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What the NFL’s 2023 rule changes mean for the Patriots

The league’s owners voted to approve several rule change proposals.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

One important part of the NFL ownership meetings in Phoenix that took place earlier this week was voting on rule change proposals. The 32 teams and the competition committee had the opportunity to present ideas on how to make the game better; a total of 26 were on the ballot on Tuesday.

Of those 26 proposals, 15 were ultimately approved. These 15 were able to get a two-thirds majority among the 32 owners present, meaning that they — if not otherwise stated — will be implemented in 2023.

What does all of that mean specifically for the New England Patriots, though? Let’s find out by going through the changes as announced by the NFL.

Approved Playing Rules

1. Permit the use of zero (“0”) as a jersey numeral; to allow kickers and punters to use any jersey numeral between 0-49 and 90-99. The NFL will expand the use of jersey numbers this season, giving a select group of players — all but offensive and defensive linemen — the ability to pick No. 0. Additionally, kickers can now pick from the 0-49 and 90-99 range as opposed to 1-19 they had available previously. This changes little for the Patriots, but it looks likely that one of their players will change his number to wear 0 this year. Keep an eye out for sophomore cornerback Jack Jones, who wore No. 0 during his time at Arizona State.

3. Make the adjustment of the play clock following an Instant Replay reversal consistent with other timing rules. Previously, the play clock started at 25 following an instant replay but will now be increased to 40 in an effort to create more consistency with other rules. This is more of a procedural change, giving the team possessing the ball more time to operate.

7. Expand the Replay Official’s jurisdiction to allow for review on failed fourth down attempts. The NFL strictly covers when the replay official can or cannot initiate review, and this new rule will add to his area of responsibility. When on-field officials ruled that the offense failed to reach the line to gain on fourth down, he can now step in to review.

10. Change the definition of a launch to leaving one or both feet. The league previously defined launching as leaving both feet while executing either a crackback block or action against a player deemed defenseless. Now, leaving only one foot prior to contact is already enough to be considered a launch. A ruling like that would result in a 15-yard penalty. From a Patriots point of view, a rule change like this will be an emphasis in offseason preparation.

11. Make the penalty for tripping a personal foul. Tripping previously was a 10-yard penalty, but it has now been added to the 15-yard infraction category. It does not change much from a team perspective, though, given that the act was already illegal to begin with.

12. Make the penalty for illegally handing the ball forward consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes. What this means is basically the following: players are not allowed to hand the ball forward beyond the line of scrimmage, to an ineligible receiver behind the line of scrimmage, or after a change of possession. Again, this is something that needs to be taught in the offseason.

13. Make the penalty for illegal punts, drop kicks, or placekicks consistent with other illegal acts, such as illegal forward passes. This rule prohibiting a random kick or punt was already in place, and would have cost a team 10 yards. Now, it will be 5 yards and a loss of down.

15. Prevent the offense from benefitting by an extension of the half as a result of their foul. All this does is add to the rule of when a half would be extended as a result of the play. There was an area that would have benefitted the offense previously, and it has now been cleaned up. This is again a procedural issue more than one the team really needs to teach its players.

17. Clarify use of the helmet against an opponent by removing the “butt, ram, spear” language from Article 8 and incorporating those actions into Impermissible Use of the Helmet. You’re not allowed to use your helmet to — as the league defines it — butt, ram or spear your opponent’s head or neck area. This now also includes the facemask, while adding that incidental contact is not to be penalized. So, if a player’s helmet rams its opponent during a conventional tackle attempt, no flag will be thrown.

Approved Bylaws

3. Change the claiming period to Monday for players who are waived on the Friday and Saturday of the last week of the regular season. All this does is simplify the NFL’s waiver wire rules, and make them more consistent throughout the year. The Patriots have had no apparent issues with changes like these in the past, and it seems unlikely they will have in the future.

4. Insert Strength of Victory as the second tiebreaker for awarding contracts. This simply adds another tiebreaker to the waiver wire process after the third week of the regular season.

5. Adjust the rules for postseason signings to account for standard elevations rule; to freeze postseason rosters at 4:00 PM New York Time on the Wednesday following the last week of the regular season. There is a limited number to how many free agents can be signed be playoff teams, and this rule change now also takes standard practice squad elevations into account: the more players you elevate, the fewer free agents you can pick up.

Approved Resolutions

G-2. Make the regular season and postseason roster transaction deadlines the same; changes the transaction deadline for Saturday night postseason games to 4:00 p.m., New York time on Saturday. Previously, playoff teams had to submit any roster moves by 4 p.m. ET on Friday if they had a Saturday night game. Now, that deadline was moved to 24 hours to Saturday.

G-3. Provide greater clarity as to a player’s availability for a game. This impacts the injury report, with the Los Angeles Chargers apparently concerned that it is not transparent enough. What this does, basically, is force teams to also list players on reserve lists that have returned to practice.

G-4. Establish one preseason roster reduction date and related procedures. The time of three roster cutdown deadlines is behind us. The NFL will now have only one cutdown day, with teams reducing rosters from 90 to 53 in one swift swoop: all cutdowns will now have to take place by 4 p.m. ET on the Tuesday following the final preseason weekend. For 2023, this date is Aug. 29.