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NFL Owners Approve Changes to Automatic Replay, Defenseless Receivers, Timing

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The NFL owners approved three rules changes during the 2020 NFL owner’s meetings, the second phase of which was held virtually on Thursday.

Among the changes were measures to make permanent the 2019 expansion of replay review to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a penalty, increase defenseless player protections to kickoff and punt returns and to prevent offenses from abusing the clock by committing successive penalties.

The first proposal, submitted by the Philadelphia Eagles, is the most impactful. Any scoring play or turnover will continue to be automatically reviewed, even if there is a penalty on the play that could negate the ruling. Extra point and two-point conversion plays will also be automatically reviewed.

Additionally, kick and punt returners will now receive defenseless player protections until they have become a runner.


“Players in a defenseless posture are … a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air who has not had time to clearly become a runner,” the adjusted rule reads. “If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.”

It is a penalty to forcibly hit the head or neck area of a defenseless player, hit a defenseless player by lowering the head and making forcible contact with the helmet and launching into a defenseless player. The penalty for illegal contact to a defenseless player is a 15-yard loss and an automatic first down. Flagrant violations are subject to ejection based on the discretion of the referee.

Finally, a timing change will prevent offenses from milking the clock by committing successive dead-ball penalties. Such tactic was already prevented by rule from occurring inside the two-minute warning at each half, but was permissible otherwise. Both New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrable have used the tactic in the past, with Vrabel drawing Belichick’s ire for using it against New England in 2019. Belichick called it at that point “a loophole that will be closed and probably should be closed.”

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J.J. Watt is Signing with the Arizona Cardinals

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The weeks of waiting and theatrics are over. Free agent defensive end J.J. Watt is signing with the Arizona Cardinals.

Watt broke the news himself on Monday afternoon, tweeting a picture of himself squatting in a Cardinals t-shirt.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Watt is signing a two-year, $31 million deal with Arizona, $23 million of which will be guaranteed.

Watt joining the Cardinals comes as somewhat of a surprise, as reporting over recent weeks had suggested the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns were the last favorites standing.

Still, Watt’s former Houston Texans teammate and current Cardinals wide receiver Deandre Hopkins was actively recruiting the star defensive end to Arizona just two weeks ago.

“Let’s finish what we started,” Hopkins said in an Instagram post picturing the two embracing with Watt Photoshopped into a Cardinals jersey.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the early favorites to land Watt, reuniting him with his brothers T.J. and Derek, but the clubs financials made the most virtually impossible to compete with an offer like Arizona’s.

The Cardinals now own one of the league’s fiercest defensive fronts, pairing Watt alongside elite edge rusher Chandler Jones, who has 97 career sacks.

Arizona already had the fourth-most sacks in football last season with 48.

Watt departed Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).

Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.

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NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt

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One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.

Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.

Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.

For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.

Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).

Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.

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NFL Hosting Women’s Careers in Football Forum

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The NFL is hosting its fifth annual Women’s Careers in Football Forum from Feb. 24-25, the league announced in a press release Tuesday.

The event will be held virtually and “connect 40 women, 75% of whom are women of color, with leaders in professional football to help those women network and build relationships in the areas of coaching, scouting and football operations.”

Those participating in the event will join panel discussions, breakout sessions and have networking opportunities with industry leaders, such as head coaches and team executives. All portions of the event are aimed at building connections that will result in hirings and subsequent representation.

Since its inception in 2017, the two-day event has assisted in developing “a more diverse talent pipeline by connecting high-potential women to career opportunities in football.” According to the league, 118 opportunities for women in football have been created as a result.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and wife Jane Skinner Goodell will speak, as well as NFL Chief Football Administrative Officer Dawn Aponte. In addition, three owners, seven head coaches and six general managers will also join the conversation.

Sarah Thomas made history earlier this month becoming the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. The champion Tamp Bay Buccaneers also had a record number of women on their coaching staff this past season.

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