Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


NFL rules changes could include OT and I.R. tweaks plus new provisions for replay

Posted by: Updated: March 22, 2012 - 9:53 AM

The NFL will hold its annual owners meetings next week in West Palm Beach, Fla., with the league’s competition committee preparing to present proposals for seven rules changes and seven bylaw changes. Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee and also the president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, addressed several of the wished-for tweaks on Wednesday. Here are a half-dozen worth discussing further ...

1) All instant replay decisions would be made by the booth official and not the referee.
Our vote: In favor.
In theory, this should accelerate the decision-making process on reviewed plays and leave full authority upstairs. Sure, this will remove from the game one of our favorite Sunday scenes: that of the on-field referee going under the hood on the sideline to review the play. Which will also remove from your living room all those lame jokes about what the ref is really watching during the break in the action.

2) All turnovers would be automatically reviewed and not require a coach to throw a challenge flag.
Our vote: In favor.
The worry here is that this will only slow the game down further, adding (based on 2011 regular season stats), an average of 3.2 turnovers per game that would be subject automatic review. But I like the proposal, simply because at present coaches are handicapped with only two challenges per game – plus a third if they win their first two. The purpose of instant replay to begin with is to provide greater assurance of fairness and the ability to overturn poor on-field calls. The above change would enhance that mission, assuring thorough review of the biggest game-changing plays.

3) Playoff overtime rules would be used in the regular season as well.
Our vote: In favor.
It made no sense why they didn’t enact this to begin with. In essence, the OT rule that gives both teams the opportunity to have possession unless the first team with the ball in overtime scores a touchdown will now apply to the regular season. McKay said that of the last 32 regular season games to go into overtime, 84 percent of them have resulted with both teams having at least one possession anyway. So enacting this rule change may not have a noticeable impact. But it’s purpose is dead on. Teams should not be so thoroughly rewarded simply for winning a coin flip.

In the long run, I’d like to see the NFL consider a rule that gives both teams an equal number of possessions in overtime. That would seem to be the fairest possible solution. But this is at least another step in the right direction.

4) The trade deadline could be moved back from Week 6 to Week 8.
Our vote:
Not in favor.
Let’s face it, the NFL simply isn’t a trade deadline league like the NBA or Major League Baseball. With such a short season, it’s difficult for teams to make significant trades in the middle of the season due to the large adjustment and transition period that comes with players joining a new team. McKay said Wednesday that the motive behind this rule change proposal is to give teams greater incentive and opportunity to make deals deeper into the season with provisions made to lessen the salary cap obstacles. But let’s face it, in truth all this change would likely do would be to give the talking heads on ESPN and the NFL Network two more weeks to blabber on about hypothetical trades that aren’t going to happen in the end anyway. We need less of that in this league, not more.

5) Placing a player on injured reserve would not mean he is automatically done for the season.
Our vote:
Not in favor.
In the example McKay provided Wednesday, a player who experiences a serious injury in the preseason could be kept on the active roster until the regular season begins and then put on injured reserve in Week 1 with a designation to return. At that point, the player could return to practice six weeks after he has been put on that list with the opportunity to return to game action eight weeks after being put on the list. The same timeline would apply for players placed on injured reserve later in the regular season.

Said McKay: “The idea being that you’ve got that marquee player, you’ve got that central-core player on your team. He gets hurt really early in the season, whether it’s in training camp or whether it’s at the start of the season, and there’s still that chance that he could come back. Yet, if the coach knows and the general manager knows that this player is going to be out for eight weeks, they may just write the player off and say, ‘I need the roster spot.’ This gives you a little more flexibility to keep that player and keep that player potentially eligible to come back.”

Truthfully, I’m on the fence with this one. While it seems sensible to allow players who make quick recoveries a chance to get back into action, enacting this change would seem to go against the league’s aim to increase player safety. After all, giving teams another loophole to rush seriously injured players back into action cannot be good in the long term.

6) An exception to the inactive list may be added to help teams temporarily supplant players with concussions on the active roster.
Our vote:
In favor.
In a game week NFL teams would have until 4 p.m. every Friday to place one player on that week’s inactive list. (At present, the inactive list is usually determined 90 minutes prior to kickoff.) If that player given the early inactive designation has a concussion, his team would then be allowed to add another player to the active roster to take his place. There would be a limit of one player per team on that special segment of the inactive list.

Again, if player safety is indeed a league-wide priority, this would seem to give teams flexibility to bolster their depth while deterring the temptation to rush concussed players back into action.
 

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