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2024 rule changes

Competition Committee wants an XFL-style kickoff and to abolish the hip-drop tackle

6 rules changes and 2 bylaws changes proposed by the Committee

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The Competition Committee has released its proposals for rules changes a week after the team-backed proposals were announced. All rules proposals are up for consideration by the owners at their annual meeting in Orlando next week. A ¾ vote, or 24 votes in the affirmative, are needed to pass any single rules proposal.

The committee’s proposals, including revisions to the bylaws, are below, but are not in the order they were announced (pdf).

XFL-style kickoff comes to the NFL

The Competition Committee usually introduces measured proposals that make significant but subtle changes. This year, they have placed a proposal on the table to completely reconfigure the kickoff play to match what the XFL used in 2023. The merged UFL opted not to use the XFL-style kickoff in their inaugural season.

The kicker will remain at the 35-yard line, but the rest of the kicking team will line up at a restraining line on the opponent’s 40 and spread out according to existing formation rules. The receiving team is lined up in the “setup zone” between their 35 and 30. The kickoff must reach the “landing zone” inside the 20, where no more than two deep receivers are permitted.

Kicking team players must maintain their position on the 40-yard line until the ball touches the ground or a player inside the landing zone. If the ball does not reach the landing zone, it is a penalty enforced the same as a kickoff out of bounds (receiving team’s ball on the 40, or 25 yards in advance of the kick, or 30 yards for a safety kick).

NFL illustration

Additionally, there are provisions to promote kickoff returns. If the kick reaches the end zone on the fly a touchback goes to the 35-yard line; otherwise touchbacks are back to the 20-yard line. The rule on fair catches allowing the receiving team to get the ball at the 25 will expire after its trial year, but that’s not all. Fair catches are not permitted on kickoffs under the proposal — and so much for the fair-catch kick after a kickoff — and are a 5-yard penalty and a dead ball if signaled.

A trailing team in the fourth quarter may declare an onside kick to essentially revert to the format that has been used with the existing formation rules.

The proposed rule, if passed, would only be for the 2024 season, and would require a vote to extend it to the 2025 season and beyond.

There are a few bugs persisting in the proposal. Interestingly, if there is a penalty on an extra-point attempt or immediately afterward, it will move the spot of the kick but not the kicking team restraining line, the setup zone, or the landing zone. However, the rule as written in the proposal does not match the bullet-point summary of the proposal, so this will require additional edits. It also appears that major fouls by the defense on touchdown plays cannot bridge to the kickoff, they must be assessed on the extra-point attempt. The proposal is ambiguous on fouls that could carry to the kickoff on field goals and safeties.

As we take a little more time to play out the scenarios, there likely will be additional questions. With all these questions already percolating, this proposal likely does not get passed at the owners meeting, but is either postponed to the spring meeting in May or rejected outright.

Double fouls on possession changes

When there is a change of possession due to a turnover or a kick, the team keeps the ball as long as it gained possession with “clean hands” — that is, a penalty by that team was not committed prior to the change of possession. (Some receiving team fouls with the ball in the air can be considered post-possession as a means to reduce the number of rekicks.)

If there is a foul by the team surrendering possession prior to losing possession, the penalty must be declined in order for the recovering team to keep possession, since the enforcement would negate the possession change.

When there are fouls by both teams and a change of possession, it gets complicated. If both fouls are after the change (or “Double/After”) then it is enforced as an offset at the spot of the recovering team’s foul. However, the team that loses possession gets a pass if their foul occurs prior to the change of possession (double foul with a change, or “Double/With”), because the offset would nullify the change of possession. In that case of a Double/With, the team that gains possession must decline their opponent’s foul and enforce their own to keep possession.

The Competition Committee is proposing that major fouls (unnecessary roughness/unsportsmanlike conduct) by a team prior to losing possession are enforced as if they are in the Double/After enforcement. Basically, the major fouls can carry over the possession change and are enforceable.

If a team does not have a clean-hands recovery, the double foul negates the possession change. If there is a minor penalty prior to the change, this is still a Double/With, and that foul would be declined, enforcing the recovering team’s foul. The enforcements of these double fouls are illustrated here, except the diagrams are not updated to match the proposed rule.

Abolish hip-drop tackles and crackback blocks by motion man

There are two player-safety proposals on the table from the Competition Committee.

First is to abolish a hip-drop tackle, where the defender wraps the ball carrier and uses a combination of dropping his body weight into a pull and swinging into and trapping the runner’s legs. This was co-signed by the Health & Safety Advisory Committee.

Last year, the player’s union spoke out against such a rule.

“A lot of rules that were put in place over the last 10-plus years that made the game a lot safer were big adjustments for players,” Falcons defensive lineman and NFLPA vice president Calais Campbell said. “I don’t understand how you can police it the right way and allow us to do our job.”

Update: The NFLPA released a statement on their continued opposition to the rule.

The players oppose any attempt by the NFL to implement a rule prohibiting a “swivel hip-drop” tackle. While the NFLPA remains committed to improvements to our game with health and safety in mind, we cannot support a rule change that causes confusion for us as players, for coaches, for officials and especially, for fans. We call on the NFL, again, to reconsider implementing this rule.

Additionally, the Competition Committee added an additional crackback block to those considered illegal. A crackback block generally stated is a block that occurs against a defensive lineman that is engaged in a lateral movement of a offensive backfield blocker and is either a low block, spearing, or launching. When the lateral movement goes beyond the spot where the snap occurred, such a crackback block is legal.

The proposed rule would make it illegal for a man in motion who has passed the spot of the snap in his movement to contact the defensive lineman at the knee or lower (while retaining a below-the-waist rule for other low-block crackbacks). Additionally, this motion man who has crossed the plane of the snap cannot spear or launch.

The inclusion of the Health & Safety Committee in the hip-drop tackle is probably there to offset any pushback by the NFLPA at the owners meetings. Typically, player-safety proposals from the Competition Committee are an easy approval.

Replay expansion

The Competition Committee is also adding additional situations for replay to review.

First, they would quite simply allow the replay official to verify if a snap occurred prior to the expiration of the period. This is done in the envelope of a replay assist, and not a part of a regular under-the-hood replay review nor subject to a coach’s challenge.

Second, the kickoff proposal above has a provision to have replay assist on whether the kick legally made it to the landing zone.

Finally, it is proposed that a pass could be permitted if a quarterback is ruled on the field to have stepped out of bounds, but replay has him in bounds prior to the pass. Currently, a pass could be nullified if replay puts the passer out of bounds, but it can’t reverse an out-of-bounds passer to suddenly be live. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened before.

In the 2020 AFC Championship game, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was ruled out of bounds before throwing an incomplete pass. Replay showed his foot was slightly off the ground, and not yet out of bounds, so the loss of yardage was reversed in replay to just a loss of down (incomplete). At the time we pointed out that this was an incorrect use of replay.

Despite the no harm/no foul nature of this reversal, it was quietly swept under the rug, but it should not have because of the inconsistencies it creates in other related circumstances.

The rule also permits the same reversal to occur if the quarterback is ruled down by contact, but is not down by review.

Just as fumble recoveries are permitted after a whistle, the flight of a pass will be allowed to continue until it is complete, intercepted, or incomplete. If it is caught, no advance would be permitted, but the spot of the catch would be granted. If it is incomplete, the down counts, but there is no loss of yardage.

This rule will likely be refined slightly to clarify that there is only one step permitted by the passer prior to the throw. The way it is currently written, there is an opening to allow a pass to occur well after the reversed dead-ball call.

Other than the kickoff provision which depends on the passage of the kickoff rule package, these are straightforward replay proposals that are likely to be passed.

Bylaws proposals

The Competition Committee released two proposed bylaws amendments that align with proposals by the Lions and Bills but differ on technical grounds.

The Competition Committee is adopting the Lions proposal that players can immediately return to practice from a reserve list, instead of a transitional day between. The Lions also proposed that up to 2 players on the reserve list on roster cutdown day be eligible for return. The Competition Committee adds that players on reserve on that date can only be returned if they are designated for return on cutdown day and count against the 8 permitted reserve returns, whether or not that player actually does return to the active roster.

The Lions separate proposal on unlimited returns for the postseason is not included in the Competition Committee’s proposal.

There is a difference in wording for the emergency third quarterback rule proposals by the Bills and by the Competition Committee. Basically, the proposal is to allow a practice squad player to be elevated to the roster as an emergency QB3 and return to the practice squad. There are several provisions on contracting, the number of times this can be done with a player (3 elevations per season) and how many players each week (2 players). An emergency QB3 could be elevated an unlimited number of times, as it is proposed. It seems to differ that such a player counts towards the 2 elevations (Competition Committee) or not (Bills).

Quite frankly, the language is a little fuzzy here, and depending on which proposal passes (if either one does) there should be more clarity forthcoming on the change.

The proposals that were presented by teams can be found here:

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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    March 20, 2024 at 6:24 pm

    How about this rule if one team commits two penalties on a play and the other team only one. It is not offsetting. Plus if a team gets a holding penalty and the other team commits a personal foul Enforce both penalties. Get rid of Walt Anderson as head of officiating and replace him with Ed Hochuli. Walt Anderson plays by his own rules. Also stop putting all these games on Streaming platforms. Because when watching something on Streaming you are stuck on that channel or Game. Move the Draft back to Saturday and Sunday. So people can actually have a Draft party. Here is another rule change Get rid of Roger Goodell. Enforce the Rules against Owners such as Bob Kraft who got away squeaky clean after his happy Ending at the Shady Massage Parlor. Modify the illegal contact zone from 5 to 10 yards. Which would bring back bump and run coverage. Make it harder on the offense. Almost every single rule ever has been to help the offense. Go back to giving the offense the ball at the 20 instead of the 25 on Kickoffs Look at the CFL Rules for kickoffs and punts. I like if you don’t return the ball out of the endzone on a kickoff its a safety and the 1 point rouge rules.
    Makes coaches especially Special Teams coaches do something.

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