Rule change proposals on tap for 2012 NFL Annual Meeting

With the NFL Annual Meeting set to begin on Sunday, the NFL held its’ yearly conference call with media featuring the chairman of the league’s Competition Committee, Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons.

There are seven rule-change and seven bylaw proposals up for vote by the clubs next week, the most significant being proposals to change how Injured Reserve may be administered and a potential expansion of the defenseless player rule.

McKay also went over each of the proposals, among other topics, especially how the new kickoff rule for 2011 changed the game.

Here are the two documents outlining the proposals, and the transcript of McKay’s teleconference on March 21.

2012 NFL Playing Rule Proposals
2012 NFL Bylaw Proposals

NATIONAL CONFERENCE CALL WITH NFL COMPETITION COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN RICH MC KAY
March 21, 2012

This was a very unique year for us, for the teams and for the league not having the offseason and having to literally get ready for a season with just training camp. It was very challenging; yet, by the traditional metrics, I will tell you it was a very good year on the field. Scoring, we ended up at 44.6 points per game, which is the highest in 46 years; margin of victory, we had 48% of our games decided by seven or fewer points, which is a really good number for us historically; and competitive balance-wise, it was excellent in that we had seven of the eight divisions won by new champions, which shows where the league is from a competitive balance standpoint. It was the year of the comeback. We had 18 games where teams were down by 14 or more points and came back to win. It doesn’t happen very often, but it did happen.

For us, Competition Committee-wise, I will give you a little background about the process so you understand what goes into it. We literally take all feedback from the fans, the officials, both current and retired officials, from the media, and from the clubs. We do a survey of the entire league. We ask the presidents, coaches and GMs for their feedback. We meet with the league medical consultants. We meet in Indianapolis for five days. At the Indianapolis meeting, we meet with the NFLPA and get their input on proposals and ideas they may have. We meet with the coaches’ (Competition Committee) Subcommittee that (NFL VP of Football Communications) Michael (Signora) talked about. We meet with the GM Advisory Committee. We go back to Naples for another week and then kind of write the rules that we will talk about.

That is our process. We try to cover as many things that are raised as they occur in our season and then we try to present to the membership proposals that signify the areas we think need change or merit consideration.

On 2012 Playing Rule Proposals:

As for the rules, I will take you through those proposals. This year, there are not a lot of them. There are seven in total. The first three are submitted by clubs.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 1 is submitted by Buffalo. It is a change to instant replay in which Buffalo proposes that the replay official in the booth make all decisions in the booth as opposed to the referee. That is the only change in the rule they proposed. That would move the decisions from the referee to upstairs.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 2 is submitted by Pittsburgh. It is a proposal in which they want to modify the horse collar tackle rule. The rule now provides an exception to horse collar tackles to the quarterback inside the pocket. They proposed that the exception be taken out. In other words, if a quarterback inside the pocket is tackled by a horse collar tackle, it would be a 15-yard penalty. It currently is not.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 3 is also submitted by Pittsburgh. It is a proposal in which they ask that the postseason overtime rule be used in the regular season also. It would be a change in what we call the ‘Opportunity to Possess Rule’ that now occurs in our postseason. They would propose that it would also be used in the regular season.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 4 is a cleanup rule about the kicking of the football. If you kick a football and it happens by the offensive team before possession changes, then it is a loss of a scrimmage down. It is really because there are some instances in which the kicking team gains an advantage or isn’t penalized substantially on a muffed kick by kicking the ball. We wanted to marry it up with the college rule and make it also a loss of down – a simple cleanup rule.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 5 is an adoption, if you will or a proposal to adopt the college rule on too many men on the field. It would be a dead-ball foul now as it is in college. If you line up on offense for more than three seconds or if on defense you line up and the snap is imminent, then the official will shut the play down and it will be a dead-ball foul, five yards and you go from there. You would still have the same situation if a player is trying to run off the field or something like that. In that case, it would be a live-ball foul and a five-yard penalty. It deals a little bit with, and is a little bit of a reaction, obviously, to the Super Bowl (XLVI) play.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 6 is an expansion of our defenseless player rules. All we are doing there is we have always given crackback protection to the defensive player from the low block from the person who is lined up outside and blocks inside and goes low. You guys have heard it forever. We have said that if he has crackback protection, the (offensive player) cannot go low. We propose that the protection be expanded to defenseless player protection, which means you cannot go low but you also cannot hit him in the head nor lead with the head against that player. We just think that player is in a very vulnerable position inside, and we are trying to give that defensive player a little more protection.

Playing Rule Proposal No. 7 is our last Playing Rule Proposal. It is an instant replay proposal submitted by the Competition Committee. Last year, we proposed that you would be able to review scoring plays. This year we would expand that and try to propose that you would be able to review scoring plays and additionally review what we will call ‘traditional turnovers.’ When I say review, I mean that a review would be instigated by the replay official upstairs. As you know, last year we changed that. We took scoring plays from the coaches and put it upstairs as an automatic review for him (the replay official) to confirm. If he (the replay official) felt it needed to be reviewed by the referee, then he stopped the game. We would use that same procedure for turnovers – fumbles, interceptions and the like. That would be an expansion of the replay assistant’s capabilities and take it out of the hands of the coaches, without affecting in any way the coach’s ability to still have three challenges if he gets the first two right or two challenges if he doesn’t.

On 2012 Bylaw Proposals:

There are really some more substantial Bylaw Proposals this year than in years past.

Bylaw Proposal No. 1 is a cleanup rule with respect to the teams that have games on Thanksgiving and Christmas in giving them the ability to use the waiver procedure like other night games.

Bylaw Proposal No. 2, we proposed that the trade deadline be moved from after the sixth week of the regular season to after the eighth week of the regular season. It would be a two-week move in the trade deadline.

Bylaw Proposal No. 3 is we propose a 90-player training camp offseason limit. In that limit, we would also count the unsigned draft picks, which we haven’t in years past; those players have been exempt. It would be an increase from what has traditionally been 80 players, although last year we obviously made the exception given the unique year. We propose 90 this year. In that, we propose two cuts – one cut coming after (preseason) Week 3, you would go from 90 to 80; and then you would go to 53 in the last cut.

Bylaw Proposal No. 4 is a contingent proposal in case we don’t end up with a 90-man roster and we end up with an 80-man roster. It is a way to cut down the roster if that were to happen. Bylaw Proposal No. 4 is a contingency proposal, if you will.

Bylaw Proposal No. 5 is a proposal in which we seek to move the final cut-down date to Friday night as opposed to Saturday where it has been. It is in recognition of the Kickoff Game being on Wednesday night and trying to give those two teams the opportunity to have a practice on Saturday.

Bylaw Proposal No. 6, I’m going to call it an ‘injured reserve exception for major injury to a designated player.’ Traditionally, in our system, injured reserve players have been out for the year. In this case, if that player was on the roster all the way through the first regular-season weekend, then you could put that player on injured reserve, designate that player for return and the player could begin to practice six weeks after he has gone on that list and play in games eight weeks after he has gone on that list. You could put him on later in the season, but you could take the player, for instance, who was hurt in the preseason, carry him through the first week of the regular season, put him on this list and bring him back during the season.

Bylaw Proposal No. 7 is an exception or an addition to the inactive list which would give each team the right by the Friday of each week to designate up to one player who could be on the inactive list, and if they were diagnosed with a concussion, they could go on that inactive list; you could then add another player to your roster, they would stay on that inactive list until they take them off. You must take them off or put them on prior to Friday at 4:00 PM. At no time could you have more than one on that inactive list.

Obviously, we have a number of points of emphasis, which we will cover at the meeting; we have a number of miscellaneous positions, which we will cover at the meetings; and some rule clarifications, but those are the rules and the bylaw proposals.

On reaction to Saints penalties:
McKay: The way I look at it is the way I always look at player discipline, team discipline, and the like: from a competition committee standpoint, we are in the business of looking at and making recommendations with respect to the rules and seeing if the membership approves of those. Discipline I have always thought is in the purview of the commissioner’s office. We always say we give him the support behind it, but it is truly his office that makes the decision. So beyond that, I would not want to comment on it.

On if any aspect of the discipline would fall to the Competition Committee:
McKay: No, discipline never has. It does not mean that in the development of whatever rules may be at play, it could be like the defenseless player rule – you can say the Competition Committee affected that discipline only because of the rule – but certainly not because of the discipline.

On what the objective would be in moving the trade deadline:
McKay: The thought is that we made a change in the CBA that took away the automatic acceleration of a contract – or salary cap count, I should say – on trades and we left it to the June 1 rule. So if you make a trade after June 1, there is acceleration, in other words. We thought that would potentially open up more trading that has gone on in the past. 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.

On if there was any thought to adjusting the defenseless player rule:
McKay: There is a lot of discussion of it. We knew last year, and we said at the meeting when the membership approved the rule with respect to the expansion of the protection of the receiver and the fact that the receiver now has to become a runner, that there was somewhat of a subjective element to it. But I think we feel very comfortable that the rule worked pretty well, and that as the season progressed players became more and more comfortable. In talking to the officials we met with in Indianapolis and watching the game tape and talking to the coaches, there is no question in our mind that players have adjusted to those rules that involve the defenseless player and have lowered the target, and hopefully we can keep making progress on that. But I don’t see us backing up on the standard at all.

On John Madden’s thought of not touching a quarterback after the ball is released:
McKay: Every year, we watch all of those plays of quarterback injuries, hits in the pocket, and so forth, and we are pretty comfortable. The quarterbacks by rule are very well protected. It doesn’t mean you won’t give that player more protection over time when some other new technique or new tactic comes up. I saw Coach Madden’s comments. I did not see that being one that the committee would endorse at this time, because we have talked about the idea, too, of allowing the quarterback to ground the ball in the pocket — now we let him ground the ball when he is outside the pocket. We have always taken the position that it is too much of an advantage to the offense at that point, that you are taking away from the defense the sack and the loss of yardage. And so we have not moved to that point. It does not mean as a league we will not down the road, but I don’t see us doing it in the near term.

On if there was any discussion about the act of the catch:
McKay: Yes, we watched a bunch of tape on it. It seems like every year, it is a very tough rule. It is a rule that has a lot of different aspects to it. What we liked most, when we were in Indianapolis we sat with one back judge and one referee and then talked to a couple of others on it – they were very comfortable with understanding the rule and how to apply the rule. That made us feel good. Then we watched the tape. There is no question that through the course of the year, I think we saw three plays where you said ‘maybe this was the rule at its extreme.’ But I think the plays we have, the officials on the field understand the three elements of the catch and how to officiate going to the ground. As much as those rules make it tough on the balance between the on-field official and replay, we still feel the balance is OK and can be officiated on the field. So we did look at it, and did not offer any change to the rule.

On the horse collar play:
McKay: The proposal by Pittsburgh is one where they are trying to take away the exception we have for the quarterback in the pocket; a very narrow exception that does not happen very often. 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, but that does not relate really to the Pittsburgh proposal.

On if suspended players’ salaries would count toward this year’s cap:
McKay: That is a question for Ray Anderson.

Ray Anderson: I would have to defer that to management council. It is a good question, but I do not have the answer to that.
Traditionally, suspended players have not; but I do not know that.

On potential of postseason OT moving to regular season:
McKay: A couple of things apply here. One: 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. 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. I don’t know if the two games we had this year show us much. One was one play and out. But the feeling was that we made the change in the postseason to try to give us the fairest opportunity for those teams in the postseason to have an opportunity. When we asked the Players Association this year, they endorsed doing it in the regular season. When we asked the coaches, they endorsed doing it in the regular season. So our feeling was maybe for consistencies sake, we should do so.

On potential rule change regarding kicking the football and the loss of a down:
McKay: I will give you a good example: Just think of the muffed field goal attempt on fourth down and the ball is muffed by the holder. The kicker kicks the ball out of bounds. Instead of a 10-yard penalty and a re-kick, in this case, you would have the 10-yard penalty and the down would go over for a change of possession. They would not get a re-kick of the field goal. That is a specific instance where it would definitely apply.

On if there were fewer injuries as a result of the changes made to the kickoff rules:
McKay: Yes. That was a rule change that was made for one reason only, and that was player safety. In looking at the results of it – and we studied it pretty carefully – it achieved its objective. Kickoffs were down tremendously as far as percent of returns. The average start line went down, and we were really concerned with how that would affect offense. But player safety overrode that concern. We think in the end, it served its purpose. We found that concussions and injuries were definitely down as a result as much as 40% on concussions. We felt like the rule change served its purpose. What was nice was that it did not ultimately affect scoring or offense. On the game in general, the average drive start for the entire game, every possession, was affected about one yard and a half. That did not end up impacting the offenses.

On the proposal regarding instant replay of the official in the booth being faster than the referees handling on the field:
McKay: Barry, I don’t want to speak for Buffalo but I would think that just looking at their proposal and talking with the league office when Buffalo submitted it, I would think the answer is, “yes.” Their 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. 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.

On the number of kickoffs not returned being higher than expected and if there is any concern with that number among coaches:
McKay: Paul, the answer is certainly higher than I thought and I think our group, in the committee, thought. It was probably seven to eight percent higher, as far as touchbacks, than we thought it was going to be. But I think even when dealing with the coaches – when we went through this with the coaches’ sub-committee – I think everybody has a pretty clear understanding that this was a rule that we wanted an impact from an injury standpoint. We knew, quality of game-wise, it was going to have some impact but we were still committed to doing it, and I didn’t hear anything different from that – whether we were dealing with the players’ association in a meeting in Indianapolis or dealing with the coaches’ sub-committee – there was no push at all this year by any team or anybody on the committee that we should change the rule because I think we do feel like we’ve moved the needle on the injury side, which was the focus.

On what was the idea behind the possible rule change regarding injured reserved:
McKay: I think – it’s a good question – it was driven by a couple teams for the last couple of years, maybe four or five years including – I’d have to say Art Rooney was one of the guys who pushed this before too and 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. 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.

On there being any common topic among players he spoke with at the Combine:
McKay: No, you know what, I wouldn’t say this year there was. Some years we get it more than others. A lot of times it’s driven by players that are concerned about the amount of fines or specific plays that players got fined for – I thought this year we had a good discussion about the defenseless player rules and I didn’t sense from them that, as we’ve had in years past, that, “Hey, there’s too much protection.” “Hey, you’re putting us in a position where we don’t know how to hit a player.” That was not the case this year. I thought it was pretty constructive discussions and I didn’t sense a lot of push-back with respect to specific rules or trends.

On possibly looking at the penalty of defensive pass interference and no longer making it a spot foul:
McKay: Aaron, that’s been a rule that’s steadily – I’ve been on the committee for a long time – We’ve talked about it so many times. It’s unbelievable that this year it was not brought up. It was not on our list. It wasn’t suggested by any team and traditionally, it’s always been that our players are so much more skilled than they are in college at that position – at the ‘DB’ position – that if we change that rule, the game would really change so we’ve always been fearful of changing it. This year, there was no real discussion of it.

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