The NFL’s Annual League Meeting is the starting point for the rules that could change the game. Every March, NFL owners and coaches gather to discuss the season that was, the season that will be, and the potential tweaks that can make the game fairer and/or sand down any advantage the Patriots may have gleaned the year prior.
The meeting is the genesis of ideas like replay challenges (good), relaxed team celebration rules (good), the language that gave us catches that had to survive the ground (bad), and the language that kinda-sorta cleared that mess up (… OK). It serves as the jumping-off point for reforms that will earn hours of debate throughout the offseason before either working their way into the rulebook, or being tabled until the rules committee or one enterprising team decides to broach the subject at the Spring League Meeting in May.
But it’s not just a gathering to discuss the rulebook. The confluence of coaches and owners means plenty of juicy gossip will leak out of Phoenix. Last year we heard about everything from how much the Rams’ new stadium will cost to Baker Mayfield’s Pied Piper potential (hee HEE!) to Todd Bowles’ amazing defense of Christian Hackenberg.
Bowles on Hackenberg: “He’s a quarterback on our team.”
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 27, 2018
This year’s meeting takes place March 24-27. Here’s what you need to know about the headlines that’ll be coming out of Arizona.
Be sure to check back for updates on the proposals that passed (or didn’t), the best one-liners, and what kind of casual wear the coaches are sporting.
How many Hawaiian shirts will Andy Reid wear?
Every year, Andy Reid always shows up cosplaying as Tommy Bahama.
FWIW, last year he was spotted wearing three different Hawaiian shirts.
What’s the league going to do about Robert Kraft?
Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in February and is set to appear in court to contest those charges March 28 — one day after the annual meeting wraps up. While he’s reportedly been offered a diversionary program that would allow him to expunge those counts in exchange for 100 hours of community service, participation in an educational program about the dangers of sex trafficking, and a reimbursement of court costs, Kraft appears dead-set on fighting the case instead.
While it seems like a no-win situation — Kraft was allegedly caught on camera inside the spa — Kraft’s refusal to accept a deal means he’s unwilling to admit he was likely to be found guilty at trial, a condition of the terms of the diversionary program. That may be related to the discipline he’ll no doubt receive from the league after his arrest. Being found not guilty would help his case as he faces a significant fine and suspension from Roger Goodell — who also played Kraft’s nemesis in the years-long Deflategate battle between the NFL and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Kraft will be busy this week:
Robert Kraft’s legal issues haven’t resulted in him being removed from any of his committee assignments among the NFL owners.
For next week’s owners meetings, Kraft remains on the same 5 committees as last year, including his role as chairman of the Media Committee
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 21, 2019
He also did some prep work in advance of Sunday’s start, publishing a public apology while not admitting guilt in a statement posted Saturday.
Yet no matter what the outcome of this latest skirmish between Kraft and the NFL’s headquarters will be, it’s unlikely to be settled in Phoenix.
Replay will be the centerpiece of the meeting’s discussions
The biggest proposal revolves around expanding the use of instant replay, primarily in response to the pass interference no-call that cost the Saints a spot in Super Bowl 53. Interestingly enough, the rule changes up for debate this week wouldn’t grant the power to overturn no-calls like the Saints/Rams play that spurred the discussion.
Owners will debate whether or not to make penalties called on the field like interference, roughing the passer, and defenseless player fouls reviewable — a distinction that could extend the running time of games but also ensure a call doesn’t prematurely end a team’s season.
There are two proposals on the table. The first would add pass interference penalties to the list of reviewable calls. The second would also include pass interference, as well as other 15-yard personal fouls like roughing the passer. That only applies to calls the officials already made and not uncalled penalties such as in the NFC Championship Game.
If either is passed, the rule would only take effect for one year, giving the league the chance to review it next year.
“The goal is to correct clear officiating errors on impactful plays,” Troy Vincent, NFL’s executive vice president of football operations said in an interview in advance of Sunday’s meeting. “Our credibility is on the line.”
While Vincent and the league’s competition committee are receptive to change, some owners aren’t. The Steelers in particular came out against expanded replay in the run-up to the debate.
“First of all, I would not want to see the length of the game be expanded,” team president Art Rooney II said in an interview released Friday. “One other thing I’ll add to that is replay, at the end of the day, is another human being interpreting the play. While it can be helpful in a lot of cases, when you start talking about judgment calls — pass interference in particular — you’re still putting another human being in a spot of having to make that decision. You’re just never going to get it perfect, no matter how many people are looking at it.”
That echos comments made at the NFL Combine by Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said that he’d like to see replay eliminated altogether.
What rules do teams want to change in 2019?
While those motions came from the competition committee, a pair of proposals from teams will also spark debate in Arizona.
Kansas City wants guaranteed possessions in overtime
A motion from the Chiefs aims to change overtime rules to ensure both teams possess the ball at least once in the extra period — a proposal that comes months after Kansas City didn’t get a chance to field its offense as the Patriots ran away with a 37-31 overtime win in the AFC title game.
Their rule would also eliminate overtime in the preseason and eliminate the overtime coin toss, instead allowing the team who won the game-opening toss to choose whether to receive the ball or defer.
The Broncos want an alternative to the onside kick
Another potential reform from the Broncos would follow the AAF’s lead and provide an alternative to the onside kick. With conversions at a historically low rate, Denver’s suggestion is to give teams the option to convert a de facto fourth-and-15 from their own 35-yard line immediately following a touchdown or field goal. If the scoring team can gain 15+ yards, they retain possession of the ball. If not, the defending team takes over wherever the ball is stopped.
Early signals suggest the competition committee is not seriously considering overtime reform. They’re more optimistic about onside kick alternatives, though that’s unlikely to work its way into the rulebook this fall and could be the subject of debate for annual meetings to come.
What other proposals are on the table?
Here are all the rules up for discussion, per the NFL. In all, 16 playing rules, six bylaws, and two resolutions were proposed. (A third resolution from the Eagles, which would have required the Cowboys and Lions to play their Thanksgiving games on the road every other year, was withdrawn.)
They’re mostly unexciting tweaks, but they include:
- Making 2018’s kickoff changes permanent — most notably moving a team’s starting position after a touchback up to the 25-yard line, ending the wedge formation in front of returners, and preventing players from getting a running start before the ball is kicked.
- Extending “defenseless player” protections to players who get hit by blindside blocks.
- Determining where teams can apply an opponent’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a touchdown.
- Automatically reviewing any turnover or scoring play that was negated by a penalty.
- Automatically reviewing any fourth-down play spotted short of the line to gain.
- Automatically reviewing any extra point or two-point conversion try.
- Giving the league more autonomy to eject or disqualify players for non-football acts on the field.
- Allowing teams to roster more players during the preseason.
To pass any of these proposals, 24 of the 32 teams need to approve the changes.