When NFL owners get together around this time each year, new ideas are passed around with ways to possibly make the game more enjoyable for fans or to make the competition more fair according to the evolution of the sport.
This year, it was all about the safety.
Here are four rules adopted by the owners for the upcoming football season, according to NFL.com:
» The initial force of a blindside block can’t be delivered by a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent’s head or neck. An illegal blindside block will bring a 15-yard penalty.
» Initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver also will draw a 15-yard penalty. “Our clear movement is to getting out of the striking in the head area,” NFL officiating director Mike Pereira said. “We’re reading about injuries that say spinal and vertebrae. We’ve got to try something.”
» On kickoffs, no blocking wedge of more than two players will be allowed. A 15-yard penalty will go to a violating team.
» Also on kickoffs, the kicking team can’t have more than five players bunched together pursuing an onside kick. Breaking this rule would draw a 5-yard penalty.
As you can see, all four rules address problems which have led to injuries. As Pereira said, the NFL wants to limit contact to the head to prevent long-term injuries and health concerns.
Of these new rule changes, the third one — about no more than two players on a blocking wedge — will probably most affect the Bears. The Bears have one of the best combos of kick returners in the league in Devin Hester and Danieal Manning, and with the new rule, special teams coordinator Dave Toub will have to find new ways to spring his guys loose.
Of course, this particular rule doesn’t just affect the Bears; we’ll probably see kick returns drop off throughout the league.
One of the other items discussed, but was not actually a rule change, was the contact on a quarterback. Defenders who are on the ground cannot lunge at a quarterback. This came about after Tom Brady missed the entire season this past year after suffering an injury when the Chiefs’ Bernard Pollard lunged at his leg after being knocked to the ground.
We all know how the NFL likes to protect its pretty boys — er, um, “faces” of the league. It’s not as if the NFL is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy in today’s faltering economy. God forbid, if the NFL loses players like Brady, America’s most dedicated fans are going to stop watching America’s sport, right?
Come on. I’ve long been an opponent of rules that “protect quarterbacks.” The NFL is not going to suffer financially or lose a great deal of viewers if a dozen starting quarterbacks get placed on IR and fans have to watch backups instead. The NFL fan loyalty is unmatched by any other professional sport and cannot be deterred.