ORLANDO, Fla. -- Even before the NFL Annual Meeting moves into full swing Monday, the league's Competition Committee met Sunday to review what might turn out to be the least significant set of rules changes in several years.
In recent years, owners have approved rules at these meetings that altered the shape of the game. Last year, they approved the rule prohibiting hits with the crown of the helmet made by ball carriers in the open field, a nod to increased attention on player safety. Before that, the owners pushed through changes to overtime, voting -- after years of discussion -- while the coaches who were opposed to it were out on the course for their annual golf outing.
But despite the presence of proposals for 13 playing rules and seven bylaws on the meeting agenda, nothing so game-altering is likely to interrupt the rare downtime coaches and their families have at these meetings. The biggest looming issue -- the expansion of the playoffs to 14 teams -- is unlikely to be voted upon at these meetings, although owners said there is now considerable momentum for the idea, which would likely be in place for the 2015 season.
However, while there is plenty to consider -- a proposal, for instance, to extend the goal posts five feet to make it easier to determine if kicks are good and another to place fixed television cameras at the goal lines, end lines and sidelines to help reviews -- there will probably not be much action that is immediately visible on the field.
Giants president, John Mara, a member of the committee, said Sunday that there is little momentum to do anything to alter the extra point, a point of interest ever since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the play had become too automatic. Mara said the committee had discussed ideas for how to make the kick -- which was missed just five times last season -- more competitive, even taking up the topic at Sunday's committee meeting. Mara said there are simply too many different opinions, and he sensed that a proposal from the New England Patriots to make the extra point 43 yards -- which is practically certain to fail -- was put forward simply out of fear that the play might be eliminated altogether. At most, Mara said, owners might approve a one-week preseason experiment in which the extra point is 38 yards, but he has doubts about even that gaining favor from 24 of the 32 owners.
"We've changed the rules, we've made it more difficult for the block team to put pressure on the kicker, there has been an evolution of kickers, snapper and holder," Lewis said. "Accuracy of it is relative. Coaches are creative. They'll create new ways to get pressure."
The biggest change to how the game is played might come from New York. A Competition Committee proposal would have the officiating command center consult with the referee during replay reviews. This falls short of fully centralized reviews -- which would be conducted solely in New York, an idea that most coaches do not like, Lewis said, because they prefer to hear explanations directly from the referee on the field -- but the proposal might help eliminate what Lewis said were three or four instances of the review being judged incorrectly by the referee on the field and improve the consistency of all reviews. The added advantage, Lewis and Mara said: the time for replays could decrease with the extra pair of eyes. Mara wonders if the league is eventually heading in the direction of the college system, where reviews are done in the press box. The concern that has held up that consideration, Mara said, has long been whether the league has 16 people who are capable of doing the job up there for each game.
"At the end of the day, what's going to happen is we're going to make sure that every single review is correct and we feel like this will speed up the instant replay process and timing,'' said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a co-chair of the committee, on a conference call last week. Ultimately, though, the topic that figures to dominate the conversation among the owners, coaches and general managers -- and which takes up considerable space in the Competition Committee's report -- is sportsmanship. There are already rules on the books that dictate behavior on the field, and while there will not be a separate rule to ban the use of racial slurs, this season will see on-field behavior be a major point of emphasis from officials, with violations drawing a 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The situation is exacerbated, Lewis said, by the ubiquity of televisions cameras and microphones on the field that pick up every utterance, necessitating a crackdown on disrespectful behavior. And there would seem to be greater urgency now, with Michael Sam poised to become the first openly gay player in the NFL after the May draft and with the recent Ted Wells report that detailed behavior in the Miami Dolphins locker room that led to Jonathan Martin leaving the team.
On the conference call, Rich McKay, a co-chair of the Competition Committee, said the number of penalties for taunting nearly quadrupled in 2013, spiking from nine calls in 2012 to 34 last season.
"Respect among players, between players and officials, players and officials, players and coaches, I think that's a major topic," Mara said. "A lot of us are concerned that behavior has gotten to almost unacceptable levels. Most of the attention is focused on the use of certain racial terms. It's more than that. Taunting has gone way up, there were a lot more calls this year and in my opinion not as many as could have been or should have been. We've got to do a better job of creating a workplace with more respect."
If they succeed, on-field behavior might ultimately be as quiet as the other changes that come from this meeting.