PHOENIX – Say goodbye to the hood and the leaper.
NFL owners approved eight new rules, including centralized replay and banning the “leaper” play, during the league’s annual meeting Tuesday.
By switching to centralized replay, game referees will no longer jog to the big black hood adjacent to the stands. Instead, the referee will use a tablet on the sideline to communicate with the league office in New York. While the referee will have input, the final ruling on all calls will rest with Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating.
Blandino explained the process of how the league will handle times when multiple challenges happen simultaneously.
“There are three people in the room, myself, a senior director of officiating, and one of our officiating supervisors that makes decisions,’’ he said. “So we have one person that is assigned to each game and they’re responsible for calling things to our attention. We had a real good year last year with three people in the room dealing with that early window on Sunday, and if there are up to three challenges at once we can handle that . . . We feel comfortable with the early window of games.’’
The leaper play, where players hurdle opponents at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to block an extra point or field goal, was eliminated because of player safety concerns.
“When we looked at the video, some guys were ending up on their head,’’ Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said shortly before the vote. “We don’t want to be reactionary in our thinking. We don’t want to wait until a catastrophic injury happens before we do something to remedy what we’re looking at.’’
Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin was successful on a leaper play last season and attempted it again in the Super Bowl, but the play was wiped out by a penalty.
According to NFL Research, 41 kicks were blocked last season (20 field goals and 21 extra points) and three of those blocks were executed by a leaper.
The league also passed a rule calling for automatic ejections for egregious hits to the head, similar to the targeting rule enforced in college football.
Additionally, receivers running routes, whether they’re tracking the ball or looking back to the quarterback, will now be afforded defenseless player protection.
The rule regarding the ejection of players penalized twice in a game for specific unsportsmanlike calls was made permanent after undergoing a one-year trial period during the 2016 season. Also passed was a rule making crackback blocks illegal if thrown by a backfield player in motion, even if he is not more than 2 yards outside the tackle box when the ball is snapped; and teams will be penalized for committing fouls in order to manipulate the clock inside of two minutes of either half.
A proposal to allow coaches to challenge every play — including noncalls — was rejected as was an idea to place the ball at the 20 on touchbacks when the kicker sails the ball through the uprights.
Days of praise
Bill Belichick skipped the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning to do some scouting at Florida’s Pro Day, but he was still a big topic of conversation at most of the tables.
Many coaches were impressed — yet hardly surprised — at the success of the Patriots’ offseason moves on the heels of the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title last month.
“He’s not slowing down,’’ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “He is stumbling over all the rings he’s winning.’’
Harbaugh said Belichick’s drive is what keeps the Patriots consistently at the top.
“I think the Patriots always do a great job,’’ he said when asked about the team’s trades and free agent signings. “Bill and his whole staff, his scouting department, they’re phenomenal [at] what they do and they’re having another excellent offseason.’’
Sean McDermott, who recently succeeded Rex Ryan as Bills coach, was pretty succinct in his assessment of New England’s wheeling and dealing.
“That’s why I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning,’’ he said.
Fellow AFC East coach Adam Gase, who took the Dolphins to the playoffs last season in his first year at the helm, took an opposite approach.
“We can’t worry about them,” Gase told reporters. “We have to worry about what we’re doing and focus on getting better ourselves.
“We just have to find a way to get better ourselves, and when it’s time to play those guys, we have to compete better than we did last year.’’
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t sound overly convincing when he said he hadn’t “thought a lot about’’ New England’s moves.
Sunday in Mexico?
The NFL is planning to release its full schedule in mid April, and according to a league source, officials are targeting mid November for the Patriots-Raiders game in Mexico City.
The most popular date being bandied about is Sunday, Nov. 19, which would be just four days before Thanksgiving. Last season the Raiders hosted the Texans in Mexico City on the Monday night before the holiday.
Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted in February when the game was announced that the league would avoid another Monday night in Mexico City after receiving logistical complaints.
“I think right now we’re leaning toward a Sunday game on the basis that playing on a Monday night on a holiday weekend — it was Thanksgiving week — it was difficult for the teams getting home that late at night on a short week,’’ the commissioner said in February.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is looking forward to the matchup.
“We actually have a number of fan clubs in Mexico, so we’re excited and we have a good Hispanic [fan] base,’’ he said. “We’re really excited about going there.’’
In regards to the Patriots opener, Kraft said he’s more focused on celebrating rather than whether Goodell will be in attendance.
“I think I’ll let you all ask him that,’’ said the owner. “Look, he’s commissioner of the league. We all know he has the right to go wherever he wishes to go.
“And if he wants to come, he’s welcome to come. We’re happy that we’ll be celebrating our fifth banner, and he can decide whether he wants to be there.’’
Long joins Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to terms on a two-year contract with defensive end Chris Long, who won a Super Bowl last season with the Patriots. He had four sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 16 games for New England and was an integral part of a defense that allowed an NFL-low 250 points. Long apparently wanted to be more than a rotational player, so he went the free agent route . . . Dallas tight end Jason Witten has signed a four-year contract extension that virtually guarantees the 14-year veteran will spend his entire career with the Cowboys. The extension has a maximum value of $29 million with no new guaranteed money and gives the Cowboys the flexibility to restructure and create about $4 million in cap space.