When the NFL tabled the proposal to shorten overtime from 15 to 10 minutes at the Annual League Meeting, it did so with the expectation that a few more weeks of conversation probably would lead to the idea being reconsidered at May's Spring League Meeting.
The Competition Committee will ask teams for input over the next few weeks, committee chairman Rich McKay said this week. While Cowboys executive Stephen Jones, a member of the committee, has suggested that a more comprehensive look at how overtime could be tweaked might be necessary, one official familiar with the committee's thinking and the process does not anticipate that any other changes to overtime would be implemented for the 2017 season.
One wrinkle to watch: The expectation is that the reduction to 10 minutes almost certainly will be approved next month if Commissioner Roger Goodell pushes for it. Any rule change needs three-quarters support among majority owners. A straw poll taken in March showed only nine of the 32 were opposed, so it would take just one owner to change his mind. But while it seems likely Goodell would support a measure put forward on player-safety grounds, and members of the committee believe he does support it, it is unclear right now how much he will lobby for it.
Meanwhile, fan reaction on social media has been swift and largely negative, much of it based on the premise that a shortened overtime would lead to more ties.
According to NFL Network research, there have been 83 overtime games in the last five seasons, 22 of them lasting at least 10 minutes into overtime (the average time elapsed in OT in the last five years is 7 minutes, 43 seconds). In those five seasons, five games ended in a tie, an average of one per year. If overtime had ended after 10 minutes, there would have been 16 total ties, for an average of 3.2 per season. Since the creation of the modern overtime rules in 1974, there has never been more than two ties in a single season.
But it might not be such a straight line from fewer minutes to more ties.
Coaches don't think a shorter overtime definitely would lead to more ties. Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien supports the proposal and said coaches coach to the clock. So if it passes, he expects more aggressive play calling -- maybe the occasional onside kick, for instance -- to be the result.
"It may change certain strategies -- you'll see more risk-taking to gain possessions," O'Brien said. "I don't want to see a bunch of ties, but I don't think that's going to happen."
O'Brien was part of one of the surprises that rose from the proposal -- the amount of support it got from head coaches, who are often the most resistant to significant rules changes, including the last big one to overtime. (When owners voted to give each team an overtime possession if the first possessing team did not score a touchdown on the initial drive of overtime, Goodell waited for coaches to leave the hotel for their annual golf outing before calling for the vote.) Even McKay said after the new proposal was tabled that he was surprised coaches backed it.
Coaches, though, see up close the effect of long overtimes. NFL Network research showed that in 2016, games that ended in regulation averaged 127 offensive snaps. The average number of additional offensive plays in overtime games was 19, so there was a 15 percent average increase in plays. That is the average, though. It likely did not help the Seahawks, for instance, that they played to a 6-6 tie in Arizona on a Sunday night -- a game that included 31 additional offensive plays for both teams combined -- before they flew to New Orleans for an early start (and a loss) the next Sunday.
The Competition Committee is worried about the potential of even shorter turnarounds -- what if the Seahawks had to play on Thursday night after that long overtime -- and the toll it would take on players. Unspoken, but undoubtedly a consideration in this scenario, is that the quality of play on Thursday night almost certainly would decline, too.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is all for the shorter overtime, too, because he thinks a team coming off a long overtime game is at a real competitive disadvantage the following week.
"Ten minutes seems long enough," he said. "Usually by 10 minutes, you're just trying to survive the last five."
The resistance to shorter overtime that Jones surmised was the concern that it would again cause more overtimes in which an unfair advantage is given to the team that wins the OT coin toss. That was what the rule change that allowed a second possession (if the first possession did not result in a touchdown) was intended to fix -- before that, Competition Committee members worried that a Super Bowl, played in the age of super-accurate kickers, would be decided by a long field goal after a team won the overtime coin toss and drove just a few plays. The New England Patriots scored a touchdown this year to win the first overtime Super Bowl, but Jones suggested that the fact that the Falcons never touched the ball is still weighing on some minds.
Still, don't expect the NFL to go to a college-style overtime format, in which one team gets the opportunity to score from inside the opponent's territory and then the other team gets the same opportunity. (And it continues that way, until one team has more points.) The NFL is reluctant to try anything that could be seen as gimmicky.
The 10-minute overtime is considered the best compromise -- enough time to determine a victor in most cases without adding too many additional plays at a time when player safety is a front-burner issue. For all the hand-wringing the proposal has generated, the Competition Committee -- and, members say, the players they discussed it with -- think it is the best way to address concerns about overtime.
As for the concern that there will be more ties? Members of the Competition Committee shrugged it off. If it happens, McKay and Giants owner John Mara said, ties make for a better playoff tiebreaker than something like point differential anyway.