The NFL rule book (Rule 8, Section 1, Article 6) states that when he was pushed out of bounds by Patrick Robinson of the Saints, he was an ineligible receiver until the ball is touched.
"If an eligible receiver is forced out of bounds by a foul by a defender, including illegal contact, defensive holding, or defensive pass interference, he will become eligible to legally touch the pass (without prior touching by another eligible receiver or defender) as soon as he re-establishes himself inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands.”
The next question is whether or not Robinson’s pushing constituted a foul of illegal contact with the receiver beyond five yards. That gets clarified in the rule book (Rule 8, Section 4, Article 3) that since Josh Freeman was outside of the pocket the contact was legal.
“Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against the impending contact caused by a receiver. If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot initiate contact that redirects, restricts, or impedes the receiver in any way.”
So that clarifies the rule and its enforcement on the play. It doesn’t justify the rule’s existence.
Does the Illegal Touching rule need changing
It is understandable why there is a rule in place that receivers cannot go out of bounds and return to catch the football. The field is 53 yards wide and 120 yards long, including end zones. The rule helps maintain those dimensions.
It also makes sense why the contact isn’t illegal.
Once the quarterback is outside of the pocket, he could run with the ball and the receiver could engage the defender as a blocker. A defender is able to initiate contact with the receiver in that matter. This part of the rule is very logical.
What doesn’t make sense is the receiver becoming ineligible if forced out of bounds by a defender. It’s one thing to go out on your own, but there should be a difference if there is contact.
The rules, as they are written, make it a smart defensive move to shove a receiver out of bounds as soon as a quarterback scrambles. This would instantly reduce one eligible receiver from the play.
With the amount of mobile quarterbacks in the league today, there are a lot of passes made by quarterbacks outside of the pocket. This creates the opportunity for this rule to play a bigger role than it’s probably intended.
The rule should be revised so that a receiver legally shoved out of bounds, can re-establish himself in bounds and regain eligibility with two feet. The change would still allow for the contact beyond five yards to be legal, while providing the receiver an opportunity to make a play.
Jamal Wilburg is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.