The NFL didn’t even get a 24-hour respite between rule controversies.
The catch rule was passed and later in the day the NFL opened up a new conversation by strengthening its rule on lowering the helmet. Players will not be allowed to lower their head to initiate contact. Fouls will get a 15-yard penalty and even be subject to ejection.
That led to some concern from players, because hitting without using the helmet at all is incredibly difficult. It’s also how they’ve played the game their whole lives. But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, at his news conference wrapping up the league meetings in Orlando, said the tone from the coaches and teams was of full support.
“There was very, very strong support for making those changes, in fact I would unanimous in the fact that we can take the head out of the game, we do want to make sure certain techniques aren’t used in our game,” Goodell said, speaking about the reaction of coaches to the rule. “They’re not in the best interest of our game at any level.”
It’s clear that officials will be allowed to use replay on any plays that could result in an ejection, something that Goodell said made the coaches more confident in the consistent enforcement of the rule. It would be the first time the league has used replay for a player safety issue. But the specifics of the rule are still being determined, such as which violations will lead to ejections. Goodell said the league will continue to work on the specifics of the rule.
Atlanta Falcons president and chair of the competition committee Rich McKay also said the reaction to the rule at the league meetings was positive.
“I think the coaches unanimously stood up and said, we’re with it, we understand it’s a major change and we take responsibility,” McKay said.
As for the players being wary of the effect on the game, Goodell asked for patience until they have seen the instructional videos and have heard more about how the rule will be enforced.
“You’re jumping ahead to the players, who haven’t had the chance to hear the discussion we’ve had,” Goodell said at his news conference, which was broadcast by NFL Network. “You’re reacting to players who have not yet heard that dialogue, heard the basis of why we came to where we came.
“I’d give them an opportunity first to understand what the play is before we make a lot of judgments about the ramifications.”
It’s understandable why players would be concerned, especially on the defensive side. Defensive players have seen many rules passed to restrict how they can play, with exorbitant fines when there’s a violation. The worst-case scenario behind the implementation of the new helmet rule is going to create some angst for those players.
“I don’t know how you’re going to play the game,” Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman told USA Today.
One prominent #NFL defensive player tells me new league rule about penalizing/ejecting players for lowering helmets – as presently worded – could be called every play even on pure form tackles. “Let them score or get kicked out,” he said. “That’s what it’s coming down to.”
— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) March 28, 2018
How will the NFL explain blocking out of a 3 point stance without the head leading? Do you back up first…then charge forward with your nipples? When every player on this line comes forward out of their stance they are violating the rule as it’s been reported. # pic.twitter.com/XNZKcstWBe
— Matt Chatham (@chatham58) March 28, 2018
Wow! @NFL new targeting rule looks like a disaster waiting to happen! Unless, the goal is also to activate more players on game day, hope so, teams will need them. I can see @MarshawnLynch24 getting thrown out of a game for, wait for it, lowering his helmet! Good luck with that..
— Tim Brown (@81TimBrown) March 28, 2018
The NFL is concerned about safety, and setting an example for the lower levels of the game with the new rule. There doesn’t seem to be much concern from the league’s side about how the rule will be officiated. The main focus for them was getting rid of dangerous hits, especially after the one that caused a neck injury for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier.
“The head, and the lowering of the head, has become too commonplace and it needs to get out of the game,” McKay said.
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