By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
The biggest player safety rules change for the upcoming season might be one already on the books.
Members of the NFL Competition Committee said Wednesday they will urge the league's owners to make on-field abusive language a point of emphasis by officials for the 2014 season.
Speaking during a conference call previewing the Annual League Meeting scheduled for next week in Orlando, committee member and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said no new rule was needed to take care of abusive language. It already falls under the league's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that governs foul language on the field.
"In Rule 12, Section 3 it states that 'abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates or officials, or representatives of the league, is unsportsmanlike conduct,' " he said. "The 'N-word' would fall under that category. The officials would be empowered to call a foul if there's racial slurs or statements regarding a player's sexual orientation or baiting with insulting verbal abuse.
"It's going to be a very significant point of emphasis."
NFL Media chief health and safety correspondent Andrea Kremer reported Tuesday to expect such action by the Competition Committee.
Atlanta Falcons president and committee chairman Rich McKay said the NFL officiating department will provide education for the players, coaches and officials on what will be called in terms of verbal abuse.
"It will be very clear how it will be called this year when the officiating department goes to see all the clubs," McKay said. "
The legislation of the "N-word" became an issue during the investigation of the Miami Dolphins locker room, where it was discovered that the racial slur was used freely. It opened up a greater discussion of the verbal abuse on and off the field.
The committee announced Wednesday other player safety proposals, including some from them as well as individual teams. Those proposals include:
- Raising the number active of list players from 46 to 49 on games played other than Sunday and Monday. That would address some players' concerns over the lack of quality play during Thursday night games.
- Increasing the practice squads from 8 to 10 players.
- Eliminating the cut-down day of 75 players after the third preseason game, leaving one cut-down to 53 players the day after the final preseason game. Some coaches say that would be all for more player development and safety.
- Moving kickoffs to the 40-yard line to cut down on injuries during special teams play.
- Altering the rule that prohibits rolling up the back of a defender's legs to also outlawing rolling up the side of his legs.
- No stopping of the play clock when a quarterback is sacked.
- Allowing any player to return to the roster from injured reserve list, on which currently one player can return after six weeks.
A proposal that would allow the NFL Command Center to help decide replay calls also is expected to receive a great amount of discussion among owners. But the Command Center would not be able to initiate challenges.
"It's just tied to replay; that's all it is tied to," McKay said. "One of the things we're trying to achieve is consistency and also efficiency. What you will have is three-way communication between the replay official in the stadium, New York's central command and the wireless headset communication to the head referee.
"We're hoping that helps speed up the process for purposes of the referee looking at the appropriate plays in replay. But it is only tied to replay."