NFL owners are gathering in sunny Palm Beach, Fla. this week with a lengthy to-do list in front of them. Salary cap penalties and a certain bounty scandal will likely dominate the conversation, but those headline topics will not be the only things on the agenda. Owners will vote on seven proposed rule changes, as well as another six proposed changes to the league's bylaws that could refine the on-field product.
None of the seven proposed rule changes would dramatically change the game. They are part of a gradual evolution toward increased player safety and a fairer competition. Still, if adopted, fans may notice a few instances where the new rules impact the games they are watching this fall.
1. Moving video reviews to the booth - Currently, the refs disappear under a hood on the sideline to review plays. This rule moves it all upstairs, giving authority to the official in the booth over the ref on the field.
Submitted by the Buffalo Bills, this move is about efficiency. It would be awful to lose 93-year-old Ralph Wilson while the refs were messing around under the hood. Did you know that technically the ref has just 60 seconds to make a decision about the call on the field on plays being reviewed? Sending it upstairs, as opposed to on the field, makes the process easier for coaches and everyone else involved. You will have to be speedier in running to the fridge for a beer, though.
2. Removing the exception for horse collar tackles of quarterbacks in the pocket - For all the league's protections on offensive players, defenders can still wrangle down a quarterback by the scruff of his neck, so long as the quarterback is in the pocket. If this rule passes, that will no longer be allowed, adding one more protection for passers.
Maybe this should be called the Dan Dierdorf rule. Calling a Week 11 game between the Bengals and Ravens, Dierdorf told viewers at home that Terrell Suggs should have been called for a horse collar tackle on Andy Dalton at the Ravens' seven-yard-line on second down, sending Cincy fans into an outrage about the percieved non-call. Instead, Dalton got an intentional grounding penalty on what might have been a game-winning drive with 46 seconds left. Under the new rules, Cincy would have had a new set of downs to try and score to tie or win the game.
3. Change regular season overtime rules to match overtime rules used in the playoffs - Nothing like watching your team play a hard-fought game only to lose by a field goal before even getting a chance in overtime. This rule gives both teams possession in overtime, like the playoffs, unless the team with the first possession ends with a touchdown or a safety.
Given how the season ended up, it's hard to believe that the Vikings nearly beat the Lions in Week 3 last season. Detroit kicked a 32-yard field goal on the first overtime possession for the win. Under new rules, which make overtime a little more competitive, Minnesota would have had a chance.
4. Adding a loss of down to the penalty for teams kicking a loose football - This proposed change adds a loss of down in addition to a 10-yard penalty for a team that kicks a ball that pops loose on the field.
Cowboys punter Matt McBriar was flagged for kicking a loose ball in a Thanksgiving 2010 matchup against the Saints. New Orleans, leading 23-13, declined the penalty. Tracy Porter recovered and returned the fumble to the Saints' 16-yard line. Had this proposed rule change been on the books, New Orleans would have accepted the penalty and had slightly better field position.
5. Change the penalty for too many men on the field to a dead-ball foul, when the team is lined up - Now, the penalty for too many men on the field is a just a five-yard loss. This change would make it a dead-ball foul, keeping time on the clock. This change only applies to teams lining up with too many men, not when they are trying, but fail, to get the extra player off the field.
Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay was clear that this rule had to do with the penalty the Giants received in the Super Bowl, which allowed them to burn up clock time for the small cost of a five-yard penalty.
6. Expanding the rule on crackback blocks that would make it illegal to hit players in the head or neck area - This is an incremental change with an eye toward player safety covering offensive players blocking for a ball carrier.
Receivers will one day be asked to block by waiving their arms or pointing to the blonde in section 112.
7. Automatic instant replay of turnovers - Last year the NFL implemented a rule giving replay officials the authority to automatically review scoring plays. This extends that to fumbles and interceptions, so long as they are ruled that way on the field. For turnovers that are not called, coaches will still have to pull the challenge flags when they can.
An automatic review of Kurt Warner's fumble on the Cardinals' last play of Super Bowl XLIII may not have changed the controversial ruling on the field, but it might have at least put a few minds to rest and made message boards slightly less vitriolic in the years since. It looked an awful lot like the infamous "Tuck Rule." Future generations will not have to suffer if the league passes the rule change.