The 2017 NFL owner meetings are currently underway in Phoenix. Yesterday, the representatives of the league’s 32 member clubs were voting on proposed rule changes for the upcoming season. Overall, eight playing rule proposals passed as well as three bylaw modifications and one resulution proposal.
The league officially announced the results yesterday. Let’s take a look at the eight, who will directly influence on-field play:
2a. By Philadelphia; Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.
Until last year, players were allowed to jump over the line of scrimmage in an attempt to block a field goal or extra point attempt. The only regulations were that a) the leaping player was not allowed to touch an opponent while doing so and b) the leaping player was not allowed to align directly over the center. Now, due to questions about player safety, the play itself has been outlawed. Multiple teams have successfully used this technique in the past, including the New England Patriots.
8. 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.
This rule was first instituted last year on a one-year trial basis. Apparently, the NFL and its owners liked what they saw and have now voted to keep it in the rulebook on a permanent basis. This means that players will be ejected from a game if flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct. New England's lone disqualification last season - Cyrus Jones in week 5 - did not happen because of the new rule.
9. 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.
As has been the case with the ejection rule one year ago, the new free kick touchdback proposal has been passed and will be on trial for one year - in 2018 it will be re-evaluated and potentially kept in the rulebook. The rule itself would become relevant for free kicks following safeties.
11. By Competition Committee; Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.
This rule change adds to the already existing defensive receiver rules. Until now, only players in the act of catching or having already caught a pass were protected. Now, under the passed proposal, players running routes are under the rule's scope as well.
12. By Competition Committee; Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.
As was the case with the defenseless receiver rule, this one adds to an existing one. Until last season, backfield players in motion were allowed to do a crackback block within two yards of the offensive tackles. Now, this has been outlawed as well and will result in a 15-yard penalty.
13. By Competition Committee; Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews.
Proposal number 13 is one of the more publically discussed rule changes approved by the owners this year. Basically, it replaces the traditional system of a referee going under the hood to review plays with a hand-held device (i.e. a tablet). Furthermore, the final decision on the call will not be made by the referee but by either Head of Officiating Dean Blandino, who never worked as an NFL referee, or another member of his department. Needless to say, this rule change seems tailor-made for criticism, especially because of the lack of transparency.
14. By Competition Committee; Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock.
During the 2016 season, the San Francisco 49ers under head coach Chip Kelly committed multiple holding penalties with four seconds left in the first half to avoid the New Orleans Saints from scoring a touchdown. While the holding was flagged, there was no time left on the clock. Consequently, the Saints were given one untimed down which they used to kick a field goal instead of going for the touchdown. Under the new rule, this would result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while the game clock would be re-set to the original pre-snap time left.
15. By Competition Committee; Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.
Similar to proposal number 15, this one makes it harder to save time. Basically, under the new rule, the window for 10-second runoffs after substitution violations and replay reviews has been widened from the final minute of each half to the final two minutes.
Given how critical head coach Bill Belichick has been of the competition committee in the past, it is doubtful he is approving of all the passed proposals - especially numbers 2a, 11 and 13, given the subjective element they add to their interpretation and execution.
Furthermore, the owners meeting approved the following bylaw proposals...
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.
...and one resolution proposal:
G-4. 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.