- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
The NFL’s competition committee has endorsed six potential rule changes for the 2021 season, including a proposal that would expand the scope of information that replay officials could provide to on-field officiating crews during games.
The change would fall well short of calls for adding an eighth official, sometimes known as a sky judge, but would give referees a new resource to help make accurate calls without needing a formal review.
Any team can propose a new rule, and the league sent out a list Thursday morning of 13 rule or bylaw change proposals. All require votes from at least 24 owners for approval; it’s rare for one to pass without competition committee endorsement. Debate and potential votes are scheduled to take place later this month, according to the current league schedule.
Replay officials were already empowered to help referees with a limited suite of information, including such items as the correct time on the game clock and the correct down. This year’s proposal adds to that list, if video available in the press box shows “clear and obvious” evidence. Replay officials — as well as other members of the league’s officiating department — would be able to advise on possession, a completed or intercepted pass, whether a player is down by contact and the position of the ball relative to a line or boundary.
Coaches would still be able to initiate a formal review of such plays. Other proposals from the competition committee include:
• An elimination of overtime in preseason games.
• Allowing a maximum of nine players in the “setup zone,” the 15-yard area behind their restraining line when set up for a kickoff return. This proposal could make it a bit easier to recover onside kicks, a challenge that has grown harder since the NFL’s 2018 revamp of the kickoff. The Philadelphia Eagles proposed a more radical change, giving teams an option for one play to gain 15 yards to keep possession after a score, but similar suggestions have failed to receive enough votes in previous years.
• A significant restriction on blocking below the waist beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage and two yards outside of the offensive tackle.
• Prohibiting playoff teams from signing players who had been cut by teams whose seasons were complete.
• Requiring teams to report tryouts and visits to the league office throughout the year.
Among the team proposals, which are less likely to get consideration without competition committee endorsements, are:
• A proposal from the Baltimore Ravens to add an eighth official that would have access to television replay and be positioned somewhere other than the field.
• A revamp of overtime from the Ravens and Eagles that would require the winner of the coin toss to choose one of two options: Where to spot the ball or which team will get the first possession.
• Another overtime option from the Ravens and Eagles that would create true sudden death.
• A rule change from the Los Angeles Rams to impose a loss of down if a “second forward pass from behind the line and for a pass thrown after the ball returns behind the line.” The Rams had a play like that work against them last season when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady caught his own pass then threw it again.
• A request from the Kansas City Chiefs to relax rules for uniform numbers.
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