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Owners will implement rules changes but not to overtime

The NFL's overtime procedures are expected to stay the same, but new rules designed to enhance player safety likely will be put in place for the 2009 season.

Those are among the highlights of what will be addressed -- along with big-picture items such as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association -- during the NFL Annual Meeting scheduled to begin Sunday in Dana Point, Calif., has learned.

A source close to the NFL Competition Committee, which met last week in Naples, Fla., to discuss new rules proposals and other matters impacting the game's competitive structure, said the group is recommending to team owners that no changes be made to the current overtime system. Owners are expected to concur.

Some people within the league have suggested the team that wins the coin toss has an unfair advantage, prompting the committee to study the matter and consider revisions. Although there was no real possibility of the NFL adopting the college format that eliminates the kickoff and gives each team the ball from the opponent's 25-yard line, continuing play until there's a winner, the committee did review moving the kickoff from the 30- to the 35-yard line to help make the receiving team's field position less favorable.

However, according to the source, the committee was greatly persuaded by an emphatic opinion that players expressed through a league-wide survey that they didn't want any alterations to overtime (which, in the regular season, ends with the first score in the extra period or when the clock expires, resulting in a tie; for the postseason, teams continue to play 15-minute periods until the first score).

"The players just didn't want any fooling around with it at all," the source said.

Improving player safety is the primary motivation behind three recommendations that are expected to be approved in voting by all 32 team owners during the four-day meeting:

» A defender who hits a defenseless receiver in the head with his helmet or any part of his body will draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and be subject to a fine from the NFL. Call this "The Anquan Boldin Rule." The Arizona Cardinals' wide receiver suffered a fracture of a facial bone that required surgery after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from New York Jets safety Eric Smith last season. Smith wasn't penalized, but he did draw a $50,000 fine and one-game suspension from the league.

» If a pass rusher, who is blocked into the quarterback's legs or into the ground on the way to the quarterback, continues to run or drives forcefully into the player, he'll draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and be subject to a fine. Call this the "Tom Brady Rule." The New England Patriots' quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2008 opener on a hit by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, who claimed the contact happened by "accident" after he was blocked into Brady's leg. Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss disagreed, saying after the game the hit looked "dirty" to him.

» The "wedge," typically formed by the middle blockers on kickoff returns, might be outlawed because it has a long history of causing injuries.

In addition, the committee is recommending that instant replay -- which currently covers certain fumbles -- be expanded to include all fumble plays, including the "tuck rule," whereby a quarterback is deemed to have thrown an incomplete pass rather than fumbled if his arm is moving forward.

This is in response to referee Ed Hochuli's infamous decision last season to blow the whistle after determining, at first glance, that Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler had lost the ball late in a game against the San Diego Chargers via a tuck-rule incompletion. Replays showed that Cutler actually fumbled the ball and the Chargers recovered it, which would have sealed a San Diego victory. Instead, because the whistle had blown, the Broncos retained the ball and later scored a touchdown and a winning two-point conversion.

Under the committee's recommendation, officials will not blow a whistle on such plays. "So, if there's a loose ball, you play through the recovery, and the recovery can be adjudicated on replay," the source said.

Another change the committee is recommending is the elimination of a rule -- put in place at the urging of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher -- that allows teams attempting an onside kick outside of the final five minutes of the game to have a second attempt if the ball goes out of bounds.

Cowher believed the rule was necessary to allow teams to attempt a surprise onside kick at early stages of the game rather than only while attempting a late comeback. Under the proposal, the receiving team would gain possession at the point the ball goes out of bounds.

"The committee came to view it as, 'Why should we reward failure?'" the source said. "If the guy can't kick the ball in bounds, that's his problem."

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