NFL meetings end on a positive note

Everything that came up for vote at the recent annual NFL meetings passed with flying colors.

Updated: March 31, 2004, 7:06 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Things couldn't be more positive as the NFL concluded its annual meetings Wednesday.

Owners passed 100 percent of the recommendations from the report of the league's Competition Committee. That's a first. The NFL may be united in revenue sharing and competitive parity, but it's never had a meeting in which every on-the-field proposal was passed.

"One of the main reasons for that is the survey we take from teams after the season," Texans general manager Charley Casserley said. "By listening to what the teams want, we are able to come together with ideas that improve the game. We're just responding to what teams want."

The list of passed items Wednesday was long.

  • Practice squads are allowed to grow from five to eight this season on a one-year basis. That vote passed, 29-3. By having bigger practice squads, the NFL felt it could develop more players and have them ready for play when needed. Though practice squaders don't suit up on game day, they can be signed to contracts when teams have injuries.

  • The NFL improved its sportsmanship by voting in a rule allowing officials to penalize excessive celebrations and even go as far as ejecting a player. The change says that two or more players who engage in prolonged, excessive, premeditated or choreographed celebrations will be penalized.

    Any player who possesses a foreign or extraneous object that isn't part of the uniform will be penalized or ejected. That means no cell phones. That means no Sharpie's. It's a no-tolerance policy for excessive celebration.

    The vote was 31-1, with Raiders voting against it.

  • Coaches will be allowed to call timeouts from the sideline. That may sound unnecessary, but it's a time saving rule. Instead of having a coach signal in a timeout to a player on the field to call the time out, a coach can walk over to an official and tell him to blow a whistle for a time out.

  • A receiving team can't advance the ball after any player from that team signals a fair catch. This rule prevents trickery. It prevents a receiving team from signaling for a fair catch in an attempt to freeze a defender and advance the ball.

  • After fighting Keyshawn Johnson early in his career for wearing No. 19, the NFL adopted a new rule to allow receivers to wear numbers between 10 and 19 even when numbers between 80 and 89 aren't all used up. Apparently, because of retiring the jerseys of some players, there is a shortage of numbers between 80 and 89.

  • Assistant coaches on playoff teams will have two extra days to interview for head coaching jobs. Under the previous rule, a playoff team only had to allow an assistant the chance to interview up until the Friday of the first playoff weekend. Now, thanks to the new resolution, an assistant can add interviews on the ensuing Saturday and Sunday.

    That may not help Super Bowl assistants, but it does give a couple of extra days to stretch out a busy interview schedule for hot coaches.

  • This is called the Scott Pioli rule. Hot front office executives such as Pioli of the Patriots can be interviewed even though they are in the playoffs. Last year, the Patriots denied Pioli a chance to interview for a general manager position with the Dolphins. Now, the rules that apply to assistant coaches go to non-coaches.

    Though not voted upon, the NFL will call more penalties for defensive contact after a receiver runs more than five yards downfield. Officials have been told to emphasize stricter calls on unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting. There will be stricter enforcement of illegal blocks in the back when a hand is on a guy's back.

    "We felt it was a very good three and a half days," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said of the meetings.

    There are still a lot of things ahead for the future. An extension of the collective bargaining agreement will be negotiated in the next few months. Activity is heating up for construction of a new stadium in the Los Angeles area. Sites in Carson, the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum are in competition.

    In the next year or two, the league must extend its television contract.

    Tagliabue said owners have discussed putting games on the new NFL Network, but he doesn't anticipate that happening.

    "We don't see that in the near future," Tagliabue said. "I've said many, many times, in the near term, our object is to stick to the current carriers to the maximum possible extent."

    Still, the NFL is looking for a five to 10 percent increase in the rights fees from the four current networks.

    John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

    John Clayton

    NFL senior writer
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