Owners, general managers and coaches around the league assembled in Phoenix, Arizona for the annual meetings between all 32 clubs of the National Football League.
2019’s meetings were perhaps a bit more anticipated than usual, and this was for a few different reasons. For Steelers fans, it was a chance to hear head coach Mike Tomlin speak to the media for the first time since the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. For Patriots fans, it was the potential for a Robert Kraft sighting for the first time since a scandal involving a massage parlor grabbed national headlines.
Outside of the drama, rule changes typically dominate talk around meetings, and this year was no exception. Controversial calls changed the landscape of the league late last season in two games surrounding the New Orleans Saints, including one call many Steelers fans are all too familiar with.
Joe Haden got called for DPI on this. pic.twitter.com/3ABVOqwJOG
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 23, 2018
After a furious outcry from the entire city of New Orleans, it was inevitably the league would be forced to change the protocol for officiating. On Tuesday night, the league approved a number of rule changes for the 2019 season. 24 of 32 teams are required to be in agreement before a rule changes/passes.
Rule changes for 2019 are as follows:
Pass Interference Now Available for Review
This rule change will generate the most conversation among the rest of the pack, and rightfully so. Coaches now have the power to challenge offensive or defensive pass interference penalties, whether or not it was called on the field. Coaches will be allowed to challenge these calls until the final two minutes of each half, where they then are unable to challenge the call. This is similar to how the rules are currently set for coaches challenges.
This will be mostly well received, although opposition of the rule change will be quick to point out what will surely be a rule that extends a game that is already too long, as the average NFL game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes. The ongoing argument of saving time against getting calls right will continue to bleed into 2019, as the league has yet to balance the two for its viewership.
However, many believe in taking the time to make the right call, even if it means enduring a longer product of football.
*This rule is only approved for the 2019 season and will be reviewed the following season*
Blindside Blocks Are Now Eliminated
The NFL’s efforts to crack down on player safety continues into 2019, as the league has now made blindside blocks illegal moving forward.
To expand protection of the player being blocked, @NFL owners voted to eliminate blindside blocks. One-third of all concussions on punts were caused by blindside blocks. With the rule change, any forcible contact by the blocker with his head, shoulder or forearm is prohibited. pic.twitter.com/abA2cENnXe
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) March 26, 2019
As the game shifts towards an era where bone-crushing hits become more and more rare, the elimination of blindside blocks won’t force any major changes to the game of football the NFL has produced since the turn of the decade. We continue to grow further away from the hard-nose/smack-mouth era of football. Good or bad? While you be the judge, yet the NFL will continue to take these measure to lower concussions, which continues to be a major cloud over the league.
Approved Kickoff Rules From 2018 Now Permanent
The third and often most forgotten facet of football, special teams, also got a makeover with rule changes before the 2018 season. Last year, the league decided to outlaw wedge blocking (two players blocking shoulder to shoulder) and eliminated a running start for the kickoff team.
The results? A 38% reduction in concussions during kickoffs when compared to 2015-2017 seasons (per NFL Football Operations). As mentioned in the above rule change, the league continues their efforts to move towards a safer game. The 2018 rule change now becomes permanent, and has received little to no backlash during it’s one year implementation.
Celebration Penalties Extended to Kickoffs
Scenario: The opposing team takes a 90 yard punt back for a touchdown and draws within one point of tying the game. After crossing the white line to the end zone, the opposing player decides to give the bird to each and every fan in the stadium. The referee obviously draws the yellow flag and calls the player for unsportsmanlike conduct.
In years past, you were only able to apply the penalty on the following kickoff. However, the NFL has now adopted a rule change where teams can opt for yards added on the kickoff, or enforce the 15 yards on a point after try (PAT). So instead of kicking a potential 33 yard extra point attempt, the other team is now forced to kick a 48 yard attempt.
The league has loosened its grip on celebrations, as flags for excessive celebration are far and few between. However if any extra-curricular activity happened that warranted a penalty, teams now have a strategical option to exercise. These moments could be big in key parts of the game, and should force players to think twice about doing something regrettable.
Coaches Challenge Changes
In the past, if a coach were to win their first challenge, they were then able to use two more challenges no matter the outcome. However, a new rule adjustment will require coaches to win their first two challenges before being awarded a third challenge.
The new implementation awards coaches for being accurate on their challenges, while forcing coaches to think twice about throwing the red flag on the field. This rule was likely done to prevent coaches from halting the flow of the game by challenging questionable plays.
Other Rule Changes
Per official team websites (i.e. NewOrleansSaints.com), the following rule changes have also been made in addition to those listed above. For the following rule changes, there have yet to be any detailed/further elaborations as of now.
- By Competition Committee; Expands protection to a defenseless player.
- By Competition Committee; Changes the enforcement of double fouls when there is a change of possession.
- By Competition Committee; Simplifies the application of scrimmage kick rules for missed field goals.
- By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 1, Article 5 to allow League personnel to disqualify for both flagrant football and non-football acts.
- By Buffalo; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.4 to liberalize the rule for re-acquisition of a player assigned via waivers.
- By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.1 to provide clubs with more roster flexibility during training camp.
- By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVIII, Section 18.1 to provide teams more effective access to players during the postseason.
- By Competition Committee; to amend Article XIV, Section 14.3(B)(8) to make the tie-breaking procedures fairer for the selection meeting.
- By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.1 to provide additional roster spots during the preseason.
- By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 12.3 to offer more roster flexibility.
- By Competition Committee; to amend the Anti-Tampering Policy to permit an interested club to contact a Vested Veteran before clubs have been notified of the player’s termination via the Player Personnel Notice if (i) the players is not subject to the Waivers System and, (ii) the employer club has publicly announced the player’s release.
- By Competition Committee; for one year only, Clubs will receive the League’s postgame responses to officiating inquiries submitted by any club.
Other Rule Propositions:
Changes to Overtime
The Kansas City Chiefs proposed an overtime rule that would assure both teams a possession in an overtime period. This stems from their conference championship loss against New England, where the Patriots scored a touchdown on the first possession of the overtime period and effectively ended the game.
The overtime rule changes don’t stop at the postseason, as SB Nation reports the rule change would also eliminate overtime in preseason games and coin-tosses at the beginning of the overtime period, instead awarding first choice of possession to the team who won the initial coin-toss at the beginning of the game.
The decision has been tabled for the time being, as talks will resume during spring meetings in May.
Changes to Onside Kickoffs
The Denver Broncos proposed a rule change that would mirror what the AAF has implemented in their game. Rather than attempt an onside kick that was converted at a whopping 7.5% in 2018 via Elias, a team would attempt to convert a 4th and 15 at their own 35 yard-line. If successful, the offense would stay on the field. If unsuccessful, the defensive team would take over wherever the ball was stopped.
The proposal was rejected by NFL owners, despite being endorsed by the NFL’s competition committee.
Dallas and Detroit hit the Road for Thanksgiving
A rule proposal was submitted and later retracted by the Philadelphia Eagles that would have forced the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, two traditional home fixtures on Thanksgiving, to rotate playing at home and away on the holiday. While no true reason was given for the retraction, it’s likely the support would not have been serious enough to go to a vote.
Report: Rescheduled Steelers-Titans Game to be Nationally Televised on CBS
The rescheduled game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans is expected to be nationally televised on CBS, according to a report by the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand.
As for when the game will be played, Marchand is reporting it will be played on Monday at 5 p.m., or Tuesday at 6 or 7 p.m.
The rescheduled Steelers-Titans game is expected to be on national TV on CBS, according to sources.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) October 1, 2020
It will be either on Monday at 5 p.m. or Tuesday at 6 or 7 p.m.
The Steelers and Titans were originally supposed to square off Sunday at 1 p.m., but that game has been postponed after three Titans players and five staff members tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. The total has no risen to ten since the outbreak was first reported.
The NFL announced in a statement Wednesday that the game would be postponed to Monday or Tuesday to “allow additional time for further daily COVID-19 testing.”
Another option that has been discussed would reschedule the game for Week 7, which is Tennessee’s bye week, and push the Steelers-Ravens matchup scheduled for that Sunday to Week 8. The Steelers and Ravens currently share a bye Week 8.
Marchand added that the league prefers to play the game Monday to keep competitive balance, while CBS wants to play the game at 7 p.m. as to not disrupt their news programming.
I should add the NFL preference is Monday for competitive balance. For CBS, a 7 pm start would be better as it wouldn't impact its news programs and it would be a later standalone broadcast window.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) October 1, 2020
Titans Place Three Players on Reserve/COVID-19 List
The Tennessee Titans have placed three players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and added two to the team’s practice squad, the franchise announced Tuesday.
Defensive lineman DaQuan Jones and long snapper Beau Brinkley were placed on the Reserve list from the active 53-man roster, while tight end Tommy Hudson was also listed off the team’s practice squad.
Jones is the Titans’ starting nose tackle, and has eight total tackles on the season. As the team’s long snapper, Brinkley’s importance is self-explanatory.
Tennessee’s transactions come hours after the club announced it is shutting down practices this week after three players and five staff members within the organization tested positive for COVID-19.
While it is unclear when exactly the Titans will be able to return to the practice field, no decision has been made yet regarding their matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Nashville on Sunday.
The Minnesota Vikings, who the Titans played last week, also announced they are closing their practice facility indefinitely Tuesday.
The Titans also added running back D’Onta Freeman and defensive back Maurice Smith to their practice squad Tuesday.
Goodell Memo: NFL COVID-19 Positives ‘Not Unexpected,’ Diligence Needed
The Steelers’ Week 4 game at the Tennessee Titans finds itself in jeopardy on Tuesday after eight members of the Titans tested positive for COVID-19 following their win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Those eight positive tests have resulted in 48 additional individuals requiring additional testing before they can return to work, according to ESPN, and the shut down of the Titans’ facility until at least Saturday.
The Titans may be forced to deal with limited or no team practice time in between Tuesday’s announcement and Sunday’s game, which has prompted the NFL to consider moving it to Monday night.
In the meantime, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all teams on Tuesday. The memo, acquired by Steelers Now, acknowledges that the league expected that there would be some positive tests as they attempted to play the 2020 season, but that further diligence will be required in order to keep the Titans’ outbreak from impacting entire league.
Earlier today, we learned that three players and five non-player staff at the Tennessee Titans had tested positive for Covid-19. We immediately shared that information with the clubs and the NFLPA and have issued the attached press release.
This is not unexpected; as Dr. Sills and others have emphasized, there will be players and staff who will test positive during the season. In response to these positive tests, we immediately took the following steps under the protocols agreed to with the NFLPA:
• Players and staff who have tested positive will be isolated, carefully monitored, and given all necessary medical care. Per our protocols, family members of these players and staff will also be offered testing as well.
• We have reviewed contact tracing data to identify any close contacts of the players and staff who tested positive; have isolated those individuals; and each will receive additional testing.
• We have contacted the game officials and others who worked at Sunday’s game in Minnesota and will do follow-up testing and monitoring for those individuals.
• We will suspend in-person activities in both Tennessee and Minnesota (the team Tennessee played last weekend) pending further developments. Thus far, there have been no positive tests or reports of symptoms among Minnesota players or staff.
• We are exploring in more detail the nature of the close contacts to determine where they occurred (locker room, flights, etc.), and identify any additional learnings that can be shared with all clubs.
These results confirm the need to remain diligent in implementing all of our health and safety protocols to the fullest extent. This includes not only our testing program, but facility maintenance, wearing of PPE by players and staff, and carefully regulating behavior and contacts outside of the club facility. It is also critical to remind everyone in your organization — players and non-players — immediately to report any symptoms that they have, or that family members or others with whom they arc in close contact have, to your club physician or Infection Control Officer.
In addition, clubs should revisit the steps they have taken to minimize the number of close contacts, particularly while traveling and within position groups, and should review their procedures for bringing in new players for tryouts and possible signing.
Each of us has a special responsibility to keep others safe and healthy. What each of us does affects not only ourselves and our immediate families, but many others on our own club and on other clubs.