The Washington Redskins' flurry of recent activity hasn't been limited to free agency.
Next week's league meeting will include a vote by NFL owners over proposed rules changes. In all, there are over a dozen rules proposals on the docket (plus seven proposed bylaw changes and an additional resolution proposal). The Redskins authored eight of those potential alterations to rules or bylaws. The ones proposed by Washington are designated with an asterisk ("*") below.
Many of the changes wouldn't do much to alter the game as fans see it, while other changes would have an immediate, noticeable impact.
Here's the complete list of proposed changes, with the one I'd most like to discuss up first:
1. Move the extra point line of scrimmage to the 25-yard-line. Two-point conversion attempts would have the status quo LOS: I remain unconvinced we need this rule. If the argument is that PATs are "boring" because they're "automatic," just implement the idea of making a touchdown worth seven points unless you opt to go for two. If the argument is "we want a lot of NFL games to come down to extra points," then, by all means, turn PATs into 43-yard field goals.
Here's a kooky, alternative idea I had about PATs a long time ago. In the early days of basketball, each team had a free-throw specialist. No matter which player was fouled, this specialist got to shoot the free throws. That rule obviously changed long ago.
We could do the same thing in football with extra points. There would still be kickers to kick field goals an to kick off (until kickoffs get outlawed-see below). And the line of scrimmage for all PATs would stay put at the two-yard-line.
But extra points would be kicked by whichever player scored the touchdown.
The biggest argument against that rule in my mind was always "we don't want games to come down to extra points on a semi-consistent basis." But, if we're now contemplating 43-yard kicks as extra points, then it's open season.
Honestly, which would you rather see: Stephen Gostkowski kicking a zillion 43-yarders next year, or Russell Wilson trying to make a game-tying kick in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter after scrambling for a touchdown?
Most offensive skill players would probably get reasonably good at kicking extra points fairly quickly, but it would add a layer of new excitement to an otherwise-routine play, especially when some 310-pound defensive tackle fell on a fumble in the end zone.
The counter-argument is the one I mentioned earlier: That you would have a lot of football games come down to which team could succeed on a play that is currently near-automatic. But, if you're thinking about moving PATs back to the 25 in the alternative, you're already there.
2. Move kickoffs to the 40-yard line*: Back in the dark ages of the early 90s, the NFL decided to move kickoffs to the 30. Why? Because kicking in the NFL had become much more refined over the course of the 70s and 80s, and kickoffs were now producing touchbacks at a record pace. As a result, the kickoff line was moved back to the 30 so as to ensure more kickoff returns, then thought to be among the most exciting plays in football.
Today, in a risk-averse and concussion-aware world, we increasingly prioritize safety over "excitement." Returns are seen as potentially scary and dangerous. The NFL moved the kickoff line back to the 35 in 2011, and the current proposal would move it to the 40 to reduce the number of returns even further. This shift could be an incremental step toward eliminating kickoffs altogether, as now-former Bucs coach Greg Schiano proposed back in 2012.
3. Expand instant replay to include personal foul penalties*: Personal fouls can ruin (or make) a drive, and can often be a turning point in a close game. With the greater role of judgment call personal fouls that involve various kinds of illegal hits, this proposal would allow coaches to challenge whether something really is a personal foul, somewhat akin to what we see in basketball when officials convene to determine whether (or what kind of) a flagrant foul has been committed.
Although this will create an additional class of plays that may slow down an increasingly disjointed product, it makes sense to prevent a phantom roughing the passer call from ruining the end of a game. The NFL correctly places a greater emphasis on player safety now, with officials erring on the side of caution. But the negative of that is getting one or two eye-roll-inducing "He barely touched him!" or "That cannot be a penalty!" type plays per game. This new rule could solve that.
4. Abolish overtime in preseason games*: Duh. Let's abolish regulation time in a couple of preseason games while we're at it.
5. Extend the uprights by five feet: The "Adam Carolla Rule." This remedies another problem created by consistently stronger kickers, reducing the number of judgment calls on whether a field goal attempt was good or no good when the kick goes directly over the upright. By rule, of course, a ball that goes over the post is considered good, but that can be a very challenging call to make. Replays often look inconclusive. Raising the uprights by five feet would be a simple, cheap fix that would cover the lion's share of those kinds of kicks.
6. Put six cameras each on the sideline, end line, and goal line to aid in replay reviews: This is a little more costly than adding five feet of pipe to the top of the uprights, but it makes sense in a game that revolves around replays. If you mandate that every scoring play must be reviewed, having this rule makes sense. Having six cameras will speed up the replay process by making it more likely that a definitive view will be at the official's fingertips.
7. Permit a coach to challenge any official's ruling: The Patriots proposed this one, along with the PAT rule, the six-camera rule, and the extended-uprights rule. The point is that any call by an official, whether it's offsides or a hold, should be reviewable. It makes sense from a certain perspective. After all: Is a snap judgment about inbounds / out-of-bounds any more reliable than a snap judgment about whether a guy moved across the line early by two inches? Plus, with judgment calls about personal fouls becoming reviewable, this is just an extension of that principle.
That's the argument, but there's a big problem. Namely, we're already being trained as fans to "hurry up and wait" after any play that's even remotely close. That kills the flow of the game and the experience of watching it. Better just to live with a few minor mistakes over the course of the game rather than make it even more disjointed. With all scoring plays covered already (and all personal fouls soon to be), that's enough. Sitting around while officials go under the hood to sort out a five-yard penalty will do more damage to the product than is worth what's being gained.
You can also bet that the passage of this rule will be followed next year by a proposal that coaches get a greater allotment of challenges. If every play is reviewable, then it makes sense that coaches should have an expanded arsenal of red flags to throw. And down the rabbit hole we go.
8. The rule protecting players from getting hit in the back of their legs by blockers will add "or side" to the language: This just cleans up what amounts to a loophole in the rules that disallows one kind of ACL-tearing hit, but technically permits one that probably has an even greater likelihood of shredding a knee.
9. Permit referee consultation with a central NFL officiating department during replay reviews: Until I heard a fascinating Touchdown Club of Richmond speech a couple of years ago by ACC official Tom Zimorski, I had no idea that this is roughly how it works in college. To repeat a running theme, as long as this doesn't extend the length of replay reviews, I'm fine with it. There are some benefits to doing it this way, particularly with a dedicated group whose only job is to review close plays throughout the league. If you want a broad sketch of how this works, imagine someone doing what Mike Pereira does on Fox, except he's talking to the game officials, not to television audiences.
10. The NaVorro Bowman Rule: This is a milder version of the "make everything reviewable" rule proposal, and is much more likely to be passed. This will expand reviewable plays to include the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play, something that couldn't be reviewed during the play in January's NFC Championship Game in which Bowman injured his knee.
11. Don't stop the clock on sacks: This NFL tried this one out (along with some other wacky rules) in the Pro Bowl this year. Like most humans, I would rather mow my lawn than watch the Pro Bowl, so I don't know if it made the game better or worse. The idea behind the rule is to speed the game up a bit while also not giving teams at the end of games an unfair advantage when they take a sack. Conversely, the idea behind the status quo rule was to make the end of games more exciting by not forcing a team to burn 15 seconds waiting for receivers running deep patterns to get back into pre-snap position, get the next play, and get set.
12. Expand the pass interference rule so that PI can be called within one yard of the line of scrimmage: On paper, this seems like a good rule. It prevents a lot of the quick-pass "rub" plays that are such a staple of many NFL offenses now, where other receivers are legally interfering with defenders when the ball is thrown. The big concern I have is that the rule will be written in such a way as to make bump-and-run coverage even more difficult for defensive players. Still, on balance, this is likely more detrimental to the offense than the defense, and it's probably a good rule.
13. Change defensive penalty enforcement so that fouls behind the line of scrimmage are enforced from the previous spot, rather than from the end of the run or from the spot of the foul: I'm going to be totally honest, here. I'm undecided on how this would play out over the course of a game or season. This is a rule designed to help the offense, but I'm not sure how much more help NFL offenses need at this point in history. It seems like, e.g., enforcing a backfield facemask from the spot of the foul (and giving an automatic first down) is enough.
14. No one can criticize another team's nickname*: Ok, I made that one up. Hail to the Redskins!
Here are the by-law proposals, most of which won't even be noticeable to the average fan.
1. For non-Sunday/Monday games, raise the number of active players on game day from 46 to 49, excluding Week One*: This is a common-sense proposal that probably passes, especially with more Thursday and Saturday games on the NFL schedule.
2. Raise the practice squad player limit from eight to 10*: Similar idea here, and there's not a strong argument not to do it.
3. Allow teams to trade players prior to the start of the league year*: The premise is that a team could trade players before free agency starts, which would prevent them from having to cut players outright, as well as add a new way to shape rosters heading into free agency.
4. Eliminate the cut-down to 75 players during training camp and instead just have one cut-down from 90 players to 53 players*: I don't know-I kind of like the first cut-down. I guess the argument is that you can keep your entire roster available for the end of preseason, but, at that point, are you even still looking at the 85th- or 73rd-best player on the roster? Of course, if it were up to me, there wouldn't be a fourth preseason game. I don't think this change is needed, but maybe this bylaw would be a first step toward eliminating a week of preseason. Probably not, but, if so, sign me up.
5. Allow more than one player to return to the active list from injured reserve so that any player on injured reserve could return after six weeks*: Love it. Cutting-edge sports-medicine makes it more likely a player could return from the kind of injury that normally would have ended a season even a few years ago. NFL teams shouldn't be forced to choose between sacrificing a roster spot or ending the year of a guy who may be able to come back.
6. Permit teams to time and test up to 10 draft-eligible players at its facility, with other teams being allowed to attend testing sessions at other teams' facilities: I couldn't care less about this.
7. Shift the deadline of roster reduction after the final preseason game from 6 p.m. Eastern to 4 p.m. Eastern. All teams would have to have their final cut list submitted by 4 p.m.: Again, who cares? I'm sure this matters to certain teams (especially ones on the East Coast), but we're talking about two hours.
In addition to the above rule and bylaw changes, there is also something called a "resolution proposal" on the docket. It is as follows.
1. Allow a home team with a retractable roof to open or close its roof at halftime, rather than having to choose at the start of the game whether the roof will be open or not: I like this a lot. Two reasons. First, with the NFL becoming so sensitive to inclement weather, this helps a team that plays under a retractable dome adjust on the fly if severe storms bubble up. Given the number of weather delays we saw this year (more than I can ever remember), this will at least cut down on that a bit in the cities that have this type of stadium.
Secondly, the proposal doesn't seem to say anything about having to do so for cause. I kind of like the idea that a team that's behind might open or close its dome just to throw their opponent. Other team has a good kicker who's used to playing indoors? Open the dome at halftime and let some wind in! You're playing a running team and a light rain kicks up in the second quarter? Close the dome and pass them to death! Chaos! Craziness! Gamesmanship!
In other words, this won't pass.
Of all the proposals mentioned, the one that would change the game most noticeably would be the PAT adjustment. For that reason, I don't think it will pass, either. The NFL knows that it has a wildly successful product, and owners will be reluctant to try to fix something that isn't broken.
But, if they do, I want to see Vince Wilfork kicking extra points.