Don’t expect NFL to make many rules changes
Fans cried out after the NFC Championship game that the NFL should allow referees to use instant replay to correct obvious missed penalty calls.
Fans cried out after the NFC Championship game that an extra official needs to be seated in the instant replay booth to correct obvious missed penalties.
And fans cried out after the AFC Championship game that both teams need to be able to possess the football in overtime.
The NFL heard those cries. But the NFL isn’t going to make those fans happy.
When the 32 team owners gather in Phoenix Sunday through Wednesday for their annual meetings, they will hear several new rules proposals aimed at expanding instant replay, and one, proposed by the Chiefs, that seeks to give both teams a possession in overtime, and eliminate the OT coin toss.
But the chances of any significant changes being made in either area appear to be slim.
“I’m not really excited to have replay expanded, and we’ll approach it with that in mind,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said on Friday.
Of the 17 rules changes proposed for this year — eight by the competition committee, nine by various teams — nine deal with instant replay.
The competition committee proposed two — one that allows pass interference penalties to be included in replay, and one that allows for pass interference, roughing the passer, and unnecessary contact against a defenseless player to be included in replay.
The Redskins submitted two proposals, including one that would allow for any play that occurs in a game to be reviewable. The Chiefs, Panthers, Eagles, Rams, and Broncos also submitted proposals seeking to add plays to instant replay.
But none of the proposals directly address the controversy from the NFC Championship game, when officials missed a blatant pass interference against the Rams that would have sealed the win for the Saints.
None of the proposals call for officials to use replay to throw a penalty flag when one was not originally thrown.
In a conference call on Friday, NFL senior vice president Troy Vincent said there isn’t much support inside the league for using replay to “put a foul on the field.”
“That is something that from the active players, to coaches, other football personnel, there’s been a real reluctance,” Vincent said.
And the NFL doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for adding an official to the instant replay booth, with the power to throw flags that the on-field officials miss.
None of the rules proposals call for a so-called “sky judge,” which is being used in the Alliance of American Football developmental league this spring.
“I would say that that had no support from any member of ours,” said Falcons president Rich McKay, who is the chairman of the competition committee. “We went through a lot of what we thought the benefits could be, and then what the downsides would be, and then came to the conclusion that we didn’t, the eight of us, did not support it.”
That the competition committee doesn’t want to directly fix the error that marred the NFC Championship game is interesting. One of the eight members of the committee is Saints coach Sean Payton.
The Chiefs’ overtime proposal doesn’t seem to have much support, either. The Chiefs, sore about losing the AFC Championship game in OT to the Patriots, proposed a new three-pronged rule regarding overtime: Preseason overtime would be eliminated; both teams would get a chance to possess the football, even if the first team scores a touchdown; and the OT coin toss would be eliminated, with the team winning the pregame coin toss getting first choice in overtime.
McKay told the Globe in January that he wasn’t in favor of changing overtime rules, and Vincent said the same on Friday. The competition committee doesn’t have a vote on the matter — only the 32 owners do, needing 24 votes to pass — but historically the competition committee has a lot of influence on which rules get passed.
“Data tells us since 2001, 80 percent of the time, both teams touch the ball,” Vincent said. “And putting on my old cap, you’ve got to play D. You’ve got to stop the offense. You’ve got to play ball, and typically when people raise [the issue], it’s because they fell short on the other end.”
Instant replay and overtime will dominate the rules discussions, but there are a handful of other interesting proposals.
The Broncos proposed a rule that could add some excitement late in games: In the fourth quarter only, following a touchdown, a team can elect to go for it in a fourth-and-15 situation instead of attempting an onside kick. Not only would this be a higher-percentage and more exciting play than an onside kick, but it is also a safer play, which is music to the NFL’s ears. The NFL dubs this rule the “Greg Schiano rule,” because the current Patriots defensive coordinator came up with the idea about a decade ago.
The NFL has a few player safety rules — making permanent the kickoff rule changes from last year, eliminating all blindside blocks, and allowing the league office to eject players from the instant replay studio.
And the Eagles proposed, but then withdrew, a rule that would force the Cowboys and Lions to play on the road on Thanksgiving every other year. Sounds like the Eagles want the Cowboys to come to their house once in awhile.
As for the Patriots, they will be quiet this coming week. Robert Kraft is expected to arrive on Sunday, and has maintained all of his committee appointments despite his legal issues. Kraft remains on the same five-owner committees as last year, including the management council executive committee, compensation committee, and media committee, of which he is the chairman. But he is not expected to speak publicly until his prostitution case is resolved.
Bill Belichick will probably make his annual appearance at the coaches’ breakfast on Tuesday morning, and that should be the extent of the Patriots’ public voice at the meetings. For the third year in a row, the Patriots didn’t propose any new rules.
Teams opened their checkbooks
Some notes on free agency:
■ The Patriots took a hard look at the smaller receivers available but went 0 for 3 on Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, and Golden Tate. Let’s take a look at the deals those receivers signed:
Humphries, the Patriots’ top target, signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Titans. It comes with a $10 million signing bonus, a $12.5 million total payout in the first year, and $20 million over two years. The Patriots reportedly increased their offer to $10 million per season after Humphries accepted Tennessee’s offer, but it is unclear how they structured the deal, especially the first two years.
The Patriots were also in on Beasley, who signed a four-year, $29 million deal with the Bills. Only the first season is fully guaranteed, but Beasley will make approximately $11 million in 2019, and up to $17 million in two years. And Tate was the last of the group to sign, but he got a surprisingly strong deal from the Giants, considering he’s a soon-to-be 31-year-old coming off his worst season in six years. Tate signed a four-year, $37 million deal, with two years and $23 million fully guaranteed.
I can understand the Patriots not wanting to spend big on Beasley, and even Tate’s deal seems a bit much. But they should have made a better offer to Humphries sooner than they did. He would have been a great fit in Foxborough.
■ Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan is spending money like his job is on the line (which, of course, it is). He paid out $112 million in fully guaranteed money to just four free agents. Linebacker C.J. Mosley gets $51 million over three years, running back Le’Veon Bell gets $27 million over two years, receiver Jamison Crowder gets $17 million over two years, and defensive lineman Henry Anderson gets $17 million over two years.
■ Oh, those wacky Rams. The contract of new safety Eric Weddle is peppered with palindromes. His base salary this year is $4,250,524. Weddle also has a roster bonus of $1,000,001, bringing his total cash intake this year to $5,250,525. The numbers are the same in the second year of the contract. And each year, Weddle has incentives worth $999,999.
The Rams have been putting Easter eggs like this into their contracts in years past, just to have a little fun.
■ Raiders GM Mike Mayock made a great deal with the Antonio Brown trade. Brown’s new three-year deal with Oakland guarantees him $30 million over the next two years, plus another $4.5 million in incentives and roster bonuses. But there is no commitment past the second year, and the money ($34 million over two years) isn’t unreasonable for an elite wide receiver. Then consider that Mayock only gave up third- and fifth-round draft picks for Brown, and this was a home run for the Raiders’ new GM.
■ New Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took the deal that Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater wouldn’t. Fitzpatrick signed a two-year, $11 million deal that pays out $5.5 million both years (2019 is fully guaranteed, while 2020 has $1.5 million guaranteed). Taylor signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Chargers, but with a $6 million payout this year, meaning Taylor will get more to back up Philip Rivers this year than he would have gotten starting for the Dolphins. Same for Bridgewater, who reportedly signed for $7.25 million plus $5 million in incentives with the Saints to back up Drew Brees.
■ Some interesting numbers from Jason Fitzgerald of the website Over The Cap, which tracks every contract in the NFL. The average contract signed this offseason only has 43 percent of the total value fully guaranteed. And NFL free agency has been top-heavy — 22 percent of players signed accounted for 70 percent of the full guarantees. Trey Flowers, Trent Brown, and Mosley got big money and roster security. Most everyone else will be back in free agency in a year or two.
Arians is again at the forefront
Bruce Arians has been at the forefront of providing opportunities for women in the NFL, hiring Jen Welter as the league’s first female coaching intern in 2015 when he was the Cardinals’ coach. Now the Buccaneers’ coach, Arians continues to help women break barriers in the NFL.
Last week, Arians hired Lori Locust as the Bucs’ assistant defensive line coach and Maral Javadifar as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, making the Buccaneers the first NFL team with two female coaches on staff.
Locust is currently coaching defensive line for the Birmingham Iron in the AAF, and was a Ravens coaching intern last year. Javadifar is a former college basketball player who has a doctorate in physical therapy.
“I know how hard it can be to get that first opportunity to coach at the highest level of professional football,” Arians said in a statement. “Sometimes, all you need is the right organization to offer up the opportunity. The Glazer family and our general manager, Jason Licht, were extremely supportive of my decision, and I know Maral and Lori will be great additions to my coaching staff.”
The results are in
A few interesting facts from a conference call Friday with Falcons president Rich McKay, who is the chairman of the competition committee:
■ Liberalizing the catch/no catch rules had its intended effect of reducing the use of instant replay. McKay said there were 35 percent fewer instant replay reviews in 2018 from 2017, and he credited the new language for the catch rule for the reduction.
■ The changes to the kickoff rules also had their intended effect. McKay said that the NFL saw a 35 percent reduction in concussions on kickoff plays, which the NFL has found to be the most dangerous play in the game, with the risk of concussion five times greater than a typical play from scrimmage. The league will make the new rules permanent this year, with the kicking team no longer allowed to make a running start before the kick, and the receiving team required to keep eight players near the line of scrimmage.
Overall, concussions were down 25 percent in 2018. McKay also credited improved helmets and equipment for the reduction.
■ The typical NFL game lasted a little over 3 hours, 4 minutes in 2018, down from 3 hours, 8 minutes in 2015.
The Browns dominate the NFL Draft like the Patriots dominate Super Bowls, with Cleveland owning the No. 1 pick seemingly every year. But this year’s draft will have an odd feel to it, as the Browns will be nowhere to be found on the opening night. For the first time since 2008, the Browns don’t have a first-round pick, after trading it to the Giants for receiver Odell Beckham. Even if the Browns kept their pick, they would have been drafting 17th, unusually low for them — the Browns had a top-10 pick in five of the last seven years, including back-to-back No. 1 picks the last two years . . . Per Matt Barrows of The Athletic, when the 49ers took Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams out for dinner in Tuscaloosa, Ala., they dined at IHOP, which was Williams’s choice. He is a candidate for the 49ers’ No. 2 overall pick, and he probably earned some bonus points for going easy on the team’s expense account . . . Eighteen players this year have a salary cap number of at least $20 million, led by Matthew Stafford at $29.5 million. Only three of the 15 aren’t quarterbacks — edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Lawrence, and receiver Mike Evans . . . The top free agents still available by position: QB Brock Osweiler, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, OL Donald Penn, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Zach Brown, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Eric Berry . . . The contest is over. With Antonio Brown and longtime nemesis Vontaze Burfict both joining the Raiders, and the always entertaining Jon Gruden running the show, the Raiders are the easy and obvious pick for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this August. Don’t overthink it, NFL. Make it happen.