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2023 rule changes

Teams toss out 9 new rules proposals hoping some will stick

The NFL released 9 rule change proposals and 6 proposed resolutions or bylaws changes that were submitted by the teams.



The NFL released 9 rule change proposals and 6 proposed resolutions or bylaws changes that were submitted by the teams. All are on the agenda for the annual owners meeting March 26-29 in Phoenix.

What is not included are proposals from the Competition Committee, so these team proposals are ones that the committee decided to pass on. While not a guarantee, the proposals backed by the Competition Committee tend to have an easier path to passage, while teams must make the pitch for their own proposals, which tend to fail more often than not.

The Competition Committee proposals should be announced at some point prior to the owners meeting.

1. We’re number 0 (PHI)

Proposal number 1 is to propose a number 0. The Eagles are looking to return 0 to the pool of numbers available for players.

The numbers 0 and 00 were officially removed from circulation in 1973. From 1952 to 1972, the rulebook specified number ranges which excluded zeroes for offensive players — although, offensive players were able to get an exception from the commissioner. Defensive players could choose any number, a vestigial rule from the days when players would be on offense and defense, with the offensive position necessitating a specific number.

The proposal also expands the entire offensive range of 0-49 and 80-99 for punters and kickers.

2. Onside scrimmage alternative (PHI)

The Eagles are also proposing to allow an onside scrimmage play in place of an onside kick. The team that uses this alternative must be trailing in the score, and it cannot be used more than twice in a game.

This proposal will convert that onside kick opportunity to a 4th & 20 play from the 20-yard line. Quite simply, there is one down to make the first down, including by an automatic first down by penalty. Any penalties that carry over to the kickoff would be assessed before setting the line-to-gain for the onside scrimmage.

If the offense (“kicking” team) is assessed a penalty, they may not revert back to a standard kickoff. Punts and field goal attempts are off the table as well.

This was attempted in a few Pro Bowls with different distances and proposed by the Broncos in 2019 and the Eagles in 2020 and 2021, each time being tabled for further discussion.

3-8. Six replay proposals (LAC, DET, DET, DET, HOU, LAR)

Typically, when there are more than a few proposals in any given year, many focus on replay revisions.

The Chargers would like to see the play clock reset to 40 after a replay stoppage, which can help the offense kill time had there not been a replay. This would make for an odd restart in many situations, because a 40-second play clock with the game clock stopped could be utilized by the offense to try to draw the defense offside with a prolonged time in formation. The proposal does this for all reviews, even outside of the 2-minute warning when time is less critical. An unusual provision would have any 10-second runoff start the play clock at 30, a restart number that the NFL hasn’t seen since 1989.

The Lions have thrown in three rules proposals for replay. First is to have called personal fouls challengeable by the coach. Then, they pulled a perennial proposal from many teams to award a third challenge if either of the first two are successful (currently, both have to be successful). Finally, they are looking to make zone-type penalties reviewable: offensive pass interference for contact more than 1 yard beyond the line, ineligible players downfield more than a yard, and defenders chucking receivers beyond the 5-yard zone. Essentially, any foul that relies on a player to be in or out of a yard-specific zone would be reviewable as to whether the foul occurred in or out of the zone. It does not apply to zones such as the tackle box or the tight-end box which are bounded by imaginary lines, nor does it allow replay to put a flag down if no foul is called.

The Texans seek to have a turnover on downs subject to a booth review, just the same as a turnover by an interception, fumble, or muffed kick.

The Rams propose to have roughing the passer fouls can be overturned by a replay assist (a quick review by the replay official before the play clock reaches 20) or by a coach’s challenge. This would only apply to pick up a flag, not to put one down. The window for this type of a review seems incredibly narrow, in that only an “objective element” of roughing the passer can be reviewed. Basically, this would be a situation where the referee has flagged for contact to the head, for instance, and replay shows that there was no contact. All other criteria would be subjective (landing with full body weight, whether a defender braced himself, etc.) and outside of the scope of this proposed rule.

9. Expand the crackback definition (NYJ)

The Jets are proposing that one of the definitions of a crackback block be expanded for the receiver in motion. Basically, there is a list of prohibited contact (low blocks, forcible contact to the head, etc.) when the motion man is travelling toward the location of the snap and delivering the block. Once the receiver goes beyond the spot where the snap occurred, there is no crackback block. The Jets are looking to make that illegal, in what they call a “split-flow block.”

Additional bylaws and resolution proposals

There are a few additional proposals that do not affect the rulebook.

The Bills proposed that roster transaction deadlines in the postseason match the regular season. The Chargers are looking for greater transparency in injury reporting for players returning from a reserve list, citing “legalization of sports betting” as one of the reasons in a paragraph I assume was plagiarized from Pro Football Talk.

One proposal by the Saints is a near guarantee to pass: to have a single mass preseason roster cutdown from 90 players to 53 on the Tuesday after the preseason ends. There are 24 other teams that have co-signed the proposal, which is more than enough votes as long as there aren’t faithless electors. (24 affirmative votes are needed to pass.) The teams that did not endorse the proposal are the Cardinals, Bengals, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Steelers, and 49ers.

The Lions — and not the 49ers, who ran into a problem in the NFC Championship Game — are proposing a rule that allows an inactive third quarterback to be dressed for the game. Similar to the previous rule that existed, the third quarterback does not count against the active-player limit (46) on gameday. This rule would require the other two quarterbacks to be ruled out, either by injury or ejection. (The last quarterback ejected was Trent Dilfer, 1995.) There are also provisions (mostly salary-related) for using a practice squad players in this way.

The Chargers, a wild-card team that played on the road against the AFC South champion Jaguars, are proposing that a wild-card team should be able to climb up to a number 4 seed. It would only apply if the division winner was below .500 and there is a 4-win differential with any wild card team, which could open things up for a second wild-card team to move up, even though that second team might not have the 4-win edge. In 2022, the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys would have shanked 4 extra points at home, rather than in Tampa, playing the 8-9 Buccaneers.

Finally, the Eagles have an unusual proposal that would require the game clock to count down by tenths of a second inside of 30 seconds in the second and fourth quarters. There are reasons for having tenths in basketball and hockey, but neither really apply to football, especially that the expiration of the period does not stop a play in progress. It also makes it difficult for a line official to develop a countdown rhythm to the expiration of the clock vs. the snap; a situation that would not apply in the seconds leading into the 2-minute warning. The expiration of the half is reviewable only if there is a 2-second differential, which would render such precision meaningless, and changes the mechanics as well. Current NFL game clocks display 1 second for 0.1 to 1.0 seconds, and 2 seconds for 1.1 to 2.0 seconds; this would then mean that what was reviewable at 1.9 would no longer be allowed. The rule that a field goal attempt will take a maximum of 5 seconds (unless it lands in the field of play) would require a clock adjustment on nearly every late-half field goal.

In the college football, Rule 3-2-4 is unambiguous on the issue:

The game clock shall not display tenths of seconds.

In short, it is a solution in search of a problem. And like most of the team proposals, history tells us they will be no more than paper-shredder food.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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