Representatives from each of the NFL’s 32 franchises are currently meeting in Chicago to discuss pressing pro football matters. The most prominent are voting on potential rule changes – and according to recent reports there have been quite a few worth taking a closer look at to find out what they mean for the NFL and the New England Patriots.
There will be only one round of roster cutdowns
According to NFL Network’s Albert Breer, the NFL owners passed a rule eliminating the first round of roster cutdowns. Until last season, teams had to cut rosters from the offseason maximum of 90 to 75 after the third preseason game, with a second wave of cuts coming after the preseason finale. Now, teams no longer have to make the first round of cuts.
This projects to be a good rule change particularly for players on the bottom of the roster: While they would have already been cut at that point in time, they will now receive more exposure by potentially playing in the fourth exhibition game. Simultaneously, due to the added depth, a team can keep more of its roster locks on the sidelines in week four of preseason – limiting injury risk for the roster’s core.
Eliminating an extra round of cuts also adds more intrigue to cutdown day as more than 1,000 players will become free agent almost simultaneously. Naturally, the teams with the premier scouting departments – like the Patriots – will be in the best position to take advantage of all the chaos.
Overtime will be 10 instead of 15 minutes
As has already been reported last week, the NFL will also implement a new overtime format. While the extra period used to basically be the same as a fifth quarter, it has now been shortened from previously 15 to 10 minutes. As opposed to the other two approvals, this rule change will likely be the subject of discussion moving forward.
Two points in particular will be at the center of this debate: A fear of more ties and a fear that teams receiving the opening kickoff will simply try to milk as much clock as possible to win by a field goal. Both are legitimate concerns, and a look at the 2016 season shows why. Of the 14 overtime games that took place last year, four would have had a different result if overtime ended after 10 minutes.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that there will be a 30% spike in ties – but it could result in more timid play and teams trying not to lose during the shorter extra period. However, the opposite might also be the case and a 10-minute overtime might lead to more urgency by both teams.
One thing does seem certain, though: The new format will put more emphasis on strategy – something the Patriots marvel at. Whether it placing or fielding kickoffs or time management or play calling on both sides of the ball, players and coaches need to be at their best during this 10-minute drill. And New England historically fares well in situations like this.
A second player can now come back from injured reserve
Another rule change that has been reported last week, the ownership meeting has made changing injured reserve rules official today. Teams are now allowed to bring two players back to the active roster during the season. Previously, only one player was allowed to return after having been placed on injured reserve.
New England might have benefitted from this last season, when the team opted to end the season of tight end Rob Gronkowski instead of keeping him on the roster as "dead weight" for multiple weeks. While Gronkowski would likely still have remained on the sidelines, expanding the current set of rules will give teams more flexibility when it comes to managing intermediate-term injuries.
In short: This rule change is a good one for both players and teams – and maybe a sign of things to come. As is the case in pro baseball, the NFL might one day implement short-term injury designations. While today’s rule change is not exactly that, it appears to be a step in this direction.
Celebrating might become fun again
The NFL also relaxed its stance on celebrations. While flags for unsportsmanlike conduct due to excessive celebration became a fixture of post-touchdown joy over the past few seasons, the "No Fun League" will now tolerate the following: Using the football as a prop, going to ground, and doing group celebrations.
As long as they are not taunting the other team, players will not have to fear any repercussions for celebratory actions like the ones listed above. They still need to be quick, though, as the 40-second game clock will now start running immediately after the score.