(Updated May 31, 2017)
Changes to Advance Health and Safety
At the 2017 Annual League Meeting in March, NFL clubs voted to make additional rules changes and changes to the way games are officiated that may improve the health and safety of players.
These changes were proposed by clubs and the NFL Competition Committee, a group that met several times since the Super Bowl to study film and discuss player safety with physicians, safety experts and advocates—including the NFL medical committees and the NFL Players Association.
The New Rules
- Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays.
- Extends the rule changing the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for another year.
- Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.
- Prohibits crackback blocks by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.
- At the NFL League Meeting in May, NFL clubs also voted to reduce the length of overtime in the preseason and regular season to 10 minutes.
“The committee continues to emphasize the importance of sportsmanship and taking improper techniques out of the game,” said Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations.
Other Changes Seeking to Better Protect Players
Clubs also agreed on certain changes to the way games are officiated. This includes a point of emphasis on forcible hits to the quarterback—a defensive player cannot “wrap” a quarterback at the knee area or below to bring him down.
Another new point of emphasis: on flagrant hits, a player still can be ejected immediately by an official for a flagrant hit, but now a suspension may also follow from the League office, even for a first-time offender.
“We were impressed when we watched the tape this year—and it’s a credit to our players, to our coaches, to college football and to high school football—that you are seeing players adjust the way they play the game,” said Rich McKay, President and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons and Chairman of the NFL Competition Committee.
McKay said there were just a few plays last season that would warrant ejection and suspension, even for a first-time offense. “The hits were very egregious, and we quite frankly want to get any of those hits out of the game,” he said. “We think one way to get them out of the game is suspension because that is the ultimate deterrent to all players.”
With the “leaper” rule change, defensive players can no longer jump over the line of scrimmage to attempt a block on field goals or extra point plays.
Clubs also approved a rule that gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection.
“We looked at a lot of video of receivers who were really in a defenseless position,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Officiating, “whether they were tracking the quarterback, looking back for the ball—and were contacted in the head or neck area forcibly by a defender.”
As the NFL learns more about player health and safety, the league evaluates and changes rules to evolve the game and try to improve protections for players.
Between 2002 and this off-season, the NFL made 42 rules changes intended to eliminate dangerous tactics and reduce the risk of injuries. The new 2017 rules changes bring the total number up to 47.