Revised Rules Reflect Desire for Player Safety: By Eli Hiskey

 

Some big rule changes were made today at the NFL owner spring meetings. Clearly, the biggest focus was on improving player safety, something that has been a common theme over the past few years. Most notably, kickoffs are going to look a lot different this upcoming season, and players are going to have to focus hard on how they lead into tackles, with the “use of helmet” rule being altered to attempt to completely eliminate any use of the helmet when making a tackle.

 

The new kickoff rules are designed to make kickoffs more like punts, in order to reduce head injuries coming from full-speed collisions. The one change that will be easiest to see is that players on the kicking team are now restricted to lining up no more than one yard from the point of kickoff, as opposed to the previous rule that let players line up five yards back and get a running start. In addition, no players on the returning team are allowed to cross the “restraining line” (their own 45-yard line) or initiate a block until the ball is touched or hits the ground. Other adjustments made to the kickoff rules include no wedge blocks outside the setup zone (return team’s 40-yard line to kicking teams 45-yard line), eight return team players must begin in the setup zone, and the kicking team must have five players on each side of the ball. Finally, if the ball lands in the end zone, it is an automatic touchback, similar to the current rule in college. All these changes may seem quite complicated, so the NFL went ahead and made a video showing how these changes will actually look on the field.

With the new focus on player safety, concussions have dropped notably. According to ESPN, concussions on kickoffs dropped by roughly 20% from 2016 to 2017. However, if numbers don’t continue to drop, the elimination of the kickoff is a possibility, as it has already been determined that these rules will be revisited at the 2019 spring meetings.

 

On the subject of the “use of helmet” rule, players are now subject to a fifteen-yard penalty and a possible ejection if they lower their helmet to initiate contact against another player. According to the NFL, if the contact was “clearly avoidable” and the player delivering the blow had “an unobstructed path to his opponent”, that player is subject to ejection.  All player ejections are now reviewable.

 

Outside the field of play, an interesting change in the bylaws is that teams are now able to trade players on injured reserve.

 

In regards to the National Anthem, the owners determined that teams can make their own rules, so long as everyone on the field stands for the anthem. Players can choose to remain in the locker room until the anthem is over.

 

All rule changes noted are according to NFL.com.

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