Originally Published: March 26, 2014
John Clayton | ESPN.com
ORLANDO, Fla. — Limos and private cars started lining up outside the Ritz-Carlton right after breakfast Wednesday morning.
The NFL owners were ready for a fast exit, as was commissioner Roger Goodell, who knew he needed only an hour of the Wednesday morning meeting to deal with the final item on the agenda — rules and bylaw proposals. With 18 proposals left until Wednesday, Goodell must have looked like Peyton Manning going no-huddle and getting off the snap with 24 seconds left on the 40-second clock. He had one hour to get it done.
It was rapid fire. In the end, five proposals were passed, seven failed and six were tabled Wednesday. That was on top of what was approved Tuesday, when owners approved centralized replay officiating help from the league office, and protection for defenders by giving unnecessary roughness penalties for blockers who roll up the back of opponents’ legs.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was a moderate winner Wednesday. Owners approved his proposal for a 5-foot extension of the goalposts to make it easier to determine the accuracy of high field goals. Though his proposal to move extra points back to the 25-yard line failed, Belichick was given the chance to see extra points from the 20-yard line in the first two weeks of this preseason.
Three other minor changes were approved Wednesday that involved on-field rules. One involves making the recovery of a loose football a reviewable play. Owners also voted to keep the clock running after a quarterback sack outside the last two minutes of each half and to simplify the rules involving the spotting of the ball after defensive fouls behind the line of scrimmage.
This was a tough meeting, and it has been a tough few weeks for owners. Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills died Tuesday, and William Clay Ford of the Detroit Lions died March 9. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is in rehab after being charged with four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance after being arrested March 16 on suspicion of intoxicated driving.
Here are three things we learned this week at the owners meetings:
1. The league may be moving to a time in which all plays can be challenged. Less than half of the coaches support the idea of being able to challenge any call outside the last two minutes of each half. Because of that, Belichick’s proposal was voted down. Don’t consider it a long-term loss. Belichick has enough coaching support to keep the concept alive. Dean Blandino, the NFL’s supervisor of officials, said he sees a time the league could go to such a system. Currently, coaches get two challenges a game, but there are limits on what types of plays are reviewable. If he wins both challenges, he gets a third.
During the next year, the league and competition committee will review many of the replay concepts. They will look at the idea of using more cameras. The help of centralized replay officiating could shorten the time invested in replays. Once a ref gets to the replay monitor, he has 60 seconds to make his review and his decision. If that works, the league could consider giving coaches chances to challenge penalties, which now isn’t permitted. Games averaged 3 hours, 7 minutes last season, and the number of plays increased by two a game. The NFL doesn’t want longer games, but if the challenges don’t increase the time, replays can be expanded. Those coaches supporting the idea say the committee keeps adding new things to review each year, so why not just add everything.
2. The tabled items created some interesting speculation. There was no vote on expanding the 2015 playoff teams by two. It wasn’t on the agenda. Still, those who cover the game know that’s a no-brainer for passage. Goodell mentioned he’s meeting with the NFL Players Association on April 8, and playoff expansion will be on the agenda. It left the door open for a possible expansion in 2014, but 2015 is more likely.
Also tabled was increasing the active game-day rosters from 46 to 49 players, increasing practice squads from eight to 10, and allowing trades before the start of the league year. Even having no overtimes in preseason games was tabled. All could be part of the discussion with the union. The schedule doesn’t come out until late April. There would be time to discuss adding two playoff games, which could increase revenues. Stay tuned. One concept that failed was allowing more than one player per team to return from the injured return list during the season.
3. The NFL has its sportsmanship policy. It was tough year for respect on the field and in the locker room. Richie Incognito was suspended for allegedly harassing then-teammate Jonathan Martin. Taunting penalties went from nine in 2012 to 34 last year. An official was suspended for making derogatory remarks to a player during a game, but that official expressed concerns over routinely hearing racially and sexually charged language on the field.
“We are going to clean the game up on the field between the players,” said St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee. It was determined that using abusive or insulting language or gestures toward opponents, teammates, officials or representatives of the league would be subject to a 15-yard penalty under the unsportsmanlike conduct rule already in use. Senior NFL writer and commentator
Joined ESPN in 1995
Member of the writers’ wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio