NFL's New Targeting Rule Is Going to Be a Total Disaster

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 29, 2018

Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) sacks and forces a fumble from New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. Mack recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

People in the league who I respect greatlycoaches and team management in particularsay the NFL's new targeting rule won't be difficult for officials to enforce. I disagree. And I'm not alone.

A former NFL veteran, a player respected by everyone, was asked about the league's new rule. Is it, he was asked, as much of a potential disaster as I think it is?

"One hundred percent," offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who played eight years in the NFL, told B/R. "They better figure out a way to narrow down the interpretation of a foul here. We thought the catch rule was a disaster and put the refs in a bind. Wait until this starts. The game is played too fast to determine on-the-field ejections."

Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.

Game officials have a hard enough time enforcing the rules. Part of the problem is the older officials can't keep up with the warp speed of the game.

The targeting rule will be even tougher to handle. The NFL doesn't want it called that, preferring helmet-hitting rule because of the negative connotations of targeting. But targeting, it is.

Where to place the helmet during a tackle is a decision made in milliseconds. And sometimes there is no decision-making process at all. It's just instinct.

A targeting foul is now defined by the NFL to have occurred when "a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent." The rule passed 32-0.

Fans need to understand something. The rule will dramatically change how the sport looks and is played. The game will be far less physical.

The NFL will say the new rule will make the game safer. But will it? Trying to minimize helmet hits will not eliminate CTE. As long as there are every-down collisions, players will be at risk of brain injuries from subconcussive impacts.

So there will be far fewer big hits because players will fear getting called for targeting. This will lead to offensive explosions. That's good for fantasy football but not great for the actual play on the field.

Josh Norman
Josh NormanMark Tenally/Associated Press/Associated Press

Washington cornerback Josh Norman echoed what Schwartz and other players have said, telling USA Today, "I don't know how you're going to play the game."

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told the paper: "It's ridiculous. Like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you're getting a ticket. [It's] gonna lead to more lower-extremity injuries."

Then there was Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "It continues to put us in a predicament," Alexander told the paper. "In our mind, it makes it hard to play defense in this league. In my mind, there needs to be more of a common-sense approach to it. ... It is football at the end of the day. There are going to be injuries that you can't avoid. You can't legislate everything out."

Alexander said he considers himself a physical player who delivers big hits. "I've never had a helmet-to-helmet hit, but what if I get one next year?" he said.

What if, Alexander said, a referee makes a helmet-hitting call and "throws out a star player that impacts a game? I don't know how that's going to play. It only takes one time to throw out a Von Miller or Khalil Mack."

See the problem here?

There is also something former Raiders team executive Amy Trask tweeted. "There's also the law of unintended consequences to consider," she wrote. "There may be efforts to use this strategically in hopes of gaining competitive advantage. Players may try to maneuver helmets into position in hopes of getting dominating defenders ejected."

Another issue is there will be more delays during a game thanks to an increasing number of challenges and reviews over targeting.

The core problem of the rule, more than anything, is the speed at which these hits happen. No human being—player or official—can properly legislate this rule. The game moves far too fast. Only an android could officiate it.

One sign of a bad rule is how it's passed. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk described how the targeting rule came to be in the NFL, and it's a huge tell.

The way the league meetings normally work, the NFL publicly announces proposed rules changes or amendments before the meetings start. It's been done this way since I started covering league meetings in the 1990s.

This year, 10 proposals were announced. Targeting was the 11th proposal, and it was never mentioned publicly until it was voted on. As Florio noted, that could be because the league knew that any advance notice would cause media jackals like me, and fans like you, to boisterously oppose the rule.

In college, there may not be a more hated rule, and in regard to subconcussive impacts, it hasn't necessarily made college football safer.

It can't be overstated how much this rule will drastically change the NFL. The change hasn't drawn as much attention because the Odell Beckham Jr. trade possibilities and other issues dominated media coverage at the league meetings.

But this is huge. It's one of the most significant on-field changes the NFL has ever made.

And it's going to be awful.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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