The 2016 NFL owners' meetings are officially underway in Boca Raton, Florida, with potential rule-change discussions taking center stage ahead of the upcoming season.
Continue for updates.
New Touchback, Ejection Rules Passed
Wednesday, March 23
A pair of significant rule changes were passed at the NFL owners' meetings in the form of touchbacks being moved to the 25-yard line and players getting ejected after incurring two unsportsmanlike penalties in a single game, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
NFL Network's Albert Breer later confirmed the news and reported that they will be in place on a one-year, experimental basis for 2016.
The new touchback rule creates an intriguing dynamic since it could either increase touchbacks since there is less incentive for returners to take the ball out of the end zone or increase returns since there is less incentive for kickers to boot the ball into the end zone.
As seen in this graph courtesy of Rich Hill from Pats Pulpit, touchbacks have been on the rise significantly since kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line in 2011:
Here's how the league's touchback rate has changed over the past decade: pic.twitter.com/c3av0LU4hP— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) March 23, 2016
It will now essentially be up to the kickers and the coaches on the kicking team to set the tone for how to handle such plays moving forward.
With regard to the ejection rule, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino believes it will go a long way toward stopping situations from escalating during games, per Peter King of SI.com's MMQB:
We think it does go far enough. We think that this will put the player on notice if he has one of these unsportsmanlike conduct fouls that if he doesn't modify the behavior then it will lead to ejection. This, in conjunction with us reaffirming with our game officials that the flagrant acts are subject to disqualification even on the first instance ... the combination of the two is enough to deter some of this behavior. We aren't talking about a lot of instances; this is not something that is widespread, but it is something that we are concerned about.
According to Pro Football Talk, both of the rules were spearheaded by the owners despite opposition from coaches:
Many coaches were strongly opposed to touchback rule and ejection rule. Owners reconfirm that they run the show.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 23, 2016
While the ejection rule doesn't figure to come into play often, the new touchback rule could change the game as significantly as moving the extra point spot back did in 2015.
There may be some skepticism about whether it will be a positive step for the game, but that fact that it has only been confirmed for one season means it can be reassessed prior to 2017.
Chop Blocks Officially Banned
Tuesday, March 22
Perhaps the biggest rule alteration made during the NFL owners' meetings was related to "chop-style" blocks, which will no longer be permitted, according to NFL.com's Conor Orr.
While chop blocks were previously allowed under certain circumstances, the action of blocking low while a player is engaged can no longer be done without penalty, regardless of the situation.
That led to some mixed reactions, with offensive linemen generally being opposed to the change and defensive linemen supporting it.
Former New York Giants guard Geoff Schwartz explained the problems the new rule will pose for O-linemen moving forward:
The best way to get a DT to not hold us on double teams, is a chop block. Now there's nothing to stop them. Fun times.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) March 22, 2016
Current Giants nose tackle Damon Harrison was pleased with the decision and voiced his displeasure with those who utilize the chop block:
A chop block is taking the coward route if you ask me. I know one in particular who....you know what, never mind............................— Damon Harrison (@BigDame900) March 22, 2016
Per Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports, opinions are already differing among NFL coaches with regard to whether the change will alter what they do significantly:
Head coaches that have zone run schemes seem ok about the no chop block but their o-line coaches don't seem as confident about the new rule— Pat Kirwan (@PatKirwanCBS) March 22, 2016
From the NFL's perspective, every indication is that the new outlook on chop blocks is related to preserving the health of the players.
Chop blocks can be dangerous when done improperly due to the threat of knee and lower-leg injuries, but the league seemingly hopes it can eliminate many of those situations.
Extra Points to Remain at 15-Yard Line
Tuesday, March 22
The NFL moved the extra point from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line last season on an experimental basis, but now, the change is permanent.
According to Orr, the far more challenging PAT is here to stay, which means kickers will have to continue earning their salary more so than ever before.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, moving the extra point back 13 yards made a significant difference in the amount of kicks that were missed in 2015:
Kickers missed 71 extra point attempts last season under new rules, 8 more than in the previous 7 seasons combined https://t.co/BeydHbiylr— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 22, 2016
Several of those misses cost teams victories, but that didn't stop the league from being unanimously in favor of keeping the change in place for 2016 and beyond, according to Peter King of SI.com's MMQB:
5 When NFL sent out rules surveys to GMs, coaches, teams, 70-some came back. Zero said the extra point should be moved back to 2-yd line.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) March 21, 2016
The extra point was previously an automatic play, save for a few flukes here and there, but nothing is automatic about the current state of the PAT.
Current kickers are so good and accurate that they still convert the majority of the time, but a miss here and there can change the complexion of a game, and it ensures the extra point is no longer a throwaway play.
Horse-Collar Rule Expanded, Additional Rule Changes Made
Tuesday, March 22
In addition to the rule changes related to chop blocks and extra points, here is a rundown of five more changes that were made official Tuesday, per Orr:
|Horse-Collar Tackle||Now includes area at and above nameplate|
|Headset Communication||Offensive and defensive play-callers can use system on field or in booth|
|Calling Timeout Without Having One Left||Delay of game penalty to those who do it|
|Eligible Receiver Illegally Touching Forward Pass After Going Out of Bounds||No longer a five-yard penalty|
|Multiple Spots of Enforcement for Double Foul After Possession Change||Rule has been eliminated|
The change for the horse-collar rule in particular could make life more difficult for defenders since they are now not only banned from putting their hand inside a runner's jersey but can no longer grab the top of it from the outside either.
NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent provided a look at a play that previously wasn't a penalty but will be in 2016:
Approved: Expands horse collar rule to include when D grabs jersey at/above nameplate & pulls runner toward groundhttps://t.co/CRKRSPfWcB— Troy Vincent (@TroyVincent23) March 22, 2016
While teams calling for a timeout after they have already used their last one is fairly rare, players and coaches must now be even more aware, since doing so will now result in a penalty.
Conversely, receivers will no longer be penalized for stepping out of bounds, re-establishing themselves and being the first person to touch a forward pass.
Although some of the changes seem minute on the surface and may not even come into play during the 2016 season, they're certainly worth keeping in mind just in case.
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