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These two NFL rules changes need to be red-flagged

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell accepted a flawed automatic-ejection rule.Luis M. Alvarez

The good news is that the Baltimore Ravens rule that would have turned NFL games into glorified gym class got shot down. The Ravens, burned by the Patriots' ingenious formations in the 2014 season playoffs, proposed ineligible players lining up in eligible positions be required to wear pinnies sporting an eligible number.

If they failed to do so, they would have been forced to report to the principal's office or forego their orange slices.

The bad news is that the NFL powers that be shepherded through some rules that are only slightly less ill-conceived and unnecessary than the Ravens' pinnie proposal during the final day of the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. The league's member clubs enacted some common sense changes during the meetings, like abolishing the chop block and allowing teams more time to designate who returns from injured reserve. Bravo.


But in the rush to get to their black cars to board their private planes home, NFL owners hastily approved two new, notable rules that were half-baked and bound to have unintended consequences. They instituted a red-card rule, to borrow soccer terminology, that would have two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties by one player in a game result in an automatic ejection and moved touchbacks on kickoffs to the 25-yard line

The touchback rule is going to offset the league's efforts to phase out kickoffs. Savvy special teams coaches and kickers are simply going to sky their kickoffs inside the 10 or squib kick rather than surrendering the additional 5 yards of field position. The pop-up kicks will give coverage players more time to get down field and more momentum when they arrive. It's a player safety fail.

The red-card rule is a Roger Goodell special, targeting — who else? — players, those rambunctious, uncouth millionaires who need the Guardian of the Game's guiding hand. The NFL commissioner advocated for it at the Super Bowl, and he found a way to finagle its passing in Florida after it looked dead in the water on Tuesday.


It's a continuation of the theme of Goodell's reign as commissioner — finding a way to crack the whip and crack down on players. Now, the officials can do his bidding for him.

The official reason for the rule is to promote better sportsmanship. But last time I checked it was the players, not the NFL, who initiated the soccer tradition of exchanging jerseys after games, which is a genuine display of respect and sportsmanship.

Put me in Richard Sherman's camp on this one. This rule is a display of autocratic muscle-flexing.

It's just more on-field bureaucratic red tape for the players to navigate, like having to make sure their jerseys are tucked in and their shoes are the proper color.

Goodell said the new rule gives sportsmanship enforcement teeth. But it's just likely to gum up games.

I can't wait for the first star player who is ejected in the fourth quarter of a tight game for exulting in a momentum-turning play, which could be perceived as taunting.

At a time when Major League Baseball is having a very real debate about injecting more personality into its game to attract fans, the NFL is trying to suppress some genuine displays of emotion and animus that make it must-see TV.

Not all of those displays are commendable or kid friendly. The street fight between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman last year was downright embarrassing. There is no place for that type of unhinged behavior on an NFL field. Beckham completely lost his cool and Norman was an obvious instigator.


But this new rule is an overreaction to the officials losing control of that situation.

Like MLB, the topic of what constitutes sportsmanship is really about a generational and cultural divide. Younger players see a lot of these alleged displays of poor sportsmanship as expressing themselves or channeling competitive juices.

Older men in roles of authority see it as poor sportsmanship or disrespect.

Many coaches weren't in favor of the red-card rule. They're fearful that their players could be baited into ejections, and that some NFL version of notoriously egotistic NBA official Joe Crawford could influence the game with an overzealous ejection.

The rule also does nothing tangible for player safety.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today raised an excellent point at Goodell's news conference on Wednesday.

He asked Goodell how it made sense that a player could be tossed from a game for two instances of abusive language or taunting, but a player with two violent head-hunting hits in the same game would remain on the field?

Pelissero pointed out that when Goodell advocated this rule change at the Super Bowl he referenced personal fouls being subject to ejection.

Here is what Goodell said during his State of the League address at Super Bowl 50:


"I believe that the league should pursue a policy where if there are two personal fouls in a game there's an automatic ejection of the player. I believe that's consistent with what we believe are safety issues. But I also believe it's consistent with what we believe are standards of sportsmanship that we emphasize. We should take that out of the hands of the officials when it gets to that point."

Goodell decided an incomplete and malformed version of his vision was better than no avenue for an automatic player ejection rule at all.

While the league is dealing with window dressing issues like sportsmanship and disposition, it took a pass on clarifying the catch rule, which does far more to agitate fans than seeing two players jawing at each other in the heat of competition.

(This one is like the Tuck Rule, abolished three years ago. Don't overthink it, guys.)

How about the NFL addressing that rules travesty instead of getting caught up in Goodell's player punishment crusade?