NFL Seemingly Adjusting Helmet Rule Without Admitting It

NFL officials gathered yesterday via a conference call to discuss a number of issues, which is standard fare for every year at this point in the preseason. Of course, this particular season features a more contentious issue than most, so as you would imagine, there was special focus paid to the new helmet rule that still has many rattled about how it’s going to affect the game.

While the rule has only been flagged roughly one and a half times per game so far this preseason—I believe the exact numbers were 51 times in 33 games played—there have been a few calls in particular that for some have set up the alarm bells that the Ragnarok of professional football is on the horizon, because ‘if such and such is a penalty then we’re not playing football’.

So the league discussed the issue yesterday. And they decided that nothing needed to be changed. Except that they did make at least one change that they gave voice to. As Mike Florio points out, “the league adopted language without actually adopting it”, sort of the “survive the ground” of the helmet rule.

In a statement, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said that “there will be no changes to the rule as approved by clubs this spring”. Yet he went on to say that “the committee also determined that inadvertent contact with the helmet and/or facemask is not a foul”.

I’m pretty sure that is a change, because the rule as it is written does not address incidental contact. At the very least, it’s a clarification of a gray area of the rule, which for all intents and purposes is effectively a change. And we have seen hits this preseason that were called for this seemingly inadvertent, incidental contact.

Vincent also said in his statement that the committee at this time rejected expanding reviewable plays to include those in which this rule was enforced, at least for the time being, but as Florio mentioned, one can’t help but wonder if they will use their real-time reviewing capabilities to try to weed out the more egregious calls.

Personally, I believe that the NFL is going to try to wing it with this rule until they actually get it somewhere close to right, even if it means straying from the actual rule itself. They know that it’s crucial that it not become an issue and I suspect that they will be willing to adjust midstream if necessary to address flaws that arise in the act of play.

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