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2024 rule changes

New rules proposed by teams are direct from the recycle bin

Many previously failing proposals are returning for consideration this year



The NFL released a set of proposals under consideration for the owner’s meeting at the end of the month which address 4 rules changes and 8 that are categorized as resolutions or bylaws amendments. There will be an additional set of proposals released by the Competition Committee in the coming days.

When a team makes a proposal, the Competition Committee does have the option of taking it for its own, usually because it aligns with a change they would propose. When the team is backing the proposal, it means the Competition Committee declined to put its imprimatur behind it, and it is up to the team to demonstrate the need for the rule change to the owners.

Without the support of the Competition Committee, a proposal faces an uphill climb for passage, although there were a fair number of team proposals that did pass last year. Interestingly this year, we are seeing a fair number of proposals that were either tabled or withdrawn last year.

Rule proposals

The Lions have reanimated their proposal from last year (and one that has circulated by the Lions and other teams in the past) to allow a coach to be awarded a third challenge if any of the first two challenges are successful. Since replay was reinstituted in 1999, the third challenge has only been available if both of the first two challenges by a coach are successful. In that time, more plays have become the jurisdiction of a booth review, saving the coach from using a challenge on high profile plays. Only 8 times has a head coach earned a third challenge and used it. In all 8 cases, the third challenge failed. (There is no provision for a fourth challenge if the first three are successful.)

The Colts are also attempting to expand replay to include challenging any yellow penalty flag on the field or allowing the replay official to do so on any play in its jurisdiction. (Due to clunky wording of the proposal, this is has been misinterpreted to allow a coach’s challenge of a foul inside the 2-minute warning.) Currently, the only foul that is reviewable is 12 players on the field because it is plainly objective. Other fouls may be called if there is a different reviewable element, for instance the line of scrimmage is reviewable, which could factor into an illegal forward pass penalty. The Competition Committee would definitely dissuade owners from passing a broad rule like this. The proposal would expand the scope to replay to enter into areas that go against its core mechanics: to overrule only on clear and obvious evidence, not by reofficiating the play. The failure of reviewing pass interference calls in 2019 can be attributed largely to this conflict of judgment calls with the ethos of replay. There would just be too few instances that would be slam dunks for replay; anything less is a “stands.”

The Eagles took a failed Broncos proposal in 2019 and tried to get it passed in 2020, 2021, 2023, and now 2024. It is actually one that seems to have some interest, which is a scrimmage substitute for the onside kick. Basically a team could, in lieu of an onside kick, attempt a play equivalent to a 4th & 20 from their own 20-yard line. The location and the to-gain distance have changed from year to year, but it has been repeatedly tabled, likely because there is disagreement on these parameters. While this was under a trial evaluation in the Pro Bowl a few years ago, there doesn’t seem to be enough testing on the grass laboratory to get this to pass.

The Eagles also took a curious step to introduce a completely new rules proposal that removes the return team’s first-touch fallback spot. Basically, a returner can pick up the ball after a kicking team touches the ball first and, in nearly all cases, be assured his team retains possession. If it is fumbled away, then revert back to the first-touch spot. If a safety is scored, then revert back to the first-touch spot. If there is a penalty on the receiving team, it is enforced if accepted, so the one time it would backfire is if the receiving team fumbles the ball away, then commits a foul after the kicking team recovers the ball. While the Eagles cited “player safety” as the reason, I don’t see much headwinds on this proposal. Maybe we will see it proposed again next year.

Bylaws and resolution proposals

The remaining proposals are those that affect the bylaws and the policies of the league, which sometimes have an on-field effect, but are not playing rules changes.

The Lions proposed allowing players to return from injured reserve (or other reserve lists) by going directly to the active list; under current procedures, that player has to wait a day on the return-reserve list before becoming active. The same proposal would allow up to 2 players on injured reserve on the day of the final roster cutdown to be eligible to return; current rules say reservists on that day are out for the season. A second proposal would change other limits in returning players from reserve lists. There is a limit of 8 per season, which the proposal would keep for the regular season, and switch to unlimited in the postseason.

The Bills want the newly re-enacted emergency third-quarterback rule to allow a practice squad player to be eligible to enter the game if the other two quarterbacks have left the game. This was part of the Lions full proposal for the third quarterback rule last year, but a revised version passed which removed practice squad players from the rule. The current rule states that the emergency third quarterback is on the active roster, but one of the five gameday inactive players. The revision last year was apparently to prevent a practice of “stashing” an otherwise viable QB3 on the practice squad to avoid using a valuable active roster position.

With the expanded 18-week regular season, the Steelers are proposing moving up the trade deadline one week to the day after the Week 9 games. Five teams — the Browns, Lions, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, and Commanders — are proposing the Tuesday after Week 10 games.

The Bills added a resolution that moves for more transparency on the injury report when a player does not travel with the team. If there is a noninjury reason for a player not travelling, the injury report should disclose that fact.

The Jaguars are proposing that coaching booths have what is called a “working box” of the NFL’s Hawk-Eye replay system. This apparently was introduced as a trial in the 2023 preseason, and they deem it a success. The Hawk-Eye system allows the replay official to review camera angles that have not yet been broadcast. This system would give a coach’s replay decision makers these tools to evaluate the feasibility of a challenge, rather than waiting for the network to broadcast the relevant angle (if they do in fact air the relevant angle).

Finally, the Eagles have once again proposed that the game clock count down in tenths of a second inside 60.0 seconds in the second and fourth quarters. Timer consoles are not identical in NFL stadiums, nor are the in-stadium displays, meaning there are multiple potential failure points. Beyond the technical hurdles, it is just a bad idea all around. In college football, where schools use the same clock display for track events where fractional seconds are shown, the rulebook is very clear.

The game clock shall not display tenths of seconds.

RULE 3-2-4

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 for tenths on nearly every late-half field goal.

In short, it is a solution in search of a problem. 

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 6:29 pm

    Instead of having to make players inactive just let all 53 guys on the roster be eligible to play. You also should be able to play any QB at any time. Especially if your getting blown out. and fix the Pro Football Hall of fame Voting System it is a Travesty that players like Art Powell, Gary Collins, and Especially Jack Tatum are not in the HOF. Tatum has been blackballed and he is arguably better than any Safety ever elected to the Pro Football HOF. Lester Hayes should be in.

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