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Going deeper on the ‘sky judge,’ overtime changes, and other NFL rules proposals

Among the NFL rules changes being proposed is one that would add a "sky judge" to the instant replay booth to call fouls via use of a TV monitor.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

The Ravens want a “sky judge” to be able to call penalties from the instant replay booth. They also want to take a sledgehammer to the current overtime format.

The Eagles want to create an alternative to the onside kick. The Bills want to push back the NFL’s coach/GM hiring calendar. And the Rams are proposing a new rule that was inspired by – who else? – Tom Brady.

Those are among the 14 rules proposals released by the NFL on Thursday that league owners will vote upon later in April. It takes a vote of 24 of 32 owners for a new rule to pass.


Five proposals will likely pass because they were recommended by the league’s competition committee. Among them: Eliminating overtime in the preseason (yes, please); and expanding the prohibition on blocks below the waist for player safety.

The other nine proposals came from the teams. The Patriots, who were active in proposing new rules in 2014-15, did not submit any proposals.

Here is a look at the most noteworthy:

⋅ The Ravens were the busiest team, submitting four rule proposals. Two of them relate to giving the officiating crew extra help from the instant replay booth. One proposal would permit the instant replay official to help the on-field crew in making calls for complete or incomplete; possession; touching of a loose ball or boundary line; down by contact; and more. The rules currently only allow the replay judge to help with penalty enforcement; proper down; spot of a foul; and the game clock.

⋅ A second proposal by the Ravens would go a step further, creating an eighth member of the officiating crew and putting them in the instant replay booth and letting them call fouls via use of a TV monitor. The NFL has yet to be in favor of the “sky judge,” preferring to let the on-field officials call the penalties.


John Harbaugh and the Ravens offered multiple rule proposals.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

⋅ The Ravens also proposed two rules that would change the league’s overtime format. Both revolve around “spot and choose” — instead of starting overtime with a kickoff, one team would choose the spot of the ball and the end zone to defend, and the other team would decide whether to start on offense or defense.

In one proposal, which was co-signed by the Eagles, the NFL would return to a true sudden death format. Currently the NFL has a modified sudden death — the game is over if a team scores a touchdown on the first possession, but the game continues if the team only scores a field goal.

⋅ The Ravens’ other overtime proposal also includes “spot and choose,” but instead of sudden death, the Ravens propose playing an entire quarter that is only 7 minutes, 30 seconds in length. Currently, overtime is 10 minutes long.

The “spot and choose” method is intriguing, but may not pass on its first try. NFL owners usually are hesitant to make significant changes to the game, and this is the first year any team has proposed the “spot and choose” concept.

The untimed overtime period also has its merits, but the NFL has been trying to reduce overtime play in the last few years because its research shows that more injuries happen in OT when players are fatigued.

And there is little evidence that overtime needs fixing. In 2020, the team that won the overtime coin toss went 4-5-1, and only one game ended with a touchdown on the first possession.


The coin toss at the start of overtime remains a hotly debated issue.Jamie Squire

⋅ The Eagles proposed an alternative to the onside kick that has been on the ballot for the last few years. Twice per game, a team could choose to go for a fourth-and-15 situation from the 25-yard line instead of attempting an onside kick. The offense keeps the ball if it converts, and gives the ball to the other team if it comes up short. If the offense commits a penalty, it cannot elect to kickoff and instead must go for the longer attempt.

The owners have previously voted this rule down because it’s a little gimmicky, but it may be picking up momentum. The NFL has been looking for ways to reduce onside kicks because of the injury factor. And new kickoff rules, in which only five players can line up on a side, have rendered the onside kick nearly impossible. In the 2020 regular season, only four of 67 onside kicks were successful.

⋅ The Rams proposed a new rule that would create a loss of five yards and a loss of down if a team throws two passes from behind the line of scrimmage. Currently, the only penalty is a five-yard loss.

This proposal was inspired by Brady, who in a Week 11 game against the Rams threw a pass that was batted back by a defensive lineman, caught it, and threw it again to Mike Evans for eight yards. Brady was penalized, but the Rams declined it because it would have given Brady another chance to convert a third down. In the Rams’ proposal, the Bucs would have been penalized and would have lost the down.


⋅ The Bills submitted a rule that would push back the calendar for coach and general manager hirings and put every team on an equal time frame. The Bills propose that job interviews can’t begin until the Monday after the conference championship games, and hirings can’t be made until the Monday after the Super Bowl.

Currently, a team can start interviewing candidates as soon as its season is complete, and hirings can be made as soon as a coach is eliminated. But coaches from teams in the playoffs can be at a disadvantage. One, the interviews can be a distraction as the coach tries to prepare for a playoff game; and two, some teams eliminate candidates who advance far in the playoffs because the team wants to hire someone immediately.

⋅ The Chiefs want to expand the eligible jersey numbers for different positions. Currently, only quarterbacks, punters and kickers can wear Nos. 1-19. The Chiefs propose that running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, H-backs and wide receivers be able to wear any number from 1-49 and 80-89.

Defensive backs would also be eligible to wear any number from 1-49, and linebackers could wear 1-59 and 90-99. Linebackers are currently restricted to 40-59 and 90-99. And all offensive linemen would be eligible to wear Nos. 50-79. Currently, only centers can wear 50-59.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.