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NFL Officials Still Aren’t Sure How the New Pass Interference Replay Rule Will Work

Albert Breer

NFL officials this spring had more access to the decision-making process on the rules than ever before. Some were invited to competition committee meetings, others were aggressively questioned by coaches during their site visits at OTAs. And the officials have one more chance to weigh in, at the annual officiating clinic set for July 11-14 in Dallas.

The NFL doesn’t do much by mistake, and it’s fair to surmise this wasn’t an accident either.

The reason is simple and straightforward: On-boarding pass interference into the review system has been anything but a straight-line process. The Hall of Fame Game is six weeks from today, and the season opener five weeks after that, and we still don’t have finality on how the process will work. Most importantly, the guys who will be charged with overseeing the changes don’t have finality.

“The officials are going to call whatever it is they’re told to call,” said NFL Referees Association executive director Scott Green on Wednesday. “But it’s got to be clear. A lot of times preseason will help flesh that out. But this thing has sort of been moving pretty quickly, and it’s not just the official on the field, it’s the replay official in New York as well, and how fast they can pick up a play they want to look at.

“As everything gets to be more technical, you have to be careful. And as it gets more technical, you start to wonder, ‘Where is this leading to?’ And there’s concern over length of game, how many different things are going to be stopped. I suspect in preseason you’ll see a lot more stoppages as they play through it. It obviously has got everybody’s attention.”

As Green said, the officials just want clarity now on how this is going to work, which, of course, isn’t the first time they’ve been in this spot. Last June there were plenty of questions as to how the new helmet rules were going to be called. That, ultimately, got worked out, with the preseason a proving ground. The new pass interference policy will have to be, too.

A memo went out last week with language explaining that the replay official would have control, after all, over stopping the game to review offensive and defensive pass interference calls inside two minutes and in overtime—and that the standard to call for such a review would be higher than it is for other stoppages in the same time period.

Wednesday was the deadline for teams to provide feedback to the league on the rule. If there’s not a lot of pushback, the NFL will formalize the rule, and take it to the clinic to work with the officials in July.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t bumps coming.

It’s officially the deadest time in the NFL calendar, but we still have plenty to get you caught up on. So I’m taking your questions on:

Lamar Jackson’s potential for a Year 2 breakthrough.
• How Jets GM Joe Douglas will spend his summer.
• My Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year picks.
• 2020 free agent talk.
Nick Caserio, the Patriots and the Texans.



But because the decision and finalization of this rule could come down today, we’re starting with the officials’ view of the new pass-interference review process.

As a quick refresher, here’s how this has worked over the last three months.

• The NFL voted through a plan in March to expand the replay system to include offensive and defensive pass inference—both calls and non-calls—for the 2019 season only. Inside two minutes and in overtime, the replay official was to control reviews, as is the case with any other review of any other foul.

• The officials and officiating czar Al Riveron had the aforementioned annual visits with clubs and gathered opinions on the change. At that point, concern over stoppages in the final two minutes and overtime was raised, and the competition committee considered the idea of keeping OPI and DPI in the coaches challenge system throughout games. Also, with that, Hail Marys would be exempt from the challenge system.

• The committee discussed the idea with the owners at the league’s spring meeting in May, and the owners voted to empower the committee to unilaterally make the change, but only after their teleconferences, done by division, with the coaches on June 4 and 5. The committee was also charged with drafting language to define a Hail Mary.

• On June 13 the league sent out a draft of the rules. The feedback led the competition committee to revert to the original idea—keeping the OPI and DPI reviews in the hands of the replay official, rather than dependent on a coach’s challenge, in the final two minutes and OT—with stricter guidelines than there are for other replay calls. And the Hail Mary will indeed be subject to the review system.

And here we are, with lots of questions remaining and a season fast approaching. That’s why I figured it was a good time to talk to Green, who not only runs the NFLRA but was an on-field official in the league from 1991 to 2013, with three Super Bowls on his résumé (he was the head ref for Super Bowl XLIV). Here’s our conversation from Wednesday.

MMQB: What’s the overriding reaction you’ve gotten from officials on the change?

Scott Green: The reaction from the officials’ standpoint is mistakes are made. You have to be careful with the attempts to fix a mistake that’s made. And I’d say, in general, that officials see it as an overreaction (to the NFC title game). Obviously, we want to get everything right that we can. But you have to be careful about the flow of the game, and the effect on the game, the more and more technical we’re permitting the game to get. The problem inside two minutes is you don’t have a lot of time to decide whether you’re going to stop the play or not. And if the replay official errs, they’re going to err on the side of stopping plays.

MMQB: How has the league office been to work with?

SG: Our folks have been going with the office folks, with Al and a couple of the other guys, on meetings with the coaches in connection with the OTAs. And they’re looking at plays, going through the plays. You put the play up—“Is this interference?” One coach says it’s not interference, the next says it is. I think it’s still a process that they’re working through. And from the standpoint of the folks on the field, they’re going to call a game the same way they’ve always called a game. If they see it and it’s interference, they’re gonna throw the flag. If it’s not, they’re gonna let it go. Now, what happens after that, whether inside two minutes and replay wants to stop it, or a coach wants to challenge it, it’s outside what we’ve had. But as far as what’s a foul and what’s not a foul, that’s not changing.

MMQB: So how do you think this will actually change things?

SG: I think what you’re going to see is more of a technical review process, and things that in the past may not have been a foul, where there was some hand-fighting, get caught. When you slow it down, frame-by-frame on it, that could be a concern. You’ll pick up more fouls because of what is now a more technical approach to determining whether it’s a foul or not a foul.

There was a big fear on the Hail Mary at the end of a game. Obviously, there’s contact down there, there’s guys getting position, you’re getting ready to go up for the ball. If you stop and slow it down to the point where you say, “Wow, it looks like he’s got that guy’s arm,” where it wasn’t anywhere near as severe—they’re saying they want it to be reviewed as closely to what we would see on the field. You start creeping on [with] more technology like that, it could be a problem.

MMQB: Did you feel like your guys had a chance to be heard?

SG: There’s a little back and forth—a lot of it is like the hit on the quarterback last year, we went through a definitional thing, and clarification. What’s different here, of course, is you’re injecting replay into the process. We do have guys who go to the competition committee meetings, and there was definitely participation by our folks this year. We had some vocal people. And the coaches appreciated it. It creates a much better dialogue. And we’re going to continue to push that process. Because we do feel like we do need to have direct input.

MMQB: How are the rest of your officials’ questions going to be answered, after the final rule goes through?

SG: The clinic will be important—that we have specific plays where they can say, “This is interference, this is not, and this will go to replay.” The other thing is the logistics in New York. On the one o’clock games, you could have four or five plays in the last two minutes that are being looked at. And logistically you can’t say, “Put the Cincinnati game on hold for five minutes while we figure out what we’re doing in these other two.” That’s a little bit of a concern from an officiating standpoint. You’re down on the field, and you’re obviously talking to New York, who will have the final decision on what they want to do. So I think the logistics are as important as some of the other issues, how it’s going to be called.

MMQB: I’ve found that a great majority of coaches want a sky judge. Do you ultimately want this to lead to that?

SG: Yeah, from the union’s standpoint, it’d be another [official]. There’s definitely something about having been on the field, having been an official. It’s one thing to be able to look at things on replay, it’s another thing to having been out there and actually knowing what that feels like, when two guys are hand-checking each other as they go up for a ball. The devil could be in the detail. But a former official certainly could be helpful. Whether they actually do the replay piece, maybe. But at least having somebody up in the booth who could quickly add input, that is not something I’d be opposed to.

MMQB: So almost as a senior advisor?

SG: Yeah, and sometimes it’s not, “pick up the flag.” It’s, “You guys need to talk.” Sometimes there could be, from two different angles, you have two different opinions. But a signal to the guys where, “You might want to talk about that one. Did you see 27?” I’m not sure you want a guy up there actually throwing flags. But as an aide or an assistant to crew, yeah, I think there’s some potential there.

As we wrapped up, Green mentioned the importance of continuity in crews, and the trust that’s built within them, something he experienced over those 23 years on the field. As the athletes have gotten bigger and stronger and faster, that trust has become even more important. With things moving faster, officials have to be able to lean on one another.

He raised this because as he sees it, there’s still an importance in each crew on the field having a feel for the game in question and calling it as such, which is part of why he liked the idea of a sky judge—since that judge would be part of the crew.

“There’s a trust that develops—‘These guys are gonna call a good game,’ ” Green said. “Whether it’s the coaches, the players, even sometimes the announcers, and this has often been the case, you watch a play three times, you say, ‘How could he miss that call?’ Well, [stuff] happens, man. Whether it’s ice hockey, whether it’s basketball, whether it’s football, they’re not robots calling the game.”

That much, in how this has all played out, is abundantly clear.

On to your questions …

MAIL TIME!

From Louie (@Louie_Rock): How does the six weeks between now and camp differ for a new front office, like the Jets versus a long established front office like Seattle or Pittsburgh?

Louie, we covered a bunch of this in my MMQB column this week, with new Jets GM Joe Douglas. So you can find some answers there. And I did ask Douglas if—knowing he’ll be working straight through (and not going to Ocean City, Md., or the Outer Banks in North Carolina like he usually would)—he’ll be the only guy on the football side there over the next few weeks.

“Part of me hopes that I'm the only guy in the building so I can just grind,” he said. “But I’m sure there’s gonna be people here and probably on the business side. Even if I'm the only guy on the football side, there’ll be people in on the business side I can just walk down say hellow, maybe share a cup of coffee with some people, get to know them a little bit better.

“It'll just be more of a working summer for me.”

My guess is he’ll have some company—assistant GM Rex Hogan is coming in from Indy, director of player personnel Chad Alexander from Baltimore and senior advisor Phil Savage from the AAF, and all those guys have some catching up to do, too. Most coaches and scouts are gone from now until the middle of July. Those guys won’t be.

From LastWordBrown (@LastWordBrown): Can Lamar Jackson make a Year 2 leap similar to Trubisky?

This is an interesting question because a lot of Trubisky’s progress in Year 2 (his passer rating jumped 18 points, his TD-INT ratio went from 1-1 to 2-1, and his completion percent rose by 7 points) was a result of the job Matt Nagy and his staff did in tailoring the system specifically to Trubisky’s strengths.

That’s happening for Jackson now, with Greg Roman having been promoted to offensive coordinator in Baltimore for that reason. Just as was the case with Trubisky in Chicago in 2017, it was tough for the Ravens to build the whole offense around Jackson last year because he wasn’t the opening day starter. Obviously this year he will be, so the team can take more of an all-in approach on setting the table for their young quarterback.

All of that should help make for a more efficient Jackson this year.

From Sean Morgan (@gamerollerb): As a concerned 49ers/Nick Bosa fan, why doesn’t the NFL make all rookie contract language specific instead of having issues with offsets?

Because the slotting system is based entirely on math, so there are certain things regarding the language of the contract—like cash flow and offsets—that are negotiable. And that’s precisely why these things become a big deal. Give teams and agents something to fight over, and they’ll fight.

The team will claim it has to hold to all of its precedents in these contracts, hence pushing hard against offsets. Agents need to win in these situations because if they don’t it’s used against them in recruiting. And in the great majority of cases, they don’t really wind up affecting the player much—he has to be a massive bust (cut in his first three years) for those offsets to come into play.

That said, I do respect Bosa, one of two unsigned 49ers draft picks, for holding the line as a rookie. (Bosa’s brother, Joey, also had extended negotiations with the Chargers as a rookie in 2016; he ended up signing in late August.) Not enough players do in contract negotiations in general.

From Stephen (@Stephen26497576): Who are some of the best players in the league who will not be playing for the same team after this season? #gameplan

Teams that look like they’ll be in a cap crunch come 2020 inlcude Minnesota, Jacksonville and Chicago. All three have more than $210 million in cap commitments for next year. So the first place I’d look for potential casualties is there (Marcel Dareus, Calais Campbell in Jacksonville; Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes in Minnesota; Eddie Goldman, Prince Amukamara in Chicago.)

Then there are the 2019 tagged players who probably won’t be tagged again in March 2020—Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney. And if we take away the free agents we think won’t go anywhere (Tom Brady, Michael Thomas, Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliott, Amari Cooper), the headliners are players like Chiefs DT Chris Jones, Jaguars DE Yannick Ngaukoe, Rams CB Marcus Peters, Falcons LB Deion Jones, Cowboys CB Byron Jones, Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, and so on.

Some of those might get tagged. Others will get re-signed. We’ve got a ways to go before we get there.

From Aaron (@Tnniner): With the new replay rules, will we see defense become softer and the old Seattle-type DBs become a thing of the past?

Aaron, I don��t think so. If you read the above, it sounds like the standard is going to be pretty high to overturn or create OPI/DPI penalties through the review system. And what you’re talking about (jamming at the line with long-limbed corners) would fall more into the defensive holding or illegal contract categories anyway.

So your Atlantas and Seattles and Chargers will still be looking for those guys.

From Frank. (@FCSVII): What are the chances that Jadeveon Clowney stays a Texan? And who on the 2019 hold-out team is most likely to get moved?

I think it’s unpredictable now, with Bill O’Brien firmly in control of the football operation. I think there was an opening last year for Clowney to do a team-friendly deal. It’s been common knowledge this time around that the overwhelming likelihood was that Clowney would have to play the year out on the tag.

I think that happens. But if someone calls and offers something crazy, I do think O’Brien will listen, just as ex-GM Brian Gaine would have.

From Nico (@coltsnico): Who's going to replace Rex Hogan with the Colts?

First of all, this is probably a good time to give credit to Colts GM Chris Ballard for giving Hogan the shot to move up a rung (essentially going from being a No. 3 to a No. 2) on the scouting ladder, even though he didn’t have to (Hogan was under contract) and the timing isn’t all that opportune.

That said, I think Ballard should be fine. He’s built a robust scouting department. College scouting director Morocco Brown has been a VP of player personnel before (in Cleveland under Ray Farmer), and could certainly be bumped up. Pro scouting director Kevin Rogers, an 18-year vet of the organization, could be a possibility. Or Ballard could stand pat, since he’s got a very strong assistant GM in Ed Dodds.

From Andrew Fisher (@ColtsFisher): Any chance Chris Ballard hands out an extension to Andrew Luck? Ballard approached Kenny Moore about his new deal a year before Moore thought it was possible.

Andrew, Moore getting done two years before he’d be eligible for unrestricted free agency was a good example of a win-win—the team got him signed through 2023 and got to spread his cap charges into this year (and they’re cap rich right now), and Moore got life-changing money. There’s risk on both sides, of course. But it’s a good deal.

Luck’s situation is a little different. He has three years left on his second contract, and his numbers are manageable for a top-tier quarterback now. Doing a deal that early could set a tough precedent going forward with other players. So I think next year is probably the time to get it done. They can try and do it before Patrick Mahomes breaks the market, and it’d be good to go forward with certainty a year before the 2018 draft class becomes eligible for new deals.

From Brandon Silva (@Brando_Puma): Assuming that the Houston GM job would have been a real GM job, could the Texans have challenged the clause in Nick Caserio's contract that kept him from interviewing with other teams? It looks like that goes at the "Other Club Employees (Non-Player, Non Coach)" line in the Anti-Tampering Rule.

Brandon, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio wrote an interesting piece on this, and I’d tend to agree with him—adding language preventing a scout or coach from pursuing GM or head coaching positions, if he doesn’t already hold one, would seem to be against the spirit of rules that were put in to allow that kind of career advancement.

From J. Mills (@JamesKMillsIII): With it being reported that Nick Caserio wants out of New England, what compensation do you think they would want for the Texans to get him THIS off-season?

J, I’m not sure he wanted out so much as the Texans job was a very good match for him. He’s close with both EVP Jack Easterby and coach Bill O’Brien, and being there would allow him to continue with the kind of role that he has in New England, which is very unique (he’s a quasi-coach, on the offensive headsets on game day, etc.) and probably wouldn’t be practical everywhere.

That said, I think the Patriots would want serious compensation for him. Last year the team had a number of coaches let their contracts lapse, and five of them bolted in February. The same thing is setting up with expiring contracts on the scouting side this year, which could lead to a similar exodus from New England in 2020.

Remember, it was Robert Kraft, far more than Bill Belichick, who reeled Josh McDaniels back in after he was off to Indianapolis. The Krafts are involved in this instance too. They see what’s happening, and they’re trying to keep as many good, younger people in the building they can. And, of course, they aren’t pleased with Easterby right now.

From Mark Eaton (@eatonm1): Are the Hunt and Halas Trophies participation medals?

No. They’re not medals. They’re trophies.

From Sports Stock (@sports_stock): How does a pastor such as Jack Easterby gain so much control over personal in an NFL organization?

I mentioned that the Krafts were upset with Easterby. I think one reason is how word spread that he left the organization because he had a moral conflict with Kraft after the massage parlor incident in February. My sense is they believe he’d been looking to advance himself in the hierarchy of a team, and knew he had to leave to do it. Remember, he was set to go with McDaniels to Indy last year.

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way—I don’t think Easterby wants to pick players or be the GM. I think his interest would be in aligning and managing an organization, and making sure he has the right people picking the players. In a way, it’s sort of like when Miami hired Bill Parcells in 2008 to set the tone for the team, and he hired Jeff Ireland as GM and Tony Sparano as coach.

The difference, of course, would be Parcells’ football know-how. And of course that there’s a coach in Houston already whose background lines up with Easterby’s, which seems to be why O’Brien liked the idea of getting him in the first place.

From Jerrod Robinson (@bathebay): Always wonder with Nick Caserio-type situations where a team refuses to let someone interview for a “promotion,” don’t they become disgruntled and bitter towards the team at that point?

We’ve seen it before. But I think if there’s a guy out there who it wouldn’t be as much of a problem in the short term, it’s Caserio. After the year? That’s when, with his contract up, it could come into play.

From Nate Wick (@nFamousOneuhB): Is there a likelihood Dallas doesn’t resign Ezekiel Elliott?

No.

From Kevin (@shortywest87): OROY and DROY predictions?

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyler Murray. These awards are about opportunity and situation. Murray’s going to get the opportunity to play, and the situation, with Kliff Kingsbury, should be good—with the rest of the NFL not having much idea yet about exactly what’s coming. I’ve also heard from several people in Arizona that Murray’s had a fantastic spring.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Nick Bosa. Boring, right? The first pick as OROY and second pick as DROY? And yes, I know Bosa’s got the hamstring issue. But his brother missed his entire first training camp, and won the award anyway. And I think Nick was a better player at the end at Ohio State than Joey was, which is saying a lot. Plus, he’ll be playing alongside DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas.

From josh weirich (@jwire25): Two-part question: 1. Do you still have your plastic cup from Out 'R' Inn mug night? 2. If yes, is it socially acceptable to still drink out of it? #AskingForAFriend.

Josh! No, I don’t. I wish I did but I lost it in one of my moves. But if you have one for me, I’d definitely go over there with you and drink out of them, even if they don’t have mug night anymore.

(Also, s/o to Homage for the amazing Out R Inn t-shirt that just came in the mail.)

See you all on Monday.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.