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Sunday Football Notes

NFL bosses consider rule changes at league meetings

Usually, rule changes and a press conference by commissioner Roger Goodell are the highlights of the league meetings.

AP/File

Usually, rule changes and a press conference by commissioner Roger Goodell are the highlights of the league meetings.

NFL owners, general managers, and coaches are arriving in Phoenix for the league meetings, which start Monday and run through Wednesday. They will have a little different vibe — you may see some trades go down (Darrelle Revis?) — because they are taking place while much of free agency is going on. It used to happen at the tail end.

Usually, rule changes and a press conference by commissioner Roger Goodell are the highlights.

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Here are the rule proposals:

No. 1: Revise the replay challenge penalty that cost the Lions a game when coach Jim Schwartz threw the red flag on a scoring play that was already going to be reviewed. By rule, the play was not reviewable after an improper challenge flag was thrown. Under the proposal, if the same situation arose, the play will still be reviewed, but the coach either loses a time­out or (if he doesn’t have one) receives a 15-yard penalty. Also, incomplete passes would be reviewed through a possible recovery by the defense as a fumble.

No. 2: On field goal attempts, no more than six rushers permitted on either side of the snapper. No pushing teammates through gaps. The snapper would have defenseless player protection. And low, attack blocks by rush teams would be eliminated.

No. 3: Elimination of the tuck rule.

No. 4: Tight ends and H-backs can wear numbers 40-49, and not just 80-89.

No. 5: Elimination of low “peel back” blocks inside the tackle box. Currently they are permitted inside but not outside the box.

No. 6: It would now be a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the crown of the helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box.

That last one is a key change. Previously, helmet-to-helmet contact was allowed in space since the player wasn’t considered defenseless.

“We really think the time has come that we need to address the situation in space when a runner or a tackler has a choice as to how they are going to approach the opponent,” said Falcons president Rick McKay, the Competition Committee chairman.

“We are going to say that you can’t make that choice ducking your head and delivering a blow, a forcible blow, with the top crown of your helmet.

“We are trying to protect the runner or the tackler from himself in that instance. We are looking for the obvious fouls in this one.”

One famous example of this would be on the Stevan Ridley fumble in the AFC Championship game when he collided with Ravens safety Bernard Pollard and sustained an apparent concussion.

Under the new rule, it’s possible that Ridley would be called for the foul since it appeared that he initiated the contact by putting his head down. But McKay said there would have been no foul on either player under the new rule.

“Neither player, in our mind, initiated contact and delivered a blow with the top crown of his helmet,” McKay said. “You can argue that, in super slow-motion, the running back did. But in our case, we looked at that play and said that was one where you don’t see a man-on-man — meaning head-up play — and one player ducking his head and delivering a blow with the top crown of his helmet. That is a close play and there will be plenty of those.”

There could be offsetting fouls, too.

“There will certainly be plays where that can occur,” McKay said. “I think we watched an awful lot of tape, and there were not as many as you would think.

“In some instances, you will see the defender or the ball carrier really be the one to lower his head and begin to initiate contact, when the other player is just reacting and trying to defend himself.

“That’s why it has to be the obvious call.”

Among some other provisions will be an emphasis on field maintenance. The league will double its efforts to make sure every stadium is up to NFL quality and, if not, remedy the situation at the team’s expense.

There had been talk that all low blocks could have been eliminated. That could have adversely affected teams that use the zone blocking scheme, like the Texans. But the committee felt, after consulting with current and former players, that drastic step wasn’t necessary yet.

“They were all very consistent: ‘We can play the block. We can feel it coming. It’s not a concern,’ ” McKay said. “Once we eliminated the two-player blocks a few years ago, they feel like they can play the play.

“When we said that you cannot block from the back, meaning you can’t clip, they feel very comfortable with it.

“We went through it from start to finish with them because we had put out in the survey the idea that the chop block was under consideration and I think the players and the coaches — defensive line and offensive line coaches — convinced us otherwise.”

According to the committee, injury data show that the number of concussions on kickoffs has decreased 40 percent since the kick line was moved up 5 yards for the 2011 season.

TANGLED WELKER TALE

Timing surely hurt receiver

Some final thoughts on the strange and confusing end to Wes Welker’s Patriots career:

 There are two sides to every story. I wish I could tell you which was totally accurate. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

 The Patriots’ version is they never let on that Welker should have expected different contract offers than previously mentioned (2-3 years, starting at $16 million in late 2011). Both sides concede that. When Welker balked at the formal offer on Monday night (two years, $10 million plus incentives), the Patriots — who made an offer to Greg Jennings after the legal tampering period started on Saturday, according to a league source — quickly moved to sign Danny Amendola. So when Welker got the Broncos’ offer, the Patriots were out of the picture — they already had Amendola. In that version, it’s not fair to say Welker signed for $2 million more with Denver because the Patriots’ offer was gone.

 The Welker version is that in proposals submitted the week before free agency, the sides were indeed in different ballparks — but those were meant as starting points. There were no counterproposals from the Patriots. Once the Patriots sent over the 2/10 proposal on Monday night, Welker’s camp countered with an offer in line with the Titans’ offer (reportedly two years, $14 million). The Patriots said no and offered no counter. After the Broncos’ offer came, Welker’s camp asked if the Patriots would match. They said no. Amendola’s deal was not mentioned (not that they had an obligation to do so).

 I believe the writing was on the wall for Welker late in the 2011 season. He was finally ready to hit the market for the first and final time at age 30 — Welker had to believe in his heart all his production and dependability was going to pay off — and the Patriots’ offer was a total nonstarter. Forget what happened after — Welker at that moment must have been, understandably, crushed.

 Another point with no definitive answer is whether the Patriots truly wanted Welker. They say absolutely, privately and publicly. But some of their actions indicate otherwise, including contract offers that were not fair in Welker’s mind. If you really want the player, you get the player. If Welker was truly a priority and they wanted him to be a Patriot for life, why did it take the Patriots until Monday night to make their initial contract offer?

 I don’t understand why such a tight lid was kept on the Patriots’ agreement with Amendola on Tuesday afternoon, which multiple league sources confirmed. The Patriots had their man. Welker’s deal was supposedly off the table. When it did leak on Wednesday night, nothing had changed (Amendola still hadn’t completed his physical) except Welker had signed with Denver. I’m sure there are legitimate reasons — the Patriots could have helped Welker out upping the Broncos’ price by maintaining the illusion of a market; someone could have jumped the gun internally for PR damage control — but it just seems odd.

I don’t think I’ve covered a player with worse luck with contracts than Welker. Free agency and contracts are about timing. Welker had little.

Ideally, he should have been given a new contract after the 2009 season when he was 28, even if that meant a holdout. But he tore his knee up in the meaningless season finale.

A year later, Welker came back way early from ACL surgery to help the team, but his numbers (86 catches for 848 yards) limited his leverage, through no fault of his own. Still, he could have held out after the season and didn’t — he’d never do that. The Patriots could have redone his deal, but chose not to.

So the team could control him in 2012 through the franchise tag the next year, which it did. Welker didn’t have to sign it, but the team had the option at any time to withdraw it. If the Patriots did that, Welker risked giving up his largest payday ($9.5 million) for a market largely tapped out of cap space by that time. It was a no-win situation for Welker, so he wisely chose to sign it.

Then this year, Welker finally hits unrestricted free agency and it’s the worst market for veterans in recent memory — if not ever.

You can say that the Patriots consistently judged the market correctly, since they got it right this year. But I don’t agree. I think they lucked out. If you’re telling me in late 2011 the Patriots knew the 2013 market would be this bad for almost every veteran, then the Patriots need to handle my 401(k). If Welker hit unrestricted free agency last year, there would have been a much better market. This I know.

But at the end of the day, both sides will probably be better off. Welker went where he knows he’s wanted, has as good a chance to win, and gets to finally be himself. He stands to collect the three years at $21.5 million (including last year’s tag) that the Patriots were unwilling to do last year. Amendola gets three years at $15 million. The Patriots feel they got a younger and (they hope) similar player for less money. Who’s ultimately right won’t be known until the end of the season.

ETC.

Denver didn’t beat the clock

The situation that led the Broncos to release defensive end Elvis Dumervil — despite him agreeing to a pay cut — and taking a $4.9 million cap hit was embarrassing for all involved. But it’s not unprecedented in the NFL — and that may help bring a common-sense resolution to the Mile High mess. The Broncos wanted Dumervil to take a pay cut from a salary that was due to become $12 million guaranteed at 4 p.m. Friday. After first balking, Dumervil agreed — but by the time the paperwork was completed, it was after the deadline, so the Broncos had to release him. A similar situation happened in 2004 with Terrell Owens, when the paperwork to void his contract with the 49ers was sent late. Owens thought he was a free agent, so he signed with the Eagles. The 49ers thought they still had Owens’s rights, so they traded him to the Ravens for a second-round pick. The NFLPA got involved to nullify the trade, and eventually won — paving the way for Owens to sign with the Eagles. Would have to think the NFLPA will get involved again, since this could cost Dumervil money. But we’ll have to see if the precedent holds up.

Nickel package

1. Going to be another fun season in the NFC West, which had long been one of the worst divisions in football before 2012. The 49ers nearly won the Super Bowl, and split the season series with the Seahawks. Seattle upped the ante by trading for Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, and signing two really good defensive ends in Michael Bennett (Tampa Bay) and Cliff Avril (Lions). The 49ers signed Anquan Boldin, but have lost safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Delanie Walker.

2. Harvin’s Seahawks tenure is going to be a real test of the “talent is too good to pass up” theory. There’s no doubt Harvin is one of the most talented players in the league with the ball in his hands. But there’s also little disputing that he’s been a huge troublemaker since his high school days. Urban Meyer helped create a monster at the University of Florida, and Harvin caused so many headaches for the Vikings that they traded him. And they just happened to go 5-2 without Harvin (injured reserve) to secure a playoff berth last season.

3. People are overstating the losses the Ravens have sustained, and have ignored the fact that you can’t sign everyone, especially after players get their prices inflated by success. Like Bill Belichick, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome always has a plan. The Ravens are not as bad off as you think. Watch.

4. On paper, the Dolphins have done well adding a lot of nice pieces to a roster that needed them. Will be interesting to see how things come together. Having too many new parts usually doesn’t translate to instant success. Good drafting and elite quarterback play are usually the keys to sustained success.

5. Also liked what the Chiefs, Browns, Falcons, and Colts have done. But don’t ask me to explain the Colts giving Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden a four-year, $16 million contract, half of which is guaranteed.

Short yardage

According to a Jets source, the team has not heard from the Patriots about a possible Darrelle Revis trade. And while a Patriots trade for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald might make some sense considering the state of that franchise and how the Patriots have a quarterback (Ryan Mallett) in reserve, I was told there’s no chance of it happening — especially with $15 million in dead cap money that would accelerate on the Cardinals . . . The Steelers released outside linebacker James Harrison and guard Willie Colon, did not attempt to re-sign left tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton, and watched receiver Mike Wallace, running back Rashard Mendenhall, and cornerback Keenan Lewis sign elsewhere, but team president Art Rooney II said, “I don’t view it as dramatically different than other years. The recent history is, we face decisions like this almost every year in terms of making decisions on players who made key contributions. You have to have players with contracts who fit within the system. It’s a challenge every year.”

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story mistakenly said that the 49ers swept the season series with the Seahawks in 2012 in an earlier version. The teams split their season series.

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