Each March, when owners gather to assess the state of the league (and downplay the link between football and CTE), teams propose rule changes both minor and major, which are voted upon by the NFL’s Competition Committee. The suggestions that aren’t discarded or tabled are either immediately implemented or put up for testing in the upcoming season.
Some of this year’s proposals, such as the Baltimore Ravens’ request that offensive linemen who declare themselves as an eligible receiver before a play must wear a “pinnie” or scrimmage vest, never stood much of a chance of passing. Other rule changes were so small that you probably won’t notice them next season. But a few – like last year’s decision to move extra-point attempts back to the 15-yard line – make a huge difference, and end up having a significant bearing on the outcome of games. Just ask Stephen Gostkowski.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the NFL announced which rule proposals passed at this year’s meeting. While nothing appears to be as major as moving back the extra-point try (though the league did vote to make that change permanent after its trial run in 2015) there are definitely some things any football fan should be aware of. All in all, the league will implement nine rule changes next season – here’s everything you need to know about the major ones.
Touchbacks Get a Boost
Five years ago, in an attempt to cut down on injuries, the league moved kickoffs up from the 30 to the 35-yard line, which was great for the dudes booting the ball, but bad news for the guys who made a living on returns. In an attempt to even things out, the NFL voted that kickoffs resulting in a touchback will now give the receiving team the ball at the 25-yard line (not the 20). Like the extra-point rule last year, this is being given a trial run in 2016. With less incentive to take the ball out of the end zone, the hope is it will prevent plays like the one that nearly paralyzed Seahawks’ special teamer Ricardo Lockette last season.
Two Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalties = Ejection
Last season, Odell Beckham Jr. and Vontaze Burfict made headlines for their inappropriate play – though since both were flagged for unnecessary roughness, this new rule wouldn’t have affected them. Instead, this change focuses on unsportsmanlike conduct – stuff like excessive celebration, removing your helmet in the field of play, coming off the bench during a fight, etc.
That seems odd, considering there were only 87 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called last season, compared to 236 penalties for unnecessary roughness. So the odds of seeing this new rule come into play during a game are probably pretty small. Whether the NFL will do something to combat personal fouls will have to wait until next year, though Burfict did receive a three-game suspension, while Beckham was held out for one game, so they still got theirs.
Chop Blocks Get Chopped
The NFL defines an illegal chop block as a foul that occurs when an offensive player blocks a defender below the waist while he’s already being engaged by another player above it. They were already illegal on passing and kicking plays, but legal on running plays. No more. While one-on-one “cut blocks” remain legal, a chop of any kind now results in a 15-yard penalty, which will seemingly make it even more difficult to run the ball in an increasingly pass-happy league. Somewhat understandably, defenders are pretty excited about the new rule – offensive linemen? Not so much.
Keep Track of Your Timeouts – Or Else
In basketball, it’s common knowledge that calling a timeout when you have none left is a technical foul. We have Chris Webber to thank for that. But few knew it was OK in the NFL, mostly because you’d probably never notice unless someone was being flagged for it. And there’s a pretty good chance that’ll happen in 2016 – and since it will result in a delay of game penalty and a 10-second runoff, one single penalty could directly change the outcome of a close game. How will Andy Reid screw this one up?!?