In addition to finding a replacement for Paul Tagliabue, several rules changes are on the agenda as the NFL’s owners gather in Orlando.
Let the search begin here first thing Monday morning when Tagliabue addresses the owners and team igh-ranking officials to kick off the annual gathering, which also will include discussion on several rule-change proposals from the competition committee, expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, expanding the scope of instant replay and tending to the matter of where a new stadium might be built in Los Angeles.
Certain also to grab attention over the next three days will be a couple of rule change proposals: Prohibiting low hits on quarterbacks in the pocket, better protecting the deep snapper on place kicks, prohibiting the punting team from blocking in the back during coverage, broadening the horse-collar tackle to include grabbing the jersey from behind, too, and allowing eligible receivers to flinch and reset without a false start immediately being called if the action does not induce the defense to jump off sides.
Also, the competition committee, co-chaired by McKay and Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher, will propose allowing one designated player on defense to have headset communication with the sideline, just as currently is in place for quarterbacks.
“We want to prevent offenses from borrowing signals,” McKay said. The proposal states each club before the game must designate the one defensive player to be equipped with the sideline communication devise. That player can not change during the course of that game, even if a debilitating injury occurs. If that happens, the team simply loses the ability to verbally communicate defensive signals to the huddle.
As usual, there will be discussion to tweak instant replay. Tampa Bay will propose allowing all penalties to be subject to review, which would seem a long shot since the league is so conscious of game length, which this past year was 3 hours, 7 minutes, 6 seconds – “Down 40 seconds from last year,” McKay said.
Length of game is one of the reasons why there will be the discussion on tweaking false starts. McKay said there were 850 false starts called in 2006, and that a “a lot of those” were flinches by the receivers which had no effect of the ball being put into play. “That is a big number,” McKay said, noting the league’s 256 regular-season games each averaged 17 penalties, “and maybe we can save some time.” There also will be discussion to make the always controversial down-by-contact ruling susceptible to instant replay and to reduce the referee’s time limit for making a decision from 90 seconds to 60 seconds.
And as has been the case over the past couple of years, Kansas City will propose expanding the playoffs from 12 teams to 14 teams, which might fall on fewer deaf ears since the AFC’s sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XL in February. The wild-card Steelers run also will encourage discussion of not automatically awarding division winners higher seeds if they do not have a better record than wild-card teams.
That the committee is proposing broadening the horse-collar tackle penalty will be interesting since it seems defenders are rarely called for grabbing a ball carrier from behind inside the shoulder pads and immediately yanking him to the ground. But McKay said the competition committee saw too many times when defenders instead are grabbing the ball carrier’s jersey from behind and getting away with the same type of tackle deemed dangerous last year. “There seemed to be more players comfortable with this tackling tactic,” McKay said.
There are way too many ticky-tack penalties that slow down the game and cause second guessing after exciting plays. The more of those that can be eliminated, the better.
And any rules change that helps prevent injuries, especially to quarterbacks, deserves the presumption of being worthy. It’s good for all concerned for the best players to be on the field. Some years back, John Madden proposed changing the rules so that quarterbacks would be treated like punters, with zero contact allowed once the ball left his hands. I have always thought that was a good idea.
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