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NFL owners approve new catch rule

Dez Bryant’s overturned catch in January 2015 helped set in motion the push for a revised catch rule. andrew weber/USA Today

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ORLANDO — NFL owners unanimously approved the proposal to change the league’s catch rule during a Tuesday afternoon vote at the annual meetings.

The main point in the overhaul of the rule is that a player is no longer required to maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground.

In other words, you can scrap the term “surviving the ground” from your football lexicon.

The new standard creates three elements of a catch (or interception): control, being inbounds, and a football move.

A football move is considered any act common to the game, including a third step, tucking the ball away, extending toward the goal line or the first-down marker, turning upfield, or a motion to ward off an opponent.


A player must control the ball long enough to clearly establish himself as a runner.

The proposal for a simplified catch rule was unveiled last week by NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron.

“We’ve basically rewritten the rule,’’ Riveron said at the time.

Under the new rule, some controversial plays from recent seasons — most notably for Patriots fans would be the overturned catch by Steelers tight end Jesse James in the December showdown in Pittsburgh — would not have been overturned.

Riveron overturned that game-changing catch after determining that James hadn’t “survived the ground.’’ New England clinched the game on the next play, securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Perhaps the most notable overturn in NFL history came in the 2014 divisional round when Dallas’s Dez Bryant had an apparent touchdown catch against the Packers in Green Bay overturned. That catch would now be legal as well.

The simplified catch rule, which by no means will eliminate controversial plays, was one of a number of new rules approved Tuesday. Owners also made permanent the rule that changes the spot of the line of scrimmage after a touchback to the 25-yard line.


Additionally, a rule was approved that “authorizes the designated member of the officiating department to instruct on-field game officials to disqualify a player for a flagrant non-football act when a foul for that act is called on the field.’’

If this rule had been in place last season, it’s possible Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski could have been ejected for his egregious hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White for which he received a 15-yard penalty. He was later suspended for a game.

Owners also approved a proposal made by the Broncos, allowing teams to trade players who are on injured reserve. And finally, according to a tweet from NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. The player may be disqualified. Applies to any player anywhere on the field. The player may be disqualified.”

Four bylaws also were changed, the most notable of which was a proposal by the Broncos that now allows clubs to trade players who are on the injured reserve list.