A slight change in wording could adjust how the NFL enforces its unnecessary roughness rules on lowering the helmet.
It's a change from previous years that said a player had to initiate contact in order for it to be a violation, while the new version also added the word "forcible."
According to Florio, the change came after being a "sticking point" in disputes over fines from the league. A player could argue they didn't initiate the contact on a certain play, therefore negating any penalty.
The new wording could become even more subjective, with players arguing what constitutes as "forcible." The league might still be able to use discretion when it comes to helmet-to-helmet contact.
The rule was first added in 2018 in an effort to improve player safety, although enforcement has been inconsistent in past years.
In 2020, there were 34 penalties for "lowering the head to initiate contact" with 158 total flags for unnecessary roughness, per Pro Football Reference. The rule was considered a point of emphasis going into 2021, but the season had only eight calls—combining offensive and defensive—for "lowering the head to initiate contact." Officials made 159 combined unnecessary roughness calls in more games during the inaugural 18-week season.
The NFL can still fine players after games, even without a penalty.
The tweaks in the 2022 rulebook could lead to a change in enforcement—whether on the field or in postgame fines.