Competition Committee ponders issues with defenseless receivers

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

The Competition Committee has spent the past two days talking to coaches, general managers and owners at the NFL Annual Meeting about possible rules and bylaws changes. On Monday afternoon, the group explained their views to the media on some of the player safety issues on the table.

Competition Committee chairman Rick McKay, who also is the president of the Atlanta Falcons, said the committee has considered tightening the rules for what the members call "defenseless receivers."

"We probably spent half a day going through all the video, going over all the hits," McKay said. "I think we saw 61 fouls that were called on defenseless receiver hits. We always look at all the injury data, so we looked at every ACL injury.

"There are really two plays that are really hard to watch from a player's perspective ... But when you watch 50 more plays, you realize that the defensive back, in many instances, is a much, smaller man trying to tackle a much bigger man … and has to go low. And does it many, many, many times with no injury risk to the receiver. So a recommendation of changes wasn't merited. But we watched a lot of tape of it."

McKay said also pointed to the injury numbers, which he said show a major sea change in the way the game has been played.

"I think you can really see between 2013 and 2012 a real change by players, an adaptation to the rules, and to the target zone and moving the target lower," he said. "Some simple statistics on fines for hits on defenseless receivers, we went from 40 in 2012 to 25. (That's) a significant move when you think of injuries, concussion rates for defensive backs and for receivers, both significantly down.

"Every year you say the same thing. 'Boy, all you're doing is helping the offense, and you're killing the defense.' but in reality it was a health measure … for both players, and I think we saw that this year. "

Among the player safety rules changes the owners are expected to vote on either Tuesday or Wednesday:

  • Altering the definition of the clipping penalty, which would outlaw defenders being blocked low on their side as well as from behind.
  • Moving the kickoff line to the kicking team's 40-yard line to cut down on injuries during special-teams play.
  • Eliminate overtime periods from preseason games that are tied after regulation time to take away possible excessive opportunities for injuries during exhibition games.
  • Discontinuing the stopping of the play clock after a quarterback is sacked for consistency in clock management by referees.

The player safety bylaws that have been proposed are:

  • Increase the number of players on the active roster for each game from 46 to 49, allowing for more substitutions and greater flexibility for player safety, especially on Thursday night games when players have had four days to heal from Sunday's games.
  • Increasing the number of players on the practice squad from eight to 10, allowing for greater flexibility for rosters, thus adding player safety buffers.
  • Eliminating the cutdown day to 75 players that normally occurs after the third preseason game, creating only one mandatory cutdown day to 53 after the final preseason game. It would provide more development for players and add a buffer for player safety during training camp.

The committee reiterated Monday that it can't comment on rules or bylaws proposed by individual teams. For instance, that includes all of the player safety bylaw proposals.

However, McKay did discuss the proposal to move kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 40, which was proposed by the Washington Redskins. He said head injuries already are significantly down on kickoffs since they were moved from the 30 to the 35.

"We watched all the injury tape," he said. "Same as every year, which is how they come in such random ways. But the numbers are so significantly down from a concussion standpoint.

"Since the change was made, obviously the returns are substantially down, too, but I don't think there was any sentiment to eliminate or modify the kickoff. Washington has a proposal, which they will present tomorrow, but otherwise, there hasn't been much discussion."

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