Reaction to new rule proposals
Some thoughts on the competition committee’s recommendations to the NFL:
*If you really want to stop illegal hits, the way to do it is with suspensions. Fines aren’t going to work. So the league is going to be justified in sitting down repeat offenders like Pittsburgh's James Harrison.
It’s clear someone like Harrison is not going to change the way he plays because of fines. In fact, numerous players have said they won’t alter their hitting style. When players start to get suspended, they will change because they won’t want to affect their team’s chances. Their coaches will force them to change.
By suspending players, the NFL will send a clear message that it will not tolerate hits it deems excessively violent. Making a statement about the new policy in March leaves no gray areas. Last year, there were too many team employees unsure about why and how fines were being levied. That should not be the case this year.
The downside of all of this is it’s extremely difficult to legislate which hits cross the line, and which come close to the line without crossing it. The game moves so fast that it is inevitable that players will find themselves subject to discipline for hits they couldn’t even avoid.
*The recommendation to modify kickoffs is too extreme. If the NFL is that concerned about the injury rate on kickoffs, it might as well just eliminate kickoffs and have teams start every post-scoring drive or half-opening on the 20.
ICONBrad Smith may have a lot fewer opportunities to return kicks next year if a new rule goes through.
This rule proposal, which would include moving the kickoff line to the 35 from the 30, not allowing anyone other than the kicker to line up more than five yards from the kickoff line, moving the touchback point from the 20 to the 25, and eliminating the two-man wedge, appears to be a bit of an overreaction.
This change would affect competition by reducing the impact of electric kickoff returners like Brad Smith of the Jets, big legged kickoff men like Billy Cundiff of the Ravens and teams that play effective kick return defense.
Risk of injury is an unavoidable part of the game. It’s one thing to try to alter the way players hit and tackle. It’s another to neuter the kicking game. The NFL would be better with no kicking game than a toothless one.
*Having all scoring plays reviewed by the replay official without a coach’s challenge necessary could lead to longer games, even though the third challenge would be eliminated.
I understand the desire to take some of the replay decisions out of the hands of coaches. But no one wants to see games drag on because of repeated, long delays.
*The Calvin Johnson play still should have been a touchdown.
Even though the league won’t be changing the catch/no catch policy, there needs to be an element of common sense in the rule. Johnson clearly caught the ball and had possession of the ball until the time he was on the ground in the end zone.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com