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Rule changes abound for NFL Meetings

Mar 21, 2012 -- 11:17pm
 
Photo/Associated Press

GREEN BAY – The NFL will have a long to-do list in terms of possible rules changes during the upcoming NFL Meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

But not nearly as long as their games will be if they enact all of the rules changes they are proposing.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, competition committee chairman Rich McKay outlined seven of the rules changes the committee – a group that recently added Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy – will address, some of which were proposed by teams. He also outlined a handful of proposed bylaw changes, including a modification of the injured reserve rules so a player could potentially come back during the same season and moving the trade deadline back.

First, the most noteworthy in-game rule proposals:

> Changing instant replay so the replay official up in the booth makes all decisions as opposed to the referee on the field. The rule change was proposed by the Buffalo Bills.

“(The Bills’) theory would be there that you speed up the review process just by the sense that their following a little bit of the college model,” McKay said. “The thing about our system is we developed our system based on our experience the last time. In other words, when we were in, I guess, ’86 to ’92 or whatever it was that we had the old system of replay – that’s how we developed the idea that the referee would be the decision maker because we felt like he had the best ability to one, talk to the on-field official and two, have complete command of the rules and the application of the them. This is a proposal that will definitely, I think, generate discussion but I think it was directed at trying to speed it up.”

> Modifying the horse-collar tackle rule to remove the exception for tackling the quarterback inside the pocket. Proposed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the new rule would state that if a quarterback inside the pocket is tackled by a horse collar tackle, it would be a 15-yard penalty. It currently is not. 

“(It’s) a very narrow exception that does not happen very often,” McKay said. “Every once in a while a defensive lineman reaches over and grabs the quarterback and pulls him down. They just believe that should be a foul, because today it is not. With respect to the horse collar in general, we looked at a lot of plays. You will see in our report that we will talk about the horse collar, because it is still too much a part of our game and has too much of a high risk of injury. It is something we definitely want to see out of our game.”

> Applying the postseason overtime rule to regular-season games as well. Proposed by the Steelers, the ‘opportunity to possess rule’ would become uniform for the entire year, not just the playoffs.

“If I have my statistics right, which I think I do, in the last 32 overtime games in the regular season, 27 times both teams have had a possession. So there are only five games where you had only one team have a possession,” McKay said. “What the coaches’ feeling was, and dealing with the coaches sub-committee certainly supports the change to the regular season also – strategically they like to prepare the same way in the regular season that they do in the postseason, and they really don’t want to have different rules and have to change their approach to overtime.”

> Adopting the college rule for too many men on the field, a change that would make the penalty a dead-ball foul as it is in college.

> Expanding replay-booth reviews to all turnover plays, just like all scoring plays are now automatically reviewed by the replay official upstairs and then confirmed. The rule change would potentially save coaches a challenge. That rule change was proposed by the committee.

The noteworthy by-law proposals include:

> Moving the trade deadline to after Week 8. It currently is after Week 6.

“We thought that would potentially open up more trading than has gone on in the past,” McKay said. “The trade deadline has traditionally been a little disappointing. There is a lot of talk about it but then not very many transactions because of the nature of our sport being such a team sport. But our thought is that there could potentially be more trades now because of the salary cap and adjustment to it, and this was a way to give people a little more leeway.”

> Increasing the offseason/training camp roster limit to 90 players. It is currently 80 players. However, the 90-man limit would count unsigned draft picks, which under the 80-man limit currently do not.

> Adding an injured reserve category in which if a player is carried on the roster through the first weekend of the regular season, that player could be placed on a reserve list and be allowed to practice six weeks later and play two weeks after that.

“The idea being that you’ve got that marquee player, you’ve got that central-core player on your team. He gets hurt really early in the season, whether it’s in training camp or whether it’s at the start of the season, and there’s still that chance that he could come back,” McKay said. “Yet, if the coach knows and the general manager knows that this player is going to be out for eight weeks, they may just write the player off and say, 'I need the roster spot.'

"This gives you a little more flexibility to keep that player and keep that player potentially eligible to come back. That was the object. It was directed to that player that’s a core, kind of marquee-type player that you may think has a chance at coming back late in the season and just giving you a little more roster flexibility to do it.”

> Designating a roster exemption for a player with a concussion.

The proposals will be presented to the teams on Monday and voted on on Wednesday, before the meetings adjourn. For a rule change to pass, it must be approval by 24 of the league’s 32 teams. 

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