also seen it work for hits that aren’t egregious enough to draw a flag, but the player gets ejected. That’s no proof this rule has limited the amount of these types of plays.

I understand the NFL desire to continue to limit the chances of CTE and unfortunate injuries like the one suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. The NFL has changed practice schedules and times and started teaching better tackling and blocking techniques that emphasize using less of your head. (So has college). Players are aware of head injuries and have been more open about reporting them to trainers, which is an awesome change in the NFL from when I first entered the league.

The league is moving in the right direction to help avoid, as much as possible, head injuries and the long-term health effects that come with them.

However, I’ve always stated, the NFL has a 100 percent injury rate. It’s a fast, quick, and violent game. Unless helmets are removed, the potential for head injuries will always be there. That’s understood now when a player signs that contract, the potential is there.

I covered this in a Periscope yesterday with so much detail. Check it out.