The NFL’s ball-inflation procedures were strengthened for the 2015 season because of the Patriots. The eligible-ineligible tactics were mostly outlawed because of the Patriots, and the extra point was pushed back to the 15-yard line at the prodding of the Patriots.
And the Patriots are at least partly responsible for a fourth rule change for 2015 — the “Julian Edelman Rule,” as it were, that will allow the concussion spotters to signal down to the officials on the field and call a medical timeout if a player is exhibiting concussive symptoms but hasn’t had a chance to be evaluated by team doctors.
Edelman appeared woozy after taking a hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ Super Bowl win. Reporters overheard the concussion spotter radioing down to the Patriots’ sideline that Edelman needed attention, but the Patriots were running a hurry-up offense, and Edelman didn’t come off the field until the end of the drive several minutes later.
Edelman subsequently passed his concussion tests on the sideline.
But the concussion spotter has a lot more power this season, with the ability to stop the game himself. The player will be forced to sit out at least one play and cannot return until he passes the concussion tests. Neither team will be charged a timeout and the play clock will be turned off during a medical timeout.
The system won’t be perfect. The concussion spotter could potentially misconstrue an injury and unnecessarily stop the game. Or, more likely, the concussion spotter will mess with the tempo and rhythm of a hurry-up offense, which could be particularly tricky for a team such as the Patriots, who like to mix the tempo often.
But for the NFL, those concerns are greatly overshadowed by the need to diagnose and treat concussions properly. The Edelman play was just one of several that convinced the league to make the change. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also potentially played through a concussion in last year’s NFC Championship game.
“We don’t expect this to happen a lot, but the athletic trainer is now empowered to stop the game if necessary to give the player the attention he needs,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety. “Concussions and head and neck injuries are really important and they need immediate attention. Therefore that was going to predominate over any potential competitive concerns.”
The NFL is believed to be the first league to allow its medical personnel to stop game play, and the new rules will be in place for the first time this week for the first round of exhibition games.
Because of the increased power given to the concussion spotters this year, the NFL instituted stricter qualifications to become a spotter, or “eye in the sky.”
All spotters must have current certification by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, have a minimum 10 years of experience as an athletic trainer, have major college and/or professional sports experience, never have been employed as a head athletic trainer by an NFL team, and have not been employed by an NFL team in the past 20 years.
The NFL will employ approximately 64 spotters and rotate them to different games.
“We wanted to make sure there weren’t any potential conflicts, now that they’re more like an official,” Miller said.
Coaches, players, and fans might get annoyed with a game stoppage in the middle of an important or fast-paced drive, but this is a needed step in the evolution of protecting players, particularly given the proliferation of up-tempo offenses.
“This was a dynamic of the hurry-up offenses, where there just wasn’t an opportunity to help players that needed help,” Miller said. “This is just an extra set of eyes and an extra resource where in that setting the athletic trainer can stop the game.”
Miller stressed that the NFL doesn’t anticipate concussion spotters having to stop games too often, given the number of medical personnel watching from the sideline. But having an extra set of eyes in the press box is crucial and can fill in any gaps.
“The expectation is not that this is a frequent occurrence, because there are so many other people who can also identify the injury,” Miller said.
And while longtime fans may complain about the new player-safety rules that have taken a lot of the physicality out of the game, the NFL claims that in-game concussions are down 35 percent since 2012, the first year the league instituted concussion spotters.
“We’re beginning to see those significant helmet-to-helmet hits come out of the game, which is obviously a positive,” Miller said. “This is going to be a long-term effort, and we’re going to continue to examine the games and the rules and the concussion protocol.”
POINT OF CONTENTION
Union fed up with Goodell’s powers
The next labor negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association aren’t until the spring of 2021, but we won’t have to guess what one of the union’s main sticking points will be.
In the last negotiations in 2011, it was player safety — strict limits on practice time and full contact, as well as better post-retirement benefits. Next time it’s going to be Article 46, or the powers granted to the commissioner regarding player discipline.
The treatment of Tom Brady and the entire Deflategate saga has been the tipping point for the players, who are fed up with Roger Goodell blatantly disregarding the rules laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
“It would be hard to imagine any new deal if there’s not a change,” NFLPA president Eric Winston told the Washington Post last week. “I can’t imagine taking a new deal back to the players and say personal conduct isn’t going to change.”
The players have now had to take legal action three times in the last year to prevent Goodell from abusing his powers — Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Brady. The players also took action against Goodell for his player suspensions in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, and came out victorious.
It’s one thing for Goodell to get tough on players accused of domestic violence and drunken driving. But when he brings the hammer down on Brady for a minor infraction and justifies his punishment with a sham of an investigation and appeals process, Goodell only further proves that he doesn’t deserve the power he has.
The commissioner’s power to be the arbiter of appeals has been in place since the league’s first CBA in 1968, but Goodell is the first commissioner to consistently test the boundaries. The NFL’s constant court battles aren’t good for the overall health of the sport.
“We’re not against punishment where it’s deserved,” Winston said. “I’m not against setting boundaries. [But] there has to be a neutral arbitrator. You can’t tell me that keeping Roger Goodell in the position he’s in as arbitrator is going to win the confidence of the players. That’s long gone. You can’t go back and fix what’s happened.”
It will be interesting to see how someone like Robert Kraft handles this at the next CBA negotiations. Kraft was all in favor of Goodell having total power until it worked against him in Deflategate. The owners naturally oppose any proposals made by the union, but I think now they’re starting to see the downside of Goodell’s reign of terror.
“Nobody’s safe,” Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. “Roger is going to do what he wants to do. It don’t matter what the rules say. He’s going to make his own rules as he goes. And it shouldn’t be like that. But at the end of the day, we as players gave him the freedom to do whatever he wants to do. We signed the sheet. So we had our own fault for doing it. We should have been more detailed. We shouldn’t have rushed into things.”
Deflategate leads to stunning allies
Roger Goodell’s four-game suspension of Tom Brady has been so patently unfair and vindictive that some of Brady’s top rivals are coming out in support of him
First, it was Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who usually avoids saying Brady’s name in interviews, defending Brady’s legacy in June.
“The guy is a winner,” Suggs said at the time. “He’s won with whatever kind of personnel that he’s had. So I don’t think it really tarnished it. But you know, you need something to write about.”
Then last week, it was Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie rushing to Brady’s defense.
“In the rulebook, there’s no suspension in the rules. There’s only a $25,000 fine,” Cromartie said of the punishment handed down to Brady. “So I don’t see how you can try to lay the hammer down on someone when the rule states for itself there’s no suspension for it. There’s only a maximum fine for $25,000.
“Are we trying to go back to Spygate and get more from that? Or are we just leading back to us, saying, ‘Well, I have full control of everything. I made the rules as it goes, rather than follow the rules of what’s already been written.’ ”
What’s interesting is that most neutral observers appear to be siding with Brady over Goodell in this mess, thanks largely to the appeal hearing testimony that was unsealed last week, revealing that Goodell took Brady’s testimony out of context to fit the league’s narrative that Brady and the Patriots were cheating.
“Tom Brady and the Patriots are far from the most sympathetic figures, nor have their testimonies seemed fully credible, either,” wrote Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead, “but it’s pretty transparent everywhere at this point, save for ESPN, they’ve been railroaded by the league.”
Observations at Patriots camp
■ Bill Belichick has an interesting dilemma in terms of player management. He noted on SiriusXM last week that he has 21 rookies or thereabout (the bottom of the roster is fluid), meaning a lot of players who need the reps. But the Patriots also are a veteran-laden team that needs to worry about getting ready for Week 1 instead of going full speed ahead every day in camp — which was reflected on Friday, when 21 players sat out practice nursing injuries. Belichick has to find the right balance of getting his players enough reps to get them ready for the regular season, but not so much that he wears them out before the season even begins.
■ The most interesting position battle is at running back, where it’s easy to make a case for all seven on the roster, but realistically only four or five will stick. LeGarrette Blount appeared to have the leg up to be the primary running back, but after coming to camp out of shape, failing his conditioning test, and then suffering an injury on Friday, he hasn’t exactly impressed the coaching staff. Jonas Gray, meanwhile, has looked powerful and swift, dropping 10 pounds to 225. And the battle for the “Shane Vereen role” has been very tense — James White is the presumed favorite as last year’s fourth-round pick, but Travaris Cadet has been by far the most dynamic runner so far, and one of Dion Lewis’s bosses on a previous team is convinced he’s going to have a big role for the Patriots, who apparently beat out several teams for Lewis’s services.
Private life not so private
An unfortunate side effect of the NFLPA’s lawsuit against the NFL was that Tom Brady’s e-mails got entered into public record by his attorneys. It couldn’t have been too fun for Brady to have some of his private business put into the open, but one e-mail in particular offered a fascinating window into Brady’s frame of mind — a window he hasn’t opened much for the public in his 15 years as a superstar quarterback.
The e-mail from 2012 was sent to Father Joe, the priest at Brady’s old high school (Junipero Serra in San Mateo, Calif.) who asked Brady if he wanted to partner up on a book that would be framed around Brady’s relationship with Tom Martinez, his longtime quarterback coach who died in 2012.
Brady’s answer was deep and profound.
“Books are a project that I’m not prepared to confront yet — physically, mentally or spiritually,” Brady replied. “It’s a premature discussion as I have so many more chapters in my life that I’m looking forward to, on and off the field. In my mind, an autobiography [at least mine] should be memoir of one’s life, not just snapshot of a few years.”
The NFL is partnering with the Canadian Football League this fall to implement and monitor a new concussion test, the King-Devick Test, which is based on eye movement and will be utilized in CFL games. The NFL will contribute funding and help monitor results to help determine if the K-D Test improves the ability to diagnose concussions.
Great stat in the New York Daily News last week: The Jets have had 10,196 offensive snaps since left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson was drafted in the first round in 2006, and Ferguson has played in every one. Now, if only he could play quarterback . . . Aldon Smith to the Cowboys in 3, 2, 1 . . . The NFL has to be nervous about this year’s Super Bowl at the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, as the condition of the turf has been a mess since the stadium opened last year, due in part to California’s historic drought. It’s only August and a game hasn’t been played there this season, yet the 49ers had to cancel a practice scheduled for Sunday at Levi’s because the turf is in poor condition. “We remain confident that our turf management program will provide a playing surface that meets the team’s standards, as we enter the 2015 NFL season,” vice president of stadium operations Jim Mercurio said.
When Ken Stabler died in early July, calls were renewed for him to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The iconic Raiders quarterback was NFL MVP in 1974, was named to the 1970s All-Decade team, and authored some of the most memorable moments in football history (Sea of Hands, Ghost to the Post, Holy Roller).
Can you match these Hall of Fame quarterbacks of Stabler’s era with the statistics below?
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ben Volin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.