With the National Football League mulling an end to kickoffs to improve player safety, how much further will the league go in changing the game we know and love? Changes in the name of player safety are not unprecedented of course. At one point in time, players didn't even have face masks or helmets for protection.
This time however, the game could change radically, so let's explore some realistic scenarios that could impact the NFL as we know it.
"I understand you want to slow the people down. But people are tearing their ACLs, getting hurt and maimed out there. It's not like our legs are any less valuable than a quarterback or an offensive player, so why not protect us also?"
So these wild sweeps and screens you occasionally see may disappear or look completely different.
Alex Smith, former starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, sustained a concussion on a quarterback sneak in a game last month against the Rams. Once Smith left the game with blurred vision, he never returned to the field.
If the NFL wants to protect its stars in what is increasingly a quarterback-driven league, then banning passers from plunging head-first into a pile of 300-pound men may be a good start, along with prohibiting other risky maneuvers outside the pocket.
Basically, you'd have a "halo" around the quarterback, so a mere two-hand touch would signal the quarterback down. That could end the violent knockdowns and sacks that quarterbacks regularly incur throughout the course of a game or season. Would you miss that aspect of the game?
Although the NFL has also considered ending the Pro Bowl for sub-par play that annually resembles touch football, another reason to end it is for the risk of injuries. Pro Bowl players regularly withdraw from the game to avoid further wear and tear to their bodies, while those that do play avoid the heavy contact associated with regular-season and playoff games.
A better solution may be just handing out an award to the best players at each position. Would you miss the Pro Bowl if it disappeared altogether?
You know helmet-to-helmet hits are illegal, but what about shoulder pad to chest hits? That appears to be penalty worth too, at least based on a play that occurred in a recent Bengals vs. Cowboys game where safety Reggie Nelson separated receiver Dez Bryant from the ball.
Nelson led with his shoulder pads and nailed Bryant in the chest just as he caught the ball, knocking it loose. The play drew a personal foul call from a referee, even though there is no formal rule that prohibits such a hit.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was livid and defended Nelson when he said:
"I thought it was a great target and probably one that will be on their teaching reel of how to do it. Reggie’s done a good job with those things. He was on their teaching reel last year, and I thought that one was picture perfect.”
If defensive backs can't legitimately tackle a receiver without being penalized, then this would open up the passing game even more. Would we see high-scoring shootouts akin to college football? Do we want football-game scores that resemble basketball-game scores?
The NFL has already banned head-slaps, horse-collar tackles and face-masking in the name of player safety, and they seem inclined to continue banning techniques, maneuvers and strategies that imperil player safety.
The real question is whether more changes will adversely impact the game to the point that fans stop watching. Do you want to see more rule changes or are you content with the game as it's played? Has the NFL gone too far in changing the rules to improve player safety or has it not gone far enough?