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Player safety changes might be subtle at NFL Annual Meeting

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

This week's NFL Annual Meeting will be more subtle in terms of player safety if the agenda holds to form.

There will be no major player safety measures passed, like the crown-of-the-helmet rule or the line-overload rule. There will be proposals for broadening the clipping penalty and expansion of game rosters for Thursday games when the meeting starts Sunday in Orlando.

The agenda will include a myriad of items over four days. But from a player safety standpoint, the bulk of the changes probably will come Monday or Tuesday, when owners are expected to vote on rules changes.

The biggest player safety rule change is expected to be an alteration to the definition of the clipping penalty, which will outlaw defenders being blocked on their side.

"All it does is extend -- we granted what we call 'roll-up' protection or protection from players rolling up the back of a player's legs -- that protection from the back to the sides," NFL Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said Wednesday. "We saw some plays on tape that we just felt like we needed to expand that protection."

The other player safety rules proposals include:

  • 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.
  • Involving the NFL command center in decisions of replay reviews, adding more consistency in officiating, especially in player safety calls; it also is expected to shorten time for video reviews.
  • 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.
  • Eliminate 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 one rule the competition committee won't propose is one aimed at racial slurs during games. Committee members said that rule already exists as part of the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

Instead, racial slurs will become a point of emphasis for referees this season. McKay said the committee saw the need for this move after a rise in taunting penalties from nine in 2012 to 34 in 2013.

"We have had discussions with coaches, with the coaches committee, with the players association, etc.," committee member and St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "It is a significant point of emphasis for us this year. We are going beyond the field of play. We are going to the workplace. We are going to respect for this game and so forth.

"There are going to be numerous discussions with respect to the topic and we are going to move forward. ... We recognize that we need to clean up a lot of the activity on the field as well."

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