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NFL rule changes could have a big impact on the field

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The annual owners meeting starts this week, so let’s run down the potential rule changes being considered.

One of the biggest events between the NFL Combine and NFL draft is the annual league owners meeting, which is set to take place in Phoenix this week. This is the part of the year where rule changes get voted on and other pressing league matters are discussed.

This year, the biggest topic heading into the meeting is the fate of the Oakland Raiders. The owners will be voting on the Raiders’ potential move to Las Vegas, which must be approved by 24 of 32 owners to pass. A Vegas NFL stadium is not expected to be completed until 2020.

However, that’s not the only issue on the table. There are a handful of rule change proposals that will be voted on. Some of these will pass, some won’t, but all of them will change the outlook of the NFL in the near future. Let’s go over some of the main topics being discussed.

Shorter overtime periods

The NFL already altered the overtime rules a few years ago, going from straight sudden death to potentially letting both teams have possession. Now there’s a possibility they’ll shorten the overtime period to 10 minutes for the regular season and preseason, although it would still be 15 minutes in the playoffs.

Given the multiple ties last year (Seahawks-Cardinals, Washington-Bengals) and a game that nearly ended in a tie (Chiefs-Broncos), one would think that shorter periods would lead to even more deadlocks with less time for scoring opportunities. Either way, this is a clear sign that the league wants to shorten the length of games.

Result: Not passed. The proposal has been tabled until the league meeting this spring.

No more field goal leaping

We like the leap, but it’s hard to deny the safety concerns, particularly for the long snapper who can’t see defenders jumping over him. The players’ union pushed hard to ban leaps on field goal and extra point attempts, and it seems like the competition committee will listen to them.

So while players like Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor, among others, got cool highlight-reel plays, it’s entirely possible that the leap will be a thing of the past sooner rather than later.

Result: Passed. The field goal leap is no more.

Touchbacks and big kicks

Last year the NFL moved touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line. The intention was to reduce the number of returns, long a player-safety issue, by encouraging the receiving team to take the extra 5 yards. It had the opposite effect, causing more teams to try and kick short of the goal line, betting that they could stop the returners short of the 25-yard line.

They’ll vote this week to make that change permanent.

Another proposal that could make kickoffs required viewing rather than the usual bathroom and/or guacamole break is a change allowing for touchbacks at the 20-yard line, instead of the 25, if a kicker boots the ball through the upright.

That one probably won’t pass because it could be seen as an extra advantage for teams playing indoors or in other favorable environments for kickers, ahem, Denver. Too bad, because it would be an extra wrinkle of fun, making big-leg kickers that much more a crucial part of the game.

Result: Didn’t pass. This would’ve been a fun addition to the game, but alas.

Centralized review replay decisions

The league’s been headed in this direction since 2014 when the officiating department started consulting with referees on the sideline. If this proposed rule change passes as expected, decisions on replay reviews will emanate from the league’s officiating control room in New York.

Hoods will go the way of the dinosaurs, replaced by a tablet on the sidelines where referees will get to look at all the angles of a play. The league office will communicate with the ref via headset and he’ll be responsible for relaying the decision to the stadium immediately ... even if the game is on a commercial break.

Anyone who’s ever complained about rules being enforced differently from crew to crew (looking at you, catch rule) should welcome this change.

Result: Passed. The replay hood is now a thing of the past.

Automatic ejections

In 2016, the NFL instituted a rule, on a one-year trial basis, that players would be ejected after accumulating two unsportsmanlike penalties in a single game. Owners will vote on a competition committee proposal to make that rule permanent.

Competition committee chair Rich McKay said last week that the league is going to use ejections and suspensions to crack down on certain kinds of illegal hits. Refs currently have the power to boot players for flagrant unnecessary roughness, similar to the targeting rule in the NCAA. They want refs to start using that authority.

Result: Passed. The NCAA’s “targeting” rule is now coming to the NFL.

Full-time referees?

NFL referees have been part-time workers for a long time, but that could change starting in the 2017 season. The current CBA allows referees to be full-time workers, but the big sticking point is that they’d have to leave the NFL Referees Association and become employees of the league office. There’s also the issue of pay cuts and loss of benefits that referees receive in their union.

Under the current proposal, referees will be “gradually phased in” to a program, but what that entails exactly is something of a mystery. Regardless, full-time officials are on the table this year after being discussed on and off in the recent past.

Result: TBD.

Players might get to celebrate a little?

For reasons yet unexplained, the NFL cracked down big time on celebrations last year, handing out taunting flags like candy the first four weeks of the season. The backlash was massive, and only reinforced the “No Fun League’s” reputation.

As a result, the league is considering backing down from his hard-line stance on end-zone celebrations. According to ESPN, officials could have more leeway and be encouraged to warn players on celebrations, rather than flagging them outright and costing teams precious field position. The excessive celebration rule is still outdated and overly stodgy, but this is a step in the right direction towards letting players actually have fun again.

Result: Roger Goodell said was tabled until a later date.

More protection for receivers

Receivers running routes would get protection as defenseless players if this one passes, even if they’re within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Another tweak in favor of more points.

Result: Passed.

Working the clock with multiple penalties

Remember last season when the Ravens had their punt team commit a bunch of obvious holding penalties to milk the clock for the 11 seconds left in a game against the Bengals? Or maybe you prefer the time Chip Kelly had several players on the 49ers defense commit holding to burn the clock so the Saints settled for a field goal to end the half instead of a touchdown?

Such wizardry could be gone from the league if owners approve a rule that would call unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on teams that commit multiple fouls on the same play to work the clock. That would be a 15-yard penalty and the clock resets to where it was prior to the snap.

Result: Passed.

Here’s the complete list of proposed changes to the rules, new bylaws, and resolutions on tap for the meetings:

Rule-change proposals

By Philadelphia: Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays.

By Philadelphia: Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays. Passed.

By Philadelphia: Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet.

By Philadelphia: Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

By Washington: Eliminates the limit of three total challenges per team per game and eliminates the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two challenges in order to be awarded a third challenge.

By Washington: Moves the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line for any touchback where the free kick travels through the uprights. Failed.

By Buffalo and Seattle: Permits a coach to challenge any officials’ decision except scoring plays and turnovers. Failed.

By Competition Committee: Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Reduces the length of preseason and regular season overtime periods to 10 minutes. Postponed.

By Competition Committee: Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than 2 yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a handheld device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half. Passed.

New bylaws up for a vote

By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.1 to eliminate the mandatory cutdown to 75 Active List players.

By Washington: Amends Article XVII, Section 17.14 to place a player who has suffered a concussion, and who has not been cleared to play, on the club’s Exempt List, and be replaced by a player on the club’s Practice Squad on a game-by-game basis until the player is cleared to play.

By Washington: Amends Article XIX, Sections 19.8(B) and 19.9(B) to permit clubs to opt out of the “color rush” jerseys created for Thursday Night Football. Withdrawn.

By Competition Committee: Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only. Passed.

By Competition Committee: Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return. Passed.

By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason. Passed.

Proposed resolutions

By Philadelphia: Amends the NFL’s On-Field Policy to allow clubs to have an alternate helmet in a color to match their third uniform. Withdrawn.

By Competition Committee: Permits a club to negotiate and reach an agreement with a head coach candidate during the postseason prior to the conclusion of the employer club’s season. Tabled until spring.

By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented. Passed.