Last week, the NFL Competition Committee announced a series of proposed rule changes it plans on presenting at the next league owners' meeting. A lot of these are rather mundane: simplifying penalty yardage or allowing the clock to run after sacks. Some, on the other hand, could potentially bring dramatic change to the way the game is played.
In total, the committee has announced 13 rule proposals. In addition there are eight bylaw proposals (off-field stuff like increasing the practice squad roster and adjusting the trading calendar) as well as one resolution proposal (allowing teams to close or open retractable roofs at halftime). For now, we're going to focus on the most significant of the proposed rule changes.
The most significant rule proposals involve the kicking game, particularly the embattled extra point. The Patriots have proposed that the line of scrimmage for a point-after attempt be pushed from the two-yard line back to the 25, turning the PAT into the equivalent of a 43-yard field goal. The current format has been under fire for several months now, with detractors arguing that it has become an antiquated formality that adds no challenge or excitement to the game. Indeed, kickers missed only five of 1,267 attempts last season and have connected on 99.1 percent of tries over the last five seasons.
For a league that has put such an emphasis on increasing the excitement of its game, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that it will liven up the PAT at some point. But the Patriots' proposal seems a bit extreme. Tacking on 23 yards is a vast jump in degree of difficulty. The conversion rate on field goals between 40 and 49 yards last season was 83 percent.
Either way, it undoubtedly adds excitement. Not only does it make the kick more of an adventure, it increases the appeal of going for two, which would still place the ball at the two-yard line. NFL teams convert two-point attempts at roundly a 50 percent rate. With the chances of making the one-point dropping significantly, the two-pointer gains some appeal, particularly in a bad weather game or one where a team's kicker is struggling.
The Patriots also introduced a second, far less controversial kicking game proposal. This one calls for the goal posts to be extended vertically by five feet, effectively raising the height of the posts. This is aimed at decreasing the likelihood of those awkward attempts that go directly over the post and are difficult to judge by the refs below.
There's really no excuse for getting a field goal call wrong, so making it easier on the officials seems like a no-brainer.
Ah the video review system, a constant source of bickering between "traditionalists" and those that see no point in spurning available technology. The NFL has been one of the most progressive proponents of replay among the professional sports leagues, so it's expected that this year's proposed changes include a handful of expansive replay proposals.
For starters, there's the Patriots' proposal to put fixed cameras on all boundary lines. How many times have you had to watch a critical goal line replay where the camera was juuust off center? This would fix that.
The Patriots are big into the expansion of replay (Bill Bellichick really loves cameras). They also proposed that teams be allowed to challenge any official's decision. There's concern this could slow the game down, but as technology continues to speed the process up, it seems likely this will instituted at some point in the near future, if not this year. Less likely is the proposal by the Redskins to allow reviews of personal fouls. Reviewing subjective calls is not something the league has been supportive of in the past, although the implementation of reviews for some foul calls in college basketball provides a precedent.
Then there's the "NaVorro Bowman" proposal that would make the possession of a loose ball a reviewable play. Under current NFL rules, you can review whether a ball was fumbled, but not who recovered the fumble. The proposal earns it's names from the notorious play late in the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and Seahawks when Bowman appeared to have successfully forced and a recovered a fumble on the goal line. Though replay clearly showed Bowman going to the ground with the ball in his arms, the Seahawks came out of the ensuing pile with the ball and were awarded possession.
(You can check out video of the play here, though be warned that it's the same play in which Bowman suffered a gruesome knee injury. Expect knees bending the wrong way.)
The concept of opening communication lines between replay officials and the league office is also on the table. This change would allow the league office to have input into review decisions, thereby introducing an increased degree of consistency between different games and different replay crews. While the degree of input the league office would have isn't detailed, this would be the first step in introducing a centralized replay command post similar to the one used by the NHL.
The most controversial proposal here is to push kickoffs back to the 40-yard line, a move intended to increase the frequency of touchbacks. Kickoff returns are considered the most dangerous play in football, and it's something the league addressed when they pushed the kickoff spot from the 30 to the 35 in 2011. That move led to a nearly 30 percent increase in touchbacks between 2010 and '11.
At some point, pushing the spot back renders the entire play useless. If cutting out kick returns is your goal, why not just remove the play entirely? I would personally be sorry to see such an exciting part of the game removed, but there's nothing exciting about a guy taking a knee in the endzone. Of course the big issue with removing kickoffs is that you take away the opportunity for onside kicks. The league would have to figure out a way for a team to make an attempt at regaining possession late in games, which would take some creative thinking. Still, moving the spot is a timid half-step toward a solution. If you don't want kickoffs, take them out. If you do want them, leave them be.
The other two player safety proposals are more straight forward. One calls for the extension of "roll-up" protection, a rule designed to keep defenders from rolling up on the back of an offensive blocker's legs. The new rule would extend that protection to include the side of a player's legs as well.
Finally, there's the suggestion by the Redskins to remove overtime from preseason games. While fans love free football, it's hard to see anybody being upset over this one. By the end of the fourth quarter, everybody's already seen enough of Thad Lewis and Derek Anderson.