ORLANDO — Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated Wednesday that the top priorities of the NFL are protection and safety as he explained and defended the new “lowering your head” rule at the wrapup of the league’s annual meetings.
Reaction has been swift and strong to the new rule that bans players from lowering their helmet to initiate contact with another player.
The penalty is 15 yards with the possibility of ejection.
“Our focus is on how to take the head out of the game and make sure we’re using the helmet as protection, and it’s not being used as a weapon,” Goodell said, “and that’s the core of what we’re focused on, and I think we made a tremendous amount of progress this week.”
Although Goodell said there was near-unanimous support among coaches for the rule, many players and ex-players have reacted negatively and predicted chaotic results. The commissioner said education is the key to getting everyone on the same page.
“There’s still a great deal of communication and education that has to take place,” he said. “We’ll be doing that over the next 90 days, including going to each club and having players, coaches, medical staffs — all hands on deck at each club — to go through the changes.’’
The rule applies to all players, regardless of position, and the way it reads – “lowering the head to initiate contact with the helmet is a foul’’ — has led to concern that it could result in an excessive amount of penalties that would hurt the flow and extend the length of games.
For example, a running back plowing into a defense or a quarterback crouching down and accelerating into the defense on a sneak play could be subject to a 15-yard flag.
“I don’t know how you’re going to play the game,’’ Redskins cornerback Josh Norman told USA Today. “If your helmet comes in contact? How are you going to avoid that if you’re in the trenches and hit a running back, facemask to facemask, and accidentally graze the helmet? It’s obviously going to happen.’’
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman predicted that the new rule could have the opposite effect of its intention.
“It’s ridiculous,’’ Sherman told USA Today. “Like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket. [It’s] going to lead to more lower-extremity injuries.’’
Hall of Famer Tim Brown said strict enforcement could result in multiple ejections.
“The new targeting rule looks like a disaster waiting to happen!” Brown tweeted. “Unless, the goal is to activate more players on game day, hope so, teams will need them.”
Goodell said he was aware of the concern from players over an increase in penalties, ejections, and fines, and further concerns that they’ll have to relearn how to play.
“You’re jumping ahead to the players who haven’t had the chance to hear the discussion we’ve had,’’ he said.
“I’d give them an opportunity first to understand what the play is before we make a lot of judgments about the ramifications.’’
Part of the impetus for the rule is the NFL’s desire to eliminate the kind of catastrophic hit absorbed last season by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a serious neck injury that left his career in doubt.
“The head, and the lowering of the head, has become too commonplace and it needs to get out of the game,’’ said Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the Competition Committee. “I think the coaches unanimously stood up and said, ‘We’re with it, we understand it’s a major change and we take responsibility.’ ’’
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The league also ruled Wednesday that teams no longer will be required to kick meaningless extra points after a touchdown on the final play of regulation.
The play most recently occurred in the Saints-Vikings divisional-round playoff game when Minnesota scored on a deep pass to clinch the game and New Orleans was forced to summon players who had already gone to the locker room back to the field.