The NFL is navigating a minefield that it installed on its own without having a map of where the mines are. That is what I would liken their hasty decision to implement a potentially dramatic new illegal contact rule in time for the 2018 season to.
While quite a number of things have happened between the time that the main portions of the rule were approved by the owners at the Annual League Meeting that have taken attention away from it, the new lowering of the helmet rule remains a hot topic, and especially so this past week.
The NFL held a safety summit that included a number of coaches, players, owners, and officials in attendance to discuss two topics: the future of the kickoff and the appropriate implementation of the lowering of the helmet rule, the final language of which is still being ironed out and must be voted upon by the owners later this month.
There are a number of important details to take away from the meeting from earlier this week, but the tidbit that I want to focus on today is the implication I found in remarks made to the Washington Post that the lowering of the helmet rule could see an implementation in phases of sorts, rather than all at once.
This ‘phasing in’ approach may be more implicit than explicit, perhaps demonstrating lenience earlier on before being more aggressive in calling the penalty in future seasons. The article reads that “league officials likened the implementation of this rule to the two to three seasons it took, they said, for players, coaches, officials and fans to adjust to the rules prohibiting hits to the head of defenseless players after they first were put into effect more than two decades ago”.
Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn was relieved about the possibility of the rule being phased in gradually. “I just felt like after we left the owners’ meetings [when the rule surprisingly came up for a vote and passed], we’re jumping in this thing headfirst and I’m like, ‘whoa, slow down. Let’s do this in phases’”.
There is a certain obvious logic in gradually implementing a new rule that many worry could dramatically affect the way the game is played, even if league officials have said that they only identified roughly five instances of violation of the rule per game. There are likely that many offensive holds per game, or more, even if not called.
We should have more information about the specificities of the rule by the end of the month. There is another owners’ meeting toward the end of May, during which they will vote upon additional proposals. Among them will be finalizing the language of this rule, in particular how replay will be used to verify on-field ejections.