Point/Counterpoint: Do You Like Any of the Proposed NFL Rule Changes Being Considered by the Competition Committee?

Every offseason, amid the free agent acquisitions and mock drafts, in some corners of the NFL it is time to get down to a different kind of business. The NFL is always searching for ways to make the league more entertaining and, especially, safer for all of the players, as is illustrated so beautifully in one of my favorite commercials.

On tap this season, we see six proposed rule changes that the NFL’s Competition Committee have either already voted on or will likely do so at some point. Some have already been past in the last 24 hours.

  1. The Jim Schwartz Rule. Basically, if a play is supposed to be automatically reviewed, it will still be reviewed even if the coach illegally tosses his red flag. This was not the case last year, which baffled some Thanksgiving football viewers. The coach will, however, be either charged a timeout or penalized 15 yards.
  2. On field goals and extra points, no more than six defensive players can be lined up to either side of the snapper. (This one has already passed.)
  3. Get rid of the tuck rule. Long time coming, Raider Nation.  (Also passed already.)
  4. Allow tight ends and H-backs to wear numbers 40-49. (Goodness, it’s about time, don’t you think?!)
  5. Offense not allowed to block low when going toward their own end lines in the tackle box. Can’t go low when peeling back. (Also passed already.)
  6. The one you’ve likely been hearing about all week: Runners may not initiate contact with the crown of their helmet when outside the tackle box. (Passed)

If you’d like to get more in-depth descriptions, or really want to nerd out and read the proposed bylaw changes and emphasis points, you can check it out here on NBCSports.com’s Pro Football Talk. But for this exercise, I think I did a decent job summing things up.

So, Scott, I’ll let you be the first to take a crack at the proposed rule changes. The question is a simple one: Do you like any of the proposed (or already accepted) rule changes being considered by the Competition Committee?

Have at it.

Scott Smith: Despite all the publicity that #6 up there has generated, this is really a pretty tame list.  The only real way to start any controversy in the discussion below would be to come out in support of that sixth proposal (which actually passed just a short while ago).  Do that and watch the, “Just go ahead and put flags on them,” comments roll in.

Likewise, there’s not much point in discussing #4.  That’s really just housekeeping, a furthering of the rule changes from a few years ago that opened up the teens to wide receivers.  Teams have been putting tight ends in 40s already anyway (helloooo, Dallas Clark) by either calling them fullbacks at the beginning or simply running out of 80 numbers.  I do have a prediction here, however: When this passes (not if, because it will pass), incoming tight ends will be jumping all over those 40 numbers, just like receivers eagerly snapped up the teen numbers when that rule changed.

I could cherry-pick and go with the Tuck Rule reversal, but I’ll let that one go for sentimental reasons.  See, there are some who think the Bucs might never have won Super Bowl XXXVII if not for the existence of the tuck rule.  The theory is that, without that call, the Raiders would have gone to the Super Bowl in 2001 and that likely would have kept Jon Gruden in Oakland for at least a few extra years.  Instead, the Bucs were able to pry him away with a big trade and, well, you know the rest.

So I’ll go with #1.  I was one of those Thanksgiving viewers last year, and that was just a crazy moment.  To paraphrase that old adage about everybody at the bar knowing what the call should be, if everybody watching that game immediately knew that the rule made no sense, well, it made no sense.  The point of the rule, of course, is to keep coaches from slowing down the game by throwing flags when they technically cannot do so.  That’s fine.  But the punishment didn’t fit the crime.  It didn’t even come close to fitting.  It’s like a Steven-Seagal-trying-to-get-back-into-his-”Hard-to-Kill”-wardrobe level of not fitting.  The result of the penalty was the Texans getting a touchdown that every single person playing or watching the game knew was not a touchdown.  That can’t be what the NFL wants.

Now the penalty is a timeout or a 15-yard penalty.  Yeah, that fits a lot better.  Because, in the end, nobody is Above the Law.

Andrew Norton: Well, I completely agree with your sentiments about the Jim Schwartz rule. It was definitely one of those things that really stuck in your memory from last season. This rule change needs to happen.

As much as I’d like to be unpredictable and over-the-top and declare how boldly opposed to the tight end number change I am, I’m going to “cherry-pick” here and say that I most support the Tuck Rule reversal.

We’ve all heard the arguments and jokes made about it for the last decade. Frankly, that is among the top reasons I want to see it changed. I’m mostly just tired of hearing broadcasters talk about it for five minutes in seemingly every game whenever there is a fumble review.

To expand on the Tuck Rule definition: “When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.”

In layman’s terms: “Quarterbacks can only fumble if their hand is not in a forward motion. Thought you had a big strip-sack, defense? Well, nanny-nanny boo-boo, you don’t.”

When this obscure rule first popped up in that famous January playoff game, we all scratched our heads and hated it. It was correct, technically.  If you read the rule, and watch the play again, it was the correct call. But just because the call was right doesn’t mean that the rule itself makes any sense at all.

While it is meant to keep a referee from judging a quarterback’s intent when the ball comes down (because he could just be preparing for a shuffle pass, right?), the rule only really excuses the offense of a fumble.

It boils down to the same thing that you talked about in your Schwartz Rule argument, Scott. Everyone knew the call. We all saw on TV that there was no intention to throw the football, he was bringing it back to his body, he got hit, and the ball came loose. A fumble is a fumble.

It is gone. And I am happy.

Scott Smith: Sigh, agreed.  These Point/Counterpoints in which we agree with each other are tiresome.  So I’m going to come out in vehement opposition of your decision to write, “nanny-nanny boo-boo.”  That should be overturned on appeal.

So let’s go down the list rule by rule.  1) We agree the red flag penalty needs to be changed; 2) Another rule to make it safer for the blockers on a kick, which is okay I guess but hard to get worked up about either way; 3) Bye bye, Tuck Rule; 4) New numbers for the tight ends, whatever; 5) Removing a few more dangerous blocks, no problem there; 6) The running-back-can’t-duck-his-head rule, which has stirred up a hornets’ nest and will surely continue to do so now that it has passed.

I’ve got to side with the detractors on that last one.  While trying to remove a dangerous play is admirable, it just seems unnatural to ask a running back not to lower his shoulders for contact, and the head is going to come along most of the time.  I think it’s worth noting that the rule only applies when the back is out of the tackle box, so I guess they’re trying to police an obvious spear by a running back in the open field, not a player bracing for contact between the tackles.  Still, it just doesn’t seem workable to me.  I guess we’re going to find out!

Finally, there are also a couple “points of emphasis” being discussed, and I’m sure they will indeed be emphasized this year.  These aren’t rule changes, just existing rules that the league will make a point of enforcing more.  It will be interesting seeing them force players to wear thigh and knee pads; receivers in particular hate that.  The other point of emphasis is on proper field maintenance, and since the field at Raymond James Stadium is annually voted on as one of the best in the NFL, we don’t really have to worry about that one.

Any final thoughts?

Andrew Norton: Nope.

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