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Here’s how to interpret NFL rule change proposals

Bill Belichick and the Patriots are not proposing any rule changes this year.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots are not proposing any rule changes this year.FILE/BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The NFL’s owners, general managers, and head coaches are in for a drama-free week at the league’s annual meetings.

The Los Angeles situation has been mostly resolved. The NFL and NFL Players Association are still five years away from negotiating another collective bargaining agreement. The concussion crisis has died down for the time being, and the league continues to enjoy unprecedented prosperity.

Instead, the NFL’s power brokers will enjoy three days of tropical weather at the Boca Raton Resort, and vote on 30 proposals pertaining to the rules of the game and the league’s bylaws.

The Patriots chose to sit on the sidelines this year, declining to propose any rule changes after coming up with several over the last few years. But a handful of teams picked up the slack, proposing several changes that can improve player safety, the instant replay system, and the competitive fairness of some of the rules.

The proposals read like they were drawn up by a team of lawyers, and can be difficult to comprehend. But there are unspoken messages behind every proposal, if you parse through the language.


Such as:

■  The Ravens are still miffed about a loss to the Patriots.

Remember when the Patriots pulled the eligible-ineligible tactics against the Ravens in the 2014 playoffs? The formations were 100 percent legal at the time, and a fantastic show of creativity by the Patriots’ coaches. But of course, the Ravens and the NFL competition committee created a rule last year to eliminate the eligible-ineligible tactic, making it illegal for wide receivers and running backs to line up outside the tackle box as ineligible receivers.

But that wasn’t enough for the Ravens. They have proposed another rule to a similar effect this year: If an offensive lineman lines up as eligible, or a skill player lines up as ineligible, the Ravens want that player to wear “a jersey vest matching the team uniform, with an appropriate number for his eligible or ineligible status that has not already been assigned to another teammate.”


Yes, the Ravens want players to wear the same pinnies that you wore in middle school gym class.

We’d laugh this one off and say that it has no chance of passing, but Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is an influential member of the competition committee, so you never know.

■  Several teams agree with Bill Belichick about expanding instant replay and coaches’ challenges.

Belichick proposed for the last two years to remove all restrictions and let coaches challenge any call on the field. The proposals failed each time, but now other teams are taking up the cause for him, including one of his top rivals.

The Bills proposed a rule that would enable coaches to challenge any call except scoring plays and turnovers, which are already automatically reviewed. Washington wants a wide array of personal foul penalties to be reviewable. The Ravens, of all teams, want each team to have three challenges and expand the types of reviewable plays to include pass interference, illegal use of hands, and other close plays.

And several teams other than the Ravens want coaches to have more challenges. Washington wants three challenges instead of two. The Vikings want a third challenge if a coach just gets one of his first two challenges right.


■  There won’t be any more clarity about what is and isn’t a catch.

Of the 30 rules being voted upon, none will attempt to clarify the language around what is and isn’t a catch.

“We’ve got to remember that there’s over 18,000 passing plays a year. That’s 5,000 more than we had in 1990,” said Falcons president Rich McKay, the head of the competition committee. “And we end up every year, we do end up with, let’s say it’s a group of four plays, maybe it’s as many as six out of all of those in which we look at it frame by frame and say, ‘Maybe he got that wrong.’ But in reality, that official, that on-field official is officiating an awful lot of passes every game and getting them right.”

■  The Chiefs are ticked off about that Peyton Manning play in the playoffs.

Remember when Manning slipped, fell to the ground, got back up, and completed a 34-yard pass against the Steelers in the divisional round this past season? The Chiefs apparently didn’t like it, as the Broncos’ main rivals proposed a rule that would make it illegal for a quarterback to throw a pass in such a situation. Instead, he could only be a runner.

■  Something about the intentional-grounding rule ticked off Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

What is it? No one seems to know — not even the competition committee. Rivera wants to expand the definition of intentional grounding, but the wording is vague.

“I think we’ll have to wait until we get to Boca to understand it,” McKay said.


■  Teams are getting creative with their proposals.

There are several that we like. Moving touchbacks to the 25 on a kickoff, as proposed by the competition committee? Big thumbs up. It’s too easy to boot the ball out of the end zone with kickoffs now at the 35.

Increasing game day rosters to 48, as proposed by the Cardinals? Any opportunity to let more players get in the game is good, as far as we’re concerned. Washington also proposes that any Thursday or Saturday game, and any international game, have game-day rosters of 49 players.

Placing concussed players on an “exempt list” to remove them from the active roster until they are cleared to play, as proposed by Washington? Makes a lot of sense, allowing teams the roster flexibility to let their concussed players heal properly instead of having to use one of seven game day “inactives” on them.

And the Chiefs have the most creative proposal of all: Adding penalty yards to the back end of “half the distance penalties.” For example, if a team commits a holding penalty on its 10-yard line, the result will only be a 5-yard penalty. The Chiefs propose to move the ball back 5 yards, but to also move the first down line up 5 yards, still giving the offense a 10-yard penalty.